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Creating a circular economy of packaging is critical for the future

packaging

O F Packaging and Close the Loop continue to be an invaluable sustainable and recyclable packaging organisation for the food and beverage industry.

In its continuing journey toward the ‘Holy Grail’ of recyclable food packaging, O F Packaging continues to innovate and create sustainable solutions for the industry.

O F Packaging offers both conventional and sustainable packaging options to the food and beverage industry, while innovating new solutions in response to the industry’s needs.

The organisation continues to formulate and test new packaging options to create a greater circular economy around packaging. The Holy Grail the organisation speaks of, is in reference to creating a ‘packaging for packaging’ circular economy around recyclables.

“Having 100 per cent recycled content in a flexible bag is the Holy Grail for us. It is a challenge, unlike with rigid containers such as bottles and cans,” said O F Packaging marketing manager, Jessica Ansell.

“Getting high percentages of recycled content is a challenge because of the contamination levels. The main challenge there is the food safety element and something everyone is working towards, and it will be the greatest achievement of the industry to meet.”

Getting product back from those soft plastic sources is almost impossible.

“The only real way to do it at this stage is through a process called pyrolysis, which is where they put it into a reactor and break the plastic back down into char and then refine the oil and remake plastic again,” said Ansell.

“The only way to get post-consumer soft plastics to be food grade is this process. Even after that whole process there is still only 30 per cent that is usable.”

The organisation will continue to put an emphasis on recyclable content for the foreseeable future.

“Recycled content is a big focus area that we are working on, even doing shelf-life testing on pouches with varying levels of recycled content,” said Ansell.

“We are also trying to find that sweet spot is and how the barrier compares to other materials.”

O F Packaging has twice been a finalist at the PIDA Awards, from the Australian Institute of Packaging, for its sustainable innovations and is again a finalist for the 2022 awards.

One solution O F Packaging came up with was to create a toner product which improves Australian roads.

“It’s a great option for recycling that isn’t packaging related,” said Ansell.

“We do hope to get packaging to packaging and get that full circular economy in the packaging space because it is over 50 per cent of our plastic use worldwide every year but for now having an option and solution that gives a great outcome for recycled content is a good thing.”

packaging

The journey towards the goal of a packaging-to-packaging circular economy has given rise to some innovative new packaging, and recycling, solutions for the food and beverage industry.

“In the food industry, for a lot of our clients at least, there is that challenge of recycled content and the food safety aspect and how we can get recycled content back into packaging,” said Ansell.

“The thinness of the films you’re using are so much thinner than rigid containers which brings challenges when trying to create stability and food safety in the food contact layer on the inside, which have to pass industry standards.”

Currently, most of the recycled content which goes back into food packaging is not post-consumer.

“A lot comes from cleaner waste streams, whether it be medical or industrial facilities, places with other plastic products with cut off sections of waste from the manufacturing process,” said Ansell.

“That is all collected, ground down, and then put back in as recycled product but its new and clean.”

Being able to offer flexibility is another critical part of the organisation’s approach because of the variations across the industry.

“From our standpoint there is no one size fits all solution when it comes to sustainability. Different products and different markets require different solutions,” said Ansell.

“A big part of our innovation is reaching a breadth of products that we can offer and services we can offer our clients. This includes reusable packaging and eliminating the need for continued production.”

For example, an O F Packaging client was seeking a pouch they could sanitise, refill, and then send back out to client’s multiple times.

“That was something that hadn’t been done before and that was a successful project for us and they basically have a zero-packaging waste company now,” said Ansell.

“They also take responsibility for end of life when the pouch expires, they will recycle those with us, the Close the Loop Group.

“Taking responsibility of their own waste is definitely something brands have started to focus on more.”

The current areas of focus for O F Packaging, ahead of it exhibiting at the Fine Food expo in Melbourne from September 5 to 8, are recyclable and recycled content, and to a lesser extent, compostable.

“While compostable isn’t a major focus, recyclable is king, we still offer certified compostable solutions,” said Ansell.

“And for clients who want to go through the Australian ABA certification process, we can provide all the support they need. The Australian standards are one of the strictest in the world for home composting which is challenging for clients.

Ansell said another major reason it is an exciting time for the packaging industry is the endless possibilities for innovation and improvement.

“We start of by making flexible packaging simpler and easier to recycle,” she said.

“Now that we’ve done that, we are figuring out how to get soft plastics from existing kerbside recycling co-mingles without any issues to machinery and that is an amazing innovation.

“Things like this open new avenues because we eliminate the issues with multi-laminates, and we have more opportunity to use that packaging for more things.”

One of the main sustainable packaging options on offer from O F Packaging are a range of flexible and rigid pouches, which has helped the organisation learn what challenges need to be overcome to change traditional packaging.

“It’s always a challenge because you have to protect the product and also all of the machinery has been built for complex laminates,” said Ansell.

“This is because complex laminates themselves were made to perform at the highest peak of packaging and now that you are changing thew specifications of the materials, you have a whole industry of machinery that has to compensate.”

What this means is current packaging machinery would need to undergo updates, or even change outs, to achieve a switch over of packaging.

“There’s a whole backend of things in the industry that now need to change because of changing the specification of the film,” said Ansell.

“It’s not just about the packaging but about how it’s made, filled, sealed, and transported. And shelf life because retailers still ask for one to two years of shelf life, so the pouch has to do that.”

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