One of the most widely used materials for packaging pallets is stretch film. In Belgium, no less than 35,000 tonnes are marketed. Up to now, this film has been manufactured entirely from new material. In order to switch over to a more circular economy, it is absolutely essential in this sector too to invest more in the use of recycled material.
That is why Valipac started a demonstration project to show that it is possible to produce stretch films from recycled pallet foils. In this way, we want to set up a profitable, local recycling industry and turn waste into high-quality end products again.
This project is the logical follow-up to a previously completed project on the circular shrink sleeve. However, we are setting the bar even higher here, as stretch film is approximately seven times thinner than a standard shrink sleeve. Moreover, the production process of stretch film is technically more complex.
Thanks to excellent cooperation with our partners, we have succeeded in developing a circular stretch film, something that was initially considered impossible. Moreover, a life cycle analysis (LCA) has shown that the circular stretch film scores considerably better ecologically.
PartnersUHasselt (Onderzoeksgroep VerpakkingsCentrum/IMO-IMOMEC), Rymoplast, Reynaers Aluminium, ECS, MIMA Films
It is possible to use a standard PE recyclate to produce stretch films of less than 25µm, with similar properties to a medium performance stretch film made entirely from virgin material.
For the recycled stretch film, we used a standard available PE recyclate that was not specifically pre-sorted for this application. However, better sorting can lead to higher percentages of recyclate in new films.
Initially, we thought that a thickness of 23µm was the lower limit of what would be technically feasible. In the course of the project, however, we also succeeded in producing amanual stretch film of 17µm containing 25% PE recyclate.
Before the end of the project, our circular stretch film was already tested and approved by 5 companies from different sectors (retail, electronics, co-packing, metal processing).
MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS LEARNED
Never take no for an answer. Our search for project partners was not easy and we were told several times that our ambition was not feasible. Thanks to our perseverance and the seamless cooperation with our partners, we succeeded.
Recycled polymers can (partially) replace virgin polymers. In the technically complex stretch films, we will only be able to use more than 50% PE recyclate in due course, because we need more efficient sorting installations for this.
Printed and coloured films and certain additives are an obstacle. They form impurities that prevent us from making high performance circular stretch films for the time being. Good (post) sorting and less printing will increase performance.
A foil with recyclate has a smaller ecological footprint than one made of 100% virgin plastic. Even a thicker foil with (a certain percentage of) recyclate scores better than a thinner foil. If all stretch film in Belgium had 25% recyclate, we would save around 10,000 tonnes of virgin plastic.
10.000tonnes recycling potential
20.000.000euro sorting capacity
25persons employment potential
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?
Together with our project partners, we are committed to the further dissemination of our stretch film by convincing as many packaging companies as possible to at least test the circular film. If the demand for recyclate increases, the local recycling industry will also be stimulated to invest in innovative sorting facilities in the near future.
In addition, we are working on 'design for recycling' guidelines. These will (among other things) clarify how printing, colouring and the use of certain additives have a negative impact on the recycling process.
Furthermore, together with FostPlus we are developing a platform that gives companies access to the latest developments in the field of circular economy: packitbetter.be.