Many food packaging containers are manufactured using ‘thermoplastics’. As the name implies, thermoplastics become soft, or formable (plastic) under higher temperatures. Many types of food packaging, including beverage bottles, salad ingredients containers and lots of other food grade packaging are made from thermoplastics.
One of the processes used to shape the plastics used in food packaging is thermoforming.
You can see an example of a plastic used in food packaging being thermoformed here. You’ll probably recognize this type of packaging.
Another process to form plastics into food packaging, in this case a beverage container, is blow molding.
Both of these processes are viable for producing recycled plastics for use in food packaging.
Thermoplastics differ from other types of plastics, such as ‘thermoset’ plastics which become solid with heat, in that they can be melted and reformed multiple times. This makes them relatively easy to recycle!
All thermoplastic materials conceptually can be recycled, including those used to make food packaging. However, a challenge with plastics recycling, is that recycled plastics can command significantly different commercial value depending upon what their intended use is.
When thermoplastics are recycled, an intermediary step is to produce post-consumer resin (PCR), or plastic material that can be reintroduced back into a manufacturing process, like the thermoforming and blow-molding processes shown above. The collection, separation, cleaning and reprocessing of post-consumer plastics costs money, and if the value received for the PCR isn’t high enough, recycling plastics can become seemingly uneconomical.
Recycled plastics can be used for a wide range of purposes and end products. Some of these end products are of relatively low commercial value vs. others. In the case of closed-loop recycling, the plastics are recycled back into the same packaging that they came from, holding onto their economic value. In other cases, the product is recycled into another product which may not have as much value to the end consumer.
This means that the end quality of the PCR matters to make recycled plastics economically viable and therefore more widely applied. Closing the loop on food packaging is a desirable end goal because there is so much of it in production, and the relative economic benefits are high.
New World Recycling in South America is producing rPET (recycled plastic PET) food packaging, in this case bottles, for one of the world’s largest soft drink companies.
New World Plastics Used Plastics Container Collection for Recycling
The company is making recycling plastics for food packaging using a food-contact compliant process. The end result of their food packaging recycling program is that around 300 million PET bottles are no longer thrown away, they’re actually recycled in a closed-loop process (bottle-to-bottle) back into valuable consumer beverage containers.
“rPET with VACUREMA®
To begin with the PET bottles to be processed are prepared with a SOREMA washing facility to make mono-fraction PET flakes which are then used to produce food contact grade rPET pellets with an optimum IV value of 0.82-0.84 on an energy-saving VACUREMA® Prime 1714 T system (capacity 1,000 kg/h). At NWR's sister plant, the preform company TotalP.E.T. Packaging, preforms with up to 100% of these rPET pellets are made for the production of new PET soft drinks bottles (article published 2014).”
Interested in Learning More About Advanced Technology used to Recycle Plastics for Food Packaging?
Recycled Plastics in Food Packaging Examples:
Recycled Plastics in Food Packaging Technology and Food Processes: