Industry leaders unveil feasibility study for recycling digitally printed polyethylene barrier packaging into new high-value PE bags

Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics, a business unit of Dow (NYSE: DOW), together with HP Indigo, Reifenhäuser, Cadel Deinking and Karlville, has successfully completed the feasibility study of the first bag-to-bag recycling concept of its kind and has unveiled two high-value PE bags.
The approach uses a multi-step process to contribute to a circular economy for digitally printed barrier bags. Starting with a polyethylene (PE)-based recyclable food bag with a barrier layer, the project team used mechanical recycling and deinking to produce a high-quality MDO-PE1 bag for dishwasher tabs that is made from 30 per cent recycled material and is itself suitable for recycling.
In a next step, the team is tackling the digital product passport2 to capture recycling-relevant packaging properties and make the bag identifiable for high-quality recycling as part of post-consumer waste management.
Optimal recycling performance planned
Producing the high-quality polyethylene bag from its predecessor required several steps in a coordinated process in which each project partner could contribute its experience and skills:
"The demands on plastic packaging have never been more complex, and we have evolved our production facilities so that films and packaging are not only Dow, HP, Reifenhäuser, Cadel Deinking and Karlville supply proof of concept for bag-to-bag recycling
economical and functional, but also meet the high demand for recyclable packaging based on mono-material structures," explains Ralf Wiechmann, head of film innovation at Reifenhäuser. "For this project, we expanded our machine expertise and coextruded the polyethylene granules in our highly flexible EVO 9-layer blown film line to produce PE-based packaging at high line speeds. This project shows that recyclable packaging can be implemented according to Recyclass and CEFLEX guidelines and that we can also use recyclates in high-value applications if we work together effectively along the value chain."
"For the new pouch, we reverse printed the MDO PE film on the Indigo 25K digital press with the design template for the dishwasher tab pouches so it could be laminated at Dow's Pack Studios," adds Itai Shifriss, head of Indigo Business Supplies at HP. "Sustainability is a strategic growth area for HP and our customers, and we are working with leading value chain partners to drive the circular economy."
"Thanks to Dow's Pack Studios and a team of world-class scientists, we were able to bring our expertise and testing capabilities to help our polyethylenes achieve the best possible performance in this feasibility study," added Laura Evangelio, senior technical service and development specialist at Dow Packaging & Specialty Plastics. "The first PE bag was designed for recyclability with up to 5 per cent EVOH in the overall structure for barrier functionality. Dow's innovative polyethylenes offer excellent stiffness to toughness ratio, low temperature sealing, adhesion to extruded barrier layers and excellent bubble stability. For the second PE bag, we used high performance adhesives to laminate the MDO PE film to the recycled PE film. The project is not only important to our industry's sustainability efforts, but also an example of true scientific teamwork."
"Our special deinking technology was used in the production of the recycled materials for the second bag to achieve the best recycled result," said Pablo Cartagena, Business Development Manager at Cadel Deinking. "The deinking process is crucial as it effectively removes the ink from the plastic surface to produce a plastic that has similar properties to the original raw material. This ensures high quality recycling from bag to bag. We are delighted to be working closely with all these leading companies to demonstrate that Cadel's deinking technology is considered 'critical' to the recyclability of plastics."
"The Karlville bag machine is one of the most compact machines on the market, designed for extremely low waste and quick changeovers, and is perfect for recyclable materials," says Gustavo Guzzi, EMEA Sales Manager at Karlville. "We are proud to be part of this project. Producing high quality PE-based bags is a challenge in itself. Achieving recyclability is amazing and with the right partners now within reach."
Next step: traceability
As a further development of the project, the companies are working on equipping the bags with digital traceability. This is being done as part of the R-Cycle initiative, a cross-company initiative to develop an open and globally applicable traceability standard for sustainable plastic packaging. The aim of this initiative is to automatically record recycling-relevant packaging properties already during production with the help of a digital product passport and to pass them on through the value chain. With special markings, usable packaging can then be identified in the recycling process and sorted into single-part fractions. This is key to obtaining high-quality recycled materials and closing the loop. R-Cycle is being driven by several Dow, HP, Reifenhäuser, Cadel Deinking and Karlville provide proof-of-concept for bag-to-bag recycling
key players in the plastics industry, including Reifenhäuser, which is contributing the technology for the bag-to-bag concept.
"As a leader in sustainable packaging materials, Dow is committed to introducing PE-based packaging that is designed for recycling and recovers the value of its original use. This project underscores that commitment," concludes Jaroslaw Jelinek, Global Marketing Manager for Oriented PE Technologies, Dow Packaging & Specialty Plastics. "Through Pack Studios, Dow is contributing to industrial-scale testing and production capabilities to accelerate the development of such projects worldwide. This announcement is the latest example of our commitment to address both climate change and plastic waste through our expanded sustainability goals to protect the climate, prevent waste and close the loop.


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