Mondi accelerates efforts to create flexible packaging from post-consumer recycled plastic

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Mondi Group, a global leader in packaging and paper, led Project Proof, a Pioneer Project facilitated by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF). The project has created a proof-of-concept prototype flexible plastic pouch incorporating a minimum of 20% post-consumer plastic waste originating from mixed household waste. The pouch is suitable for packaging household products such as detergent.

Project Proof is part of Mondi’s commitment to the Ellen MacArthur New Plastics Economy Initiative. It is focused on designing products in line with circular economy principles and has shown that it is possible to use unclean and raw post-consumer recycled content to create new flexible packaging. Mondi will now develop the prototype further to ensure it can be rolled out as a commercially viable product for its multinational FMCG customers. This will support Mondi’s work as a signatory of the New Plastics Economy Commitment to ensure a minimum of 25% of post-consumer waste is incorporated across all its flexible plastic packaging where food contact regulations allow by 2025.

Project Proof
Georg Kasperkovitz, CEO Mondi Consumer Packaging says, “We believe that working in partnership is key to finding a solution for plastic waste by driving innovation and broad systemic change throughout the plastics value chain with a focus on replacing, reducing and recycling.”

Mondi spearheaded Project Proof to examine whether it is possible to produce two new flexible plastic packaging products: a recyclable plastic for flexible packaging made with a percentage of post-consumer waste; and a form fill and seal (FFS) pouch for food applications. Aiming to replace multilayer laminates, often found in food packaging, and therefore increasing recyclability. As the use of recycled materials and the creation of more recyclable plastics in flexible packaging increases in popularity, they will help circularity in the marketplace.

The Group’s customer-centric approach, EcoSolutions, is helping customers to achieve their sustainability goals by focusing on packaging that is sustainable by design – paper where possible, plastic when useful.

Recycling with post-consumer material under the worst conditions
The first phase of the project successfully produced a prototype made with a minimum of 20% post-consumer waste, a flexible pouch for non-food applications such as laundry or dishwasher detergent. The origins of the post-consumer waste used were considered the worst-case of uncleaned and unprocessed material possible. After washing and sorting using a variety of technologies, the result was a recycled polymer resin, suitable for producing flexible packaging. This was processed into a final prototype, a fully-usable stand up pouch. The pouch has excellent construction, seal strength and zipper integrity. Its appearance is reminiscent of recycled paper with the mixed plastic material creating little flecks of inconsistent colouring.

“We wanted to see what was possible with the worst input, and we were able to create a fully usable prototype” explained Graeme Smith, Mondi Consumer Packaging’s Sustainability Manager. This proof-of-concept underlines the potential what could be manufactured when better quality, pre-sorted materials are used as input. Better waste collection mechanisms and a focus on packaging designed for recycling will improve this process and help close the sustainability loop.

Creating recyclable pouches for food packaging
The second part of Project Proof focused on long-life food pouches. The standards for food applications were held to high technical specifications agreed by the participating FMCGs. The aluminium barrier often found in food-standard plastic packaging can extend shelf-life, but creates problems in recycling. Project Proof created an opportunity for FMCG’s to re-evaluate and possibly reduce the specifications for certain requirements allowing more sustainable materials to be used.

There are already materials being tested based on a mono-material construction without problematic layers such as aluminium, which would make recycling possible in existing waste-streams. It was concluded that further development in this area was required as current offerings did not achieve the basic minimum specifications set by the brand owners. Joint Development Agreements are being discussed for future research opportunities in this area.

Joint Development Agreements will help increase the pull of talent and technology in technically challenging areas of product development where only a full value chain of project team members can help decide future specifications and approvals for easier to recycle material solutions.

Pioneer Projects
Today’s plastics packaging solutions face challenges that no single organisation can address alone. The EMF established Pioneer Projects as a means for the plastics industry to work together towards these solutions. Pioneer Projects are pre-competitive collaborations led by members of the New Plastics Economy Initiative, such as Mondi. Stakeholders from across the plastics value chain are invited to design and test innovations that could change the way we make, use, and reuse plastics based on the principles of a circular economy.

This provides a place for competitors to share knowledge in a secure way resulting in progress which would otherwise not be possible. As the facilitator of these projects, the EMF encourages circular economic thinking at all times to promote the generation of ideas that can be used by all.

Other Pioneer Projects underway
Also facilitated by EMF, other Pioneer Projects are underway and led by different stakeholders across the plastics value chain. Mondi is participating in three other ongoing Pioneer Projects: Project Barrier; Project Sea and Project Holy Grail. Project Barrier is focusing on developing guidelines for recyclable plastic-based flexible barrier packaging in the future. Project Sea is analysing waste material flows within a region to understand where waste accumulates at the end of its life. Project Holy Grail is developing tracers and digital watermarks to allow recyclers to automate the identification of plastic types quickly and ease recycling to support a circular economy.