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Close the Loop wins top global sustainability award for packaging

Close the Loop

Close the Loop has won the Diamond Award for the 2021 Dow Packaging Innovation Awards – the top global sustainability award for packaging. 

Close the Loop was recognised for its high-barrier, kerbside recyclable muesli pouch for Brookfarm using the Roll ‘n’ Recycle program – a first in Australia for kerbside recycling. 

Close the Loop also won the Gold Award for utilising re-useable content into spout pouch packaging for its client Zero Co. The pouch is reusable at a commercial level that consumers return to Zero Co after use to be sanitised, refilled and reused again in a circular economy. 

While celebrating the award wins, Close the Loop Group CEO Joe Foster highlighted the challenge around recycling and sustainability and what industry needs to do to address it. 

“Around the world almost US$3 trillion per year of additional capital investment is required to meet increasing sustainability metrics, with continued high landfill rates for plastic and print consumables,” Foster said. 

“Australia’s target of recycling or composting 70 per cent of plastic packaging by 2025 is achievable, but industry strategies – especially in soft plastics – and consumer behaviour need to change. Industry bodies must work together from packaging companies, brand owners, retail chains and recycling companies to find a solution. 

“This should not be a race to the top for any individual company, but a collective approach from innovation and product development to collection and reuse, as we need the solution to be successful for all parts of the circular economy.” 

The Federal Budget announcement of $60 million to fund advanced plastic recycling technology for soft plastics is part of the government’s much bigger $250 million recycling fund designed to find new and innovative ways to make recycling more efficient. 

Close the Loop is pioneering the creation of packaging from single polymers, which provides better packaging-to-packaging capability while meeting stringent quality standards. 

Single polymers were key in the kerbside recyclable pouch for Brookfarm that took out the top award for Close the Loop at the 2021 Dow Packaging Innovation Awards. The high-barrier pouch for muesli is made from a single or mono type of plastic polymer (Polyethylene-PE), eliminating the need for complex multilaminates that hinder the ability for packaging to be recovered. 

In addition to this material change for the Brookfarm product, Close the Loop introduced the innovation of Roll ‘n’ Recycle where a matching PE label is adhered to the pack at time of manufacture to allow consumers to roll the empty pack into a 3-dimensional shape (eliminating issues with recycling machinery) and place into their kerbside recycling bin at home, eliminating the need for consumers to take the pack to a soft plastics recovery location. 

Close the Loop
Packaging machine.

“It is an honour to receive the Diamond Award and I would like to thank the industry professionals from across the globe for this recognition,” Foster said on accepting the award from Switzerland via video link. 

“Close the Loop leads the packaging and consumables industries in circular economy innovation and sustainability initiatives to stay ahead of evolving regulation and we see this award and product as further proof of our approach.” 

Close the Loop worked with Brookfarm for over 12 months to create a high barrier mono-polymer pouch. They had to ensure the same shelf life as the previous packaging and the same level of product protection for the muesli that contained a variety of quality ingredients. 

The project faced many challenges requiring expertise across the packaging, label, and adhesive areas. Collaboration with key partners such as Result Group and PREP Design in Australia provided the opportunity for research and development on the project to ensure the packaging format and label combination would perform as required and remain 3D enough to move through the recycling process. 

Soft plastic packaging typically utilises more than one type of plastic, which doesn’t provide the ability for separation of materials, so using a mono-polymer pouch was vital. Soft plastics also mimic paper in lightweight 2D form and contaminate the individual plastic streams, while getting tangled in the mechanical processes of recycling. Close the Loop conducted trials on the pouches at a Material Recycling Facility (MRF) in Australia and achieved the same success rate as PET bottles going through the system. 

The project has been submitted to the Australian Packaging Convent organisation (APCO) for acceptance into the national recycling label program (Australasian Recycling Label or ARL), which will provide further communication and explanation to end consumers in line with current government-back initiatives in the labelling space. 

“Recovery of end-of-life packaging can be challenging. Flexible packaging is typically not easily recognised by machines at Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs) and hand-picking such materials is difficult. After thorough testing with our partners, we created a solution that enables consumers to transform the empty 100 per cent polyethylene flat packaging into a 3D shape, suitable for the recycling bin so it’s ready for recycling through the existing processes.” 

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