Around 25.8 million tons of plastic waste is generated in Europe annually, with plastic packaging accounting for 59% of this total. Among non-recyclable packaging, multilayer packaging waste represents a significant portion, comprising roughly 20% of all flexible packaging. As part of its goals, the European Union has set a target for 55% of plastic packaging to be recycled by 2030. To achieve this target, the packaging industry needs to transition towards a circular economy, where recycled materials and renewable energy are utilized in packaging production.
However, the recyclability of multilayer flexible packaging poses a challenge due to its complex structure, comprising various layers of polymers, inks, paper, and aluminum. One potential solution to increase the multilayer packaging recycling rates is the use of compatibilizers, which enhance the miscibility of polymer blends. Although extensive research is being conducted on the theory and mechanisms of compatibilizers, their industrial application remains limited due to their relatively high cost.
Another emerging approach to improve recyclability is the replacement of multilayer-multimaterial packaging with multilayer-monomaterial packaging. While monomaterial packaging holds promise for enhancing the circularity of flexible packaging, achieving the same functional capabilities provided by typical multilayer structures is challenging. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect that multilayers will continue to be used, necessitating innovative technologies to manage their residues. Moreover, even if monomaterial packaging becomes more prevalent, multilayer packaging used for food-grade applications would still consist of multiple layers of polymers, inks, and adhesives, which must be removed to achieve similar quality to virgin plastics after recycling.
Currently, the packaging of many products that we consume on a daily basis, such as: meat or fish trays, drinks in tetrabriks (milk, juice, vegetable drinks...), pizzas, snacks..., are multilayer packaging that cannot be recycled, and end up directly in landfill, or can only be destroyed by incineration. Both solutions are disastrous for the natural environment.
Up to now, selective dissolution methods have been employed to delaminate multilayer packaging, where each layer is dissolved using organic solvents. However, these solvents pose environmental and safety concerns due to their toxicity and flammability. Additionally, the cost of these chemicals makes these methods impractical for most laminated materials. Another method, related to selective dissolution, involves the partial dissolution of one of the materials in the multilayer packaging. For example, a packaging made of LDPE and PET can be recycled by depolymerizing the PET to obtain clean LDPE, or vice versa. However, this approach still requires the use of non-environmentally friendly solvents.
Annual cost of landfill fee for large multi-layer waste management companies
At Fych , we have developed an innovative recycling process that tackles the challenge of removing the adhesive that binds the laminated plastic layers together, as well as the ink, in a single step. This process facilitates the recycling of multilayer packaging by recovering each material separately without the need for depolymerization or dissolution. The main innovation lies in the pretreatment of the multilayer plastic material, which enables the access of reagents to the interlaminate area. Consequently, inks and adhesives can be efficiently removed during the washing step of the recycling process. Our water-based washing unit utilizes less than 5% of reactant content, and the reactants used are non-flammable and non-hazardous to human health.
Solving the very serious problems caused by plastic waste pollution is a major need, not only because it involves governments and supranational organisations because of its harmful effects on the environment, climate change and health, but also because it responds to a growing market trend among consumers.
Large producers of multilayer packaging cannot recycle a high percentage of the packaging they produce because it is not recyclable by conventional technologies. Landfilling currently costs them approximately €100/mt and is expected to continue to rise and become more limited in the coming years. Some of the large multi-cap waste management companies may have an annual landfill fee cost of more than €3 million. 3 million. In addition to the growing cost of millions of euros in increased landfill fees, this is a major image problem for the companies in the eyes of consumers.
The technology developed by FYCH enables the recycling of multilayer packaging and develops a new concept of circular plastic industry. It converts multilayer packaging, consisting of several materials, into as many types of pure materials as there are layers in the packaging.
Pure materials that can be returned to the beginning of the production chain as raw materials identical to the original ones, thus building a sector of activity aligned with the principles of the Circular Economy.
The utilization of our mechanical recycling technology is a cost-effective solution as it significantly reduces both the investment and operating costs compared to alternative methods like depolymerization or selective dissolution. The operating costs of our technology are less than 50% of the sales price of conventionally recycled materials.
Therefore, implementing our technology for multilayer packaging recycling will bring substantial benefits to recyclers and converters managing multilayer plastic scrap.