The drive towards a circular economy is gaining momentum, and with it comes an increase in the importance of the end-of-life phase of food packaging. Expectations are high and targets clearly set. But what is the best way to achieve them?
All over Europe there are scientific research projects dealing with the various issues of the circular economy in (food) packaging. One of these is the PRESERVE project, which involves a consortium of 26 participants from nine European countries. Its main objective is to improve the properties of bio-based packaging, which currently limit the use of bioplastics, as well as those regarding end-of-life. It also aims to develop upcycling technologies for plastics from food and beverage packaging that can be used as raw materials for high-performance personal care and transport packaging.
By improving the recyclability of plastics and increasing the demand for recycled plastics, significant resource reductions can be achieved by replacing virgin polymers with high quality recyclates. But more research is needed before this can happen. For example, one of the biggest challenges for the desired recycling must be mastered, namely the contamination of the recovered materials with food residues and microbiology. This is because, unfortunately, toxins and their degradation substances are also produced in this mixture, among other things. Contamination of the recyclates by these must be ruled out for use in the food sector. In addition, according to the EU regulation, recyclates may only be used if their origin is known and defined and/or if they are integrated behind a functional barrier to prevent any kind of migration into the packaged goods. These issues are being addressed in the EU-funded CIRCULAR FoodPack project, where an interdisciplinary team of 15 participating organisations from seven European countries is working to implement a new circular economy approach in the flexible packaging industry.
Both PRESERVE and CIRCULAR FoodPack are promising EU-wide projects that show ways to implement the circular economy in food packaging.