Debuting at PACK EXPO is a first-of-its kind flexible pouch from Printpack, the Preserve™ PE Advanced Recycled Content Polyethylene Pouch, which is not only recyclable after use, but also contains 30% post-consumer recycled material obtained through advanced recycling technologies. The pouch is the result of a partnership between Printpack, Pregis, and ExxonMobil, where Printpack’s machine direction-oriented PE print film is used in combination with Pregis Performance Flexibles Renew™ Series sealant film made with ExxonMobil Exxtend™ advanced recycling resin technology.
Preserve PE Advanced Recycled Content is the latest edition to Printpack’s Preserve sustainable packaging platform. “This encompasses a portfolio of eco-friendly structures that use renewable and post-consumer recycled content, as well as maximizing design opportunities for greenhouse gas and source reduction and an optimal end-of-life condition,” explains Bill Barlow, Sustainable Innovations Manager for Printpack. “The Preserve Recyclable PE packaging solutions offer many of the benefits of current flexible packaging, including ease of transport, product to package weight ratio, and reduction of carbon footprint, as well as several barrier options.”
The Preserve Recyclable PE line meets brand owners’ growing desire for mono-material flexible packaging that can be recycled via store drop-off. As Barlow shares, this past year, Printpack was part of the largest store drop-off recyclable PE launch for the snack bar market in collaboration with General Mills and the Nature Valley brand.
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While there are quite a few options available today for flexible films that can be recycled through store drop-off, more of a challenge has been to provide brands with film that contains recycled content—especially for food applications—given the limitations of mechanical recycling and FDA guidelines for food contact.
“We actually have been successful with mechanically recycled PCR content within a finished package up to about 30% recycled content, however, there are limitations due to the grades available in the market—with FDA no objection letters—and also due to performance issues with the additional of high levels of mechanically recycled content,” says Barlow. “Additionally, there are still some aesthetic issues with mechanical PCR such as gels, degraded material, fibers, and other contaminants; these are difficult to mask in a flexible package.”
Using resins made from advanced recycling process completely eliminates these issues, as the resins from the process are identical to those made with virgin plastics. In addition, Barlow notes that with advanced recycling technology, the potential to create a flexible film pack with greater than 90% PCR has become a reality.
ExxonMobil’s Exxtend advanced recycling technology breaks down plastic waste to its molecular building blocks while removing contaminants. These are the molecular building blocks that form the raw materials for making its products, which are identical to those made from virgin fossil feedstocks.
According to Barlow, ExxonMobil approached Printpack in August regarding the project, which the company welcomed without hesitation. “We view both Pregis and ExxonMobil as strategic partners of polyethylene resin and film in the flexible packaging market, and we were looking for an opportunity to collaborate with companies like this that share a similar sustainability vision to ours.
"We cannot meet the demands for sustainability alone, and this was a perfect opportunity to collaborate and bring something to the market that folks have been talking about for some time. We turned this project around in less than 30 days. That takes a true team effort.”
Exxtend circular polymers are certified according to the ISCC PLUS (the International Sustainability and Carbon Certification Plus) program. The resin can be offered in an array of PE grades, which Barlow says is attractive for Printpack and Pregis, as it allows them to develop flexible packaging films to meet the same performance requirements as conventional packaging structures. “Ultimately, with this technology, we don’t have to compromise on performance, that’s why it’s attractive,” he says.
Pregis’s sealant film contains 45% advanced recycled content. When laminated to Printpack’s PE film, the overall pouch structure contains 30% recycled content. The resulting structure also is prequalified for the How2Recycle store drop-off label and meets the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR) Design Guidelines for Flexible Packaging. Says Barlow, “As far as I know, this is the first recyclable polyethylene pouch in the market that employs the advanced recycling technology and certified circular resins.”
As with most advanced recycling technologies currently on the market, product is limited, as these companies work to scale up production. Barlow says Printpack hopes to have a major brand on-board soon to commercialize the new film and help build volume. “There is material available for Printpack and Pregis from ExxonMobil, and we expect to scale it up all the way into the first quarter of next year and beyond,” he says. “Ultimately, we have to get a brand that’s going to pull this through and really get some volume commitments. Knowing that there’s demand for this and that our brands and consumers need it and want it really helps with future investments and capital expenditures.”