KHS tackles challenges posed by sustainable packaging

Beverage industry and protection of the environment

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Plants growing in plastic bottles hanging from house, Cebu, Philippines

The global debate on packaging waste, the associated use of resources and increasing regulatory pressure have intensified the call of the beverage industry for new, alternative packaging systems. Concerns not only focus on saving resources in the production process but chiefly on the packaging itself. PET containers and plastic packaging are currently in focus. The priority is to reduce and recycle the same. KHS supplies dedicated systems to meet these criteria and has at its disposal a wealth of expertise with which it strongly assists its customers in their striving towards greater sustainability.

KHS has been a partner to the beverage industry for 150 years and understands its needs. The subject of sustainability has prevailed for a long time in this sector. On one hand, there are climate goals to be met – or specifically, a steady reduction of the carbon footprint in beverage production to be achieved through the development and use of systems which increasingly save on energy and resources. On the other, greater importance is being given to devising innovative packaging machinery, which is beneficial to beverage producers and consumers alike. The way to produce ever more sustainable primary and secondary packaging involves two major lines of approach: recycle and reduce. In the first, packaging material is to be kept in constant circulation. In the second, many different ways are to be found of using less and less packaging material in order to save on resources and avoid waste. KHS pursues both of these objectives and offers specific technologies to this end.

FreshSafe PET: The only fully recyclable barrier system

One big step towards engineering a strong, efficient and thus sustainable circular economy is to improve the recyclability of PET bottles to such an extent that they are suitable for bottle-to-bottle recycling. Fruit juice bottles in particular often comprise multilayer, blended or scavenger materials which are designed to protect sensitive beverages from external influences such as oxygen pickup. The additives mentioned earlier contained in the preforms often prove a hindrance to pure-grade recycling, however, and thus to their use in full bottle-to-bottle recycling. With FreshSafe PET – a patented plasma coating system – KHS provides the only accredited fully recyclable barrier system to date which significantly increases recycling quotas for PET beverage packaging with enhanced product protection world over. This has been confirmed by a number of recycling associations such as the EPBP and APR.

In the above process, the inside of the PET container is coated with a wafer-thin protective layer of silicon oxide (SiOx) or chemically pure glass. This technology replaces the additives otherwise required. It guards sensitive products such as fruit juice and nectar against the penetration of oxygen and other substances and clearly reduces any additional loss of CO2 from carbonated beverages. The taste is retained, the beverages have a longer shelf life and full recyclability is ensured by this process.

Growing demand for rPET container systems

Another way of further improving the ecobalance is to increase the amount of recyclate or rPET used in PET containers – in some cases up to 100%. KHS provides the technology for this option. For example, in cooperation with bottler Mineralbrunnen Allgäuer Alpenwasser, preform manufacturer Plastipack and Berlin startup share the systems, supplier has developed a 0.5-liter and 1.0-liter PET bottle made completely of recyclate which has also been launched in the market successfully. “Manufacturing a PET bottle from 100% recycled PET is possible – yet the devil lies in the detail. We have to approach this from a number of different angles,” says Arne Wiese, product manager for Bottles & Shapes at KHS Corpoplast in Hamburg, Germany. “Chemically recycled PET yields qualities which exactly match those of virgin PET. There are no restrictions here.” Yet much of the rPET used on the market is PET cleaned in vacuum conditions. “Here, qualities vary depending on the method of production,” explains Wiese. However, the quality of the rPET affects the bottle stability and weight. This means that the poorer the quality of the recyclate, the more stable the bottle has to be. This can be achieved by either increasing the weight of the bottle or optimizing the preform.

Full concept Bottles & Shapes

The impact the use of recyclate in different quantities and qualities has on the stability and weight of the bottle is taken on board, in order to positively influence the ecobalance. “This calls for a wealth of expertise which we can provide with our decades of experience,” confirms Wiese. Moreover, KHS stretch blow molders have been optimized so that they can process preforms which contain up to 100% recyclate and, alternatively, biopolymer constituents.

Secondary packaging with a high savings potential

The KHS Competence Center for secondary packaging systems in Kleve, Germany, has long been working on alternatives to classic shrink film. Many of these require extensive testing on the machinery. “The greatest challenge for us is the processability of the packaging materials,” says Karl-Heinz Klumpe, packaging product manager at KHS. “Shrink film made of recycled plastic demonstrates very different shrinking properties versus film made of new material. As an engineering company we can’t provide all the answers ourselves but instead have to coordinate closely with film manufacturers.” KHS stages workshops with these partners in order to do just that, where the participants aim to find out how the percentage of recyclate in film – as stipulated by the new German Packaging Law, for example – can be increased further.

Unique Nature MultiPack system

With the development of the Nature MultiPack, KHS already has a film-free pack in its portfolio. This reduced form of secondary packaging even makes conventional shrink film on multipacks completely redundant. Here, PET bottles or cans are held together by nothing more than several strong dots of adhesive which are easy to remove. A self-adhesive carrying handle readies the pack for transportation. The dots of adhesive themselves do not impair the quality of the material to be recycled in any way whatsoever as they are easily removed during the recycling process.

“The current debate on packaging waste has clearly further heightened our awareness for environmentally-friendly packaging systems,” says Klumpe. KHS now offers many different market-proven systems – particularly for PET containers and secondary packaging – which have been proved to specifically help its customers in their endeavor to be more sustainable. “We all take the public discussion seriously and are working directly with all those companies involved on further developments in an attempt to curb the pollution of our environment by plastic as much as we can with the help of our expert knowledge and expertise,” he adds. “In the end we’re all consumers and all of us bear clear responsibility for our own personal actions.”