June 16th, 2020
Plastics are a great group of materials. As raw materials for packaging, they are versatile, durable and often recyclable. Plastics protect the packed products with a relatively low amount of raw materials, and it often takes only a very thin film to cover the products. This has been achieved through long-term product and production development, which has enabled ever thinner packaging films. This has meant even lighter loads from a logistics point of view, and from the point of view of production, more packaging has been produced from the same amount of raw materials.
Material efficiency is not just about film development and down gauging, but increasingly about recycling and the use of recycled plastic. Amerplast has been using recycled plastic (polyethylene) in its production since the early 1990s. Our traditional recycled plastic products have been carrier bags, which today contain well over 90% recycled plastic. New uses include construction industry films, and packaging for various consumer goods, excluding food products. Our production utilises polyethylene waste generated in our own production as well as recycled plastic collected from other industrial sources and from Finnish households. Recycled plastic has been studied (link to LCA) to be an environmentally friendly raw material for plastic packaging.
Utilisation of recycled plastics in the manufacture of extrusion films and flexible packaging requires know-how and experience. Amerplast’s long experience, skilled production staff and in-house product development play a key role in the production of high-quality recycled plastic packaging and products. In addition, we work very closely with raw material suppliers, industry experts and customers to further develop our solutions.
Sami Teräs, Production Manager at the Tampere Carrier Bag Factory in Finland, has gained a lot of experience working with recycled plastic. According to him, the availability and quality level of recycled plastic has increased in recent years, which provides opportunities for a significant increase in the use of these materials. Quality requirements are strict, as the purity and uniformity of the material are important issues, especially in blown film extrusion. These factors largely determine the properties of flexible packaging.
“Working with recycled plastic differs from working with virgin plastic in that the properties of even the most homogeneous recycled plastic changes all the time. Thus, the pre-defined parameters may not apply continuously in the film production, but we must be able to react in the right way when changes occur, ”says Sami Teräs. He further points out that since there is some variation in the properties of recycled plastic, this is also reflected in the final packaging. In virgin plastic packaging, the end result is more constant, while impurities and quality variations in recycled plastic are somewhat reflected in printing, film color, odor, sealing, friction, and other properties.
Sami Teräs, Production Manager of Amerplast Retail Factory in Tampere, Finland
With persistent product and process developments, these fluctuations have been considerably reduced, which is already reflected in the rapid growth of the portfolio of recycled plastic packaging. In addition, the attitude of both consumers and brand owners towards the use of recycled materials, and the appearance of the properties of these materials in end products, has changed in a clearly positive direction over the last couple of years. Now it is ok and even sought after that the environmental raw material choices can be visually seen and felt in the surface of the packaging.
In order to increase the efficiency of its internal plastic recycling and to promote the wider use of recycled plastics in various flexible packaging solutions, Amerplast has invested in EREMA’s Intarema 1108 TE recycling equipment, which represents the latest technology. The investment is part of the company’s sustainability strategy and the equipment will be installed at Amerplast’s Tampere plant during the summer of 2020. Sami Teräs considers the new investment to be significant: “With the new equipment, the quality level of recycling will increase and thus enable the use of recycled material in even more demanding applications.”
Demand for recycled plastic products and packaging is growing, which in turn means growing demand for recycled raw materials. In order for supply to continue to meet demand, care must be taken to ensure that the process of separate collection and further processing of plastic packaging into recycled plastic raw material is efficient and effective. In addition, a prerequisite for efficient recycling of plastics is that the plastic packaging are designed and manufactured to be recyclable in the existing recycling streams.
If you are eager to know how recycled plastic could be utilised in your company’s packaging, or how you can ensure the recyclability of your packaging, please contact our sales team.