Collaboration has always been an essential ingredient for consumer packaged goods (CPGs) companies and value-chain partners when introducing a new product or packaging format. Recently, Nestlé Australia debuted a “soft wrapper” prototype package made of recycled plastic film, and the supply chain behind this new prototype is a who’s who of suppliers: LyondellBasell, Amcor Flexibles, iQ Renew, Licella and Taghleef Industries.

According to Nestle, the KitKat soft packaging film wrapper is made from 30% recycled, biaxially oriented propylene (BoPP) with a metallized coating and a thickness of 28 um. Licella Holdings, an Australian company, creates the soft packaging film via its Cat-HTR advanced recycling technology that produces a synthetic oil called Plasticrude.

“Manufacturers like Nestlé will have a key role in driving demand for food-grade recycled soft plastic packaging, and creating market conditions that will ensure all stakeholders throughout the value chain view soft plastics as a resource and not waste,” says Sandra Martinez, CEO of Nestlé Oceania.

This collaboration includes iQ Renew, an Australian recycling company, that takes specific plastic waste at its material recovery facilities (MRF) and supplies the raw material to Licella. The specific type of plastic waste needed for Licella’s advanced recycling technology includes a range of soft packaging films: polypropylene, polystyrene, low-density polyethylene and multi-layer flexible plastic packaging. The advanced recycling can produce up to 85% synthetic oil from the multi-layer packaging film, according to Licella.

While Licella creates the synthetic oil, LyondellBasell converts the oil into a food-grade polypropylene film, and Amcor prints and creates the wrapper. According to Nestlé, the packaging idea sprung from a collaboration with Australian recycler iQ Renew and the curbside collection of soft plastics in the country. Viva Energy Australia refines the synthetic oil.

“This collaboration shows how soft plastics can be part of the circular economy when stakeholders across the entire value chain work together,” says Simon Roy, VP and general manager at Amcor Flexibles Australia & New Zealand.

U.S. Developments

A virtual conference in February 2021 titled “The Fresh Food, Packaging and Sustainability Summit” at Clemson University produced a session on trends in chemical and advanced recycling in the U.S. An expert on these topics is Prapti Muhuri, a manager of recycling and recovering at the American Chemistry Council, and she provided insights on recent developments in this area.

“Since 2018, we've seen over a $5 billion investment in modernizing plastics recycling — mechanical and advanced recycling,” says Muhuri. “Eighty percent of those projects were advanced recycling projects in the U.S., and that has the potential to divert more than four million metric tons of plastics from landfills or nine billion pounds of material.”

A young company in the advanced recycling sector is Braven Environmental, based in Yonkers, N.Y., and its pyrolysis technology can recycle multiple plastic waste categories — including one, two, four, five, six and seven — and plastic film and bags. Braven’s IP technology breaks down waste plastics to its original molecular form and then sells its Braven PyChem oil to refineries.

The company’s first commercial facility is located in Zebulon, N.C., and a second pyrolysis plant in Virginia is coming online later in 2021. The new commercial facility will be able to recycle approximately 65,000 metric tons of waste plastic per year while producing 50 million liters of its hydrocarbon blend.

“Our partners for the North Carolina plant have done a great job in creating a plastic profile for Braven that needs very little sorting,” says Ross Sloane, director of business development at Braven Environmental. “There are multiple steps in advanced recycling operations and it’s important that our strategic partners deliver (the right) decommissioned plastics.”

Plastic waste purity is important for both Licella’s Cat-HRT technology and Braven’s PyChem. The Cat-HRT technology needs specific soft plastic material collected by Australian Recycler iQ Renew for the KitKat wrapper, and PyChem also needs pure plastic waste. Braven and its mechanical recycling operations at its North Carolina facility sorts sulfur, rubber and glass from the plastic waste bales.

Another important development cited during the recent virtual sustainability conference is traceability of post-consumer recycled (PCR) content and governance.

“We work very closely with the converters to help us establish PCR traceability because we won't necessarily buy the resin, as we just buy the package,” says Linda Roman, head of packaging growth and technology at Kraft Heinz Company during the advance recycling conference session. “So we need to make sure we're specifying the recycled content within that package, cite a trail and know it’s made from recycled content.”

Muhuri from American Chemistry Council cites that third-party organizations have done an excellent job in this area.

“Brands need to report with increased confidence that the amount of certified recycled content is happening,” says Muhuri. “Current third-party certification, such as the International Code Council (ICC) plus certification and Underwriter Laboratory (UL), shows that the recycled content being added to end products with advanced recycling is being certified.”

While 2020 was the year that many advanced recycling partnerships were formed, it seems 2021 could be the year of developments. Stay tuned.