Recovery options for multi-material flexible packaging includes more than just recycling. Creative thinking in design and end products can permit for increased opportunity.
Plastics-to-fuel is the chemical reconstitution of plastic films to a synthetic oil. This is done by heating the plastic at high temperatures in a chamber that is void of oxygen. Once converted into synthesis oil, a variety of end products may be created.
Emerging research on the best available technologies suggests this may be one of the most sustainable and viable options currently available for the end of life management of multi-material flexible packaging. However, most waste-to-fuel technologies are still in the pilot stage and the economics of the market are still emerging. Sortation and collection of significant volumes is still a challenge. The processing of multi-material flexible packaging only is unlikely to produce sufficient volume, additional plastics to supplement processing demand is likely.
Waste-to-energy (WtE) is the process of generating energy in the form of electricity and/or heat from the combustion of mixed waste, including multi-material flexible packaging left for disposal.
While waste-to-energy is a commonly accepted practice in many European countries, it is less popular in North America. Access to facilities may be limited and the ability to re-use materials is eliminated.
Compostability and Composting
The ability to create multi-material compostable films is another opportunity to consider. According to European Standard EN 13432, and supported by ATSM D6400, compostable films must breakdown a minimum of 90% into CO2, water and minerals within an industrial composting setting within six months. Additionally, they must not leave any harmful residue behind. Films designated to be compostable can be labelled by either the European OK Compost label, the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) label, or the SPC's How2Compost label, after proving that they pass ASTM D6400 requirements in an approved laboratory test.
While compostability may be an option, collection and acceptance of compostable films still remains limited in most municipalities, and access to industrial composting is significantly restricted as a result of limited permitted facilities.