While the 2020 COVID pandemic — needs qualification now — presented huge challenges for internal pilot programs, many consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies pushed forward with these sustainability programs. One company that kept moving forward was Mars, Inc. when it collaborated with SABIC and Huhtamaki European Flexibles on a recycled polypropylene film structure for a range of pet food brands.
With the successful pilot in 2020 and 2021, Mars, Inc. announced the debut of its polypropylene (PP)-based flexible film for its retort-packaged Sheba line of cat food. The foundation for the flexible film is SABIC’s PP BCT 18 copolymer that contains post-consumer recycled (PCR) content. Besides the PCR content, Huhtamaki Flexibles Europe does the converting and print of a three-layer film pouch structure consisting of polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and aluminum foil.
“We are pleased to share the progress in our sustainable pet food packaging journey,” says Barry Parkin, chief procurement and sustainability officer at Mars, Inc. “Over the past year, we have been closely working with SABIC and Huhtamaki, continually testing-and-learning and scaling up the recycled plastic content in our pet food packs.”
“We are pleased to share the progress in our sustainable pet food packaging journey,” says Barry Parkin, chief procurement and sustainability officer at Mars, Inc. “Over the past year, we have been closely working with SABIC and Huhtamaki, continually testing-and-learning and scaling up the recycled plastic content in our pet food packs.”Sabic’s BCT 18 copolymer, an International Sustainability and Carbon Certified polymer, is created from mixed plastic waste via chemical recycling. Chemical recycling takes mixed plastic waste and converts the material into feedstock via a process called pyrolysis, which relies on heating plastic at high temperature in an oxygen-free environment. In a recent Flexible Packaging article on chemical recycling trends, Richard Freundlich, senior supply chain analyst at Rabobank, notes that Europe is leading the way in applications in 2021.
“Right now there are huge investments going on with chemical recycling and pyrolysis in the European Union,” adds Freundlich. “Major chemical companies, brand owners and petrochemical companies are collaborating in this area.”
Huhtamaki converts SABIC’s certified PP polymer and sells it under the Terolean product line; the Sheba PP film layer can range in thickness from 40 to 90 µm, according to Huhtamaki. The entire flexible film pouch offers high-impact strength and puncture resistance at low temperatures, down to -20°C, according to SABIC. Pouches must also be capable of withstanding a retort temperature of 135°C for 60 minutes with wet food packaging. Even higher thermal resistance of up to 160°C may be needed in freezer-to-oven applications.
Going forward, Mars, Inc., is targeting a 30% average recycled content in plastic packaging and to reduce by 25% our use of virgin plastic.
Private Label Leadership
In a recent interview with Dr. Claire Sand in Flexible Packaging magazine, Sand cited how grocery-chain private label brands could emerge as leaders with sustainable materials and capture market share due to supply chain advantages and cost-savings that can be invested in more expensive PCR material. Another supermarket major making a big splash is Tesco, as the company announced a new monomer-based flexible plastic pouch for its range of private label cheeses in late December 2021.
The new pouch incorporates a fully recyclable polyethylene (PE) mono-laminate structure and completes the loop with its mechanical recycling partnerships that Tesco has been leveraging over the years. The grocery giant estimates approximately 411 tons of these plastic pouches will now be recycled annually with the cheese packaging switch.
“It’s another step closer to realizing our ambition of single-polymer packaging which is much easier to recycle — compared to the previous pouch,” says Denise Mathieson, senior packaging manager at Tesco. The new mono-laminate cheese package also reduces overall packaging weight by 680 mg per pouch for supply chain considerations and carbon footprint audits.
Coveris UK Flexibles prints and converts the stand-up pouch using up to nine-flexo colors — a resealable zipper — and a matte lacquer for a tactile finish, clarity and rigidity. The new package also involved working with Coveris’ film science labs facility that offers development, formulation and analysis of new polyethylene films for food and non-food applications, located in a co-extrusion facility.
“To have delivered a fully recyclable mono-laminate for cheese is a real win for us and a game changer for the whole industry,” says Mark Robinson, technical sales manager at Coveris UK Flexibles.