Circular_Economy_Sustainability_ICPGThe global demand for plastic waste reduction remains a pervasive industry concern, as major brands pledge to transition to more sustainable packaging solutions and make commitments to significantly reduce the percentage of virgin material used by 2025. Anyone working in the  food packaging industry understands that this is a way more complicated undertaking than it may seem - as redevelopment not only requires that the packaging be more sustainable, but that it continue to deliver based on processing, barrier protection, convenience, quality and cost.

When examining ways to develop or re-design more sustainable packaging solutions for food packaging, an easy place to start is by taking a closer look at the materials used and what alternatives may produce better results considering all factors. Material structures used for shelf-stable barrier products often use a complex mix of materials which, while effective at maintaining food safety and quality, may not necessarily be the most sustainable or recyclable option.

As the global demand for packaging solutions with improved sustainability and recyclability continues to take precedent, mono-material packaging structures have emerged as the solution made possible through innovations in materials such as polypropylene that enhance key attributes for improved performance.

Polypropylene is one of the most versatile materials used in the industry today, and plans for additional production capacity in the US alone will add nearly 4 billion pounds by 2022, leading to new opportunities for material innovation for more sustainable and high-performing solutions. Both the inherent characteristics of polypropylene, as well as innovations in material science, make this an excellent material to evaluate as brands seek to develop sustainable packaging solutions. 

Below are three reasons why ICPG's polypropylene solutions result in a more sustainable choice for extended shelf-life rigid food packaging applications:

1. Material innovations promote structure simplification for enhanced recyclability:
All plastics are recyclable, right? Not quite. Parts made from 100% polypropylene are fully recyclable using the Resin ID Code (RIC) #5. Similarly, coextruded barrier PP/EVOH/PP structures made with at least 90% polypropylene may also be recycled using RIC #5. This is because the incorporation of EVOH at 10% or lower is considered an acceptable tipping point for reprocessing performance.

So for high barrier applications that require the inclusion of EVOH to meet shelf-life requirements, containers may continue to be recycled through the PP rigid recycling stream as long as they maintain the proper ratio of PP to EVOH. In comparison, alternate structures produced with a complex mix of multiple materials, are not so easily recycled, and must use RIC #7 (other), which poses a challenge for brand perception and recycling/re-use opportunities. 

But what if the application does not require a high percentage of EVOH in order to achieve desired shelf-life expectations? Materials such as ICPG's XPP™ Enhanced Barrier Polypropylene offer enhanced oxygen and moisture barrier enhancement up to 80% - before the incorporation of EVOH - allowing for the potential to significantly reduce the amount of EVOH necessary to achieve the required barrier performance, or in some cases eliminating the need for it altogether (application dependent). The result is a simplified packaging solution that is 100% recyclable and delivers on barrier performance, function and processing.

2. Recycling innovations promote virgin material reduction and circular economy practices:
We mentioned before how additional capabilities and capacity for polypropylene production is leading to an increase in innovation. Well, this isn't happening just on the performance enhancement side, it's also happening on the post-consumer recycling (PCR) side as new technologies are developed, bringing to market advanced recycling PP purification processes.

A company called PureCycle, is in the process of commercializing such a product, with the first plant expected to be fully operational by 2021. Through a physical separation/purification process, the PCR PP is brought back to a near-virgin like state, with nearly identical performance, properties, and processing attributes to virgin homopolymer PP. This process also results in a clear material, as the purification process removes all colorants and contaminates. 

Incorporation of such PCR materials into multi-layer barrier structures, will allow brand owners to achieve their goals to reduce the percentage of virgin materials used in their packaging. In addition, using ICPG's multi-layer coextrusion line, encapsulation of post-industrial recycled materials can also be incorporated into extended shelf-life structures where appropriate, to further increase the percentage of recycled materials used in the overall structure, without having to sacrifice performance or function.

3. Inherent characteristics of polypropylene result in a low carbon footprint solution:
In comparison to other materials typically used in food packaging, polypropylene has the lowest density and is the lightest, resulting in a number of downstream energy savings that result in a low carbon footprint solution including:
    • Less CO2 equivalents by weight
    • Less solid waste by weight
    • Less fuel consumption & lower emissions
In addition, the lower density results in a higher material yield for greater material optimization in thermoforming processes. So with polypropylene, you get more parts from the same amount of material, resulting in a 30% increase in yield compared to PET and a 13% increase in yield compared to PS (application dependent). This, combined with the potential to reduce the amount of EVOH required, presents opportunities for down-gauging and light-weighting existing parts to significantly reduce the amount of plastic used on a per-pound basis.

Interested in learning more about how you can enhance the sustainability of your extended shelf-life food packaging solutions with XPP? Download our product sheet to learn more:

Discover Enhanced Barrier PP Solutions

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