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PET Power: Revolutionising F&B packaging with sustainable solutions
Siân Yates

Siân Yates

21 June 2024

PET Power: Revolutionising F&B packaging with sustainable solutions

In recent years, the F&B industry has witnessed a significant shift towards sustainable and eco-friendly packaging solutions. Despite the challenges often associated with plastic, PET packaging has emerged as a preferred choice. As consumer demand for environmentally conscious products grows, PET packaging continues to stand out, meeting both industry and consumer expectations for a sustainable future. FoodBev's Siân Yates explored this topic in more detail in our most recent magazine issue.

While plastic packaging is commonly associated with issues such as littering, contamination and challenges related to recycling infrastructure, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) packaging continues to be a leading choice. Its distinct blend of attributes – versatility, lightweight design, recyclability and product safety – positions it uniquely within the food and beverage packaging landscape.

“Consumers seek products that allow them to make choices that are beneficial for both themselves and the planet. PET packaging, which is both recyclable and often made from recycled materials, strongly resonates with those aiming for a more sustainable lifestyle.” Terry Patcheak, VP of research & development, sustainability and program management at Amcor

“Consumers seek products that allow them to make choices that are beneficial for both themselves and the planet,” Terry Patcheak, VP of research & development, sustainability and program management at Amcor, told FoodBev. “PET packaging, which is both recyclable and often made from recycled materials, strongly resonates with those aiming for a more sustainable lifestyle.”

Patcheak highlighted convenience as another key trend driving innovation in packaging design, a sentiment echoed by Adriana Dale, marketing director for global beverage and machinery at Graphic Packaging International. “Consumers are looking for greater convenience and functionality in their packaging,” said Dale. “Differentiation, premiumisation and packaging circularity also remain high on the agenda for food and beverage producers.”

Lightening the load

The increasing demand for enhanced lightweighting, durability and design flexibility is driving significant breakthroughs in PET packaging.

Amcor has introduced a new technology called PowerPost, which enables the production of PET bottles that are up to 30% lighter and can be made using 100% recycled material.

“By actively displacing the vacuum within the container after filling, PowerPost technology achieves significant weight reduction, resulting in 30% energy savings and 30% lower carbon emissions compared to many existing 20oz (600ml) bottles,” Patcheak explained.

It was PowerPost that led to the introduction of Amcor’s 1-litre carbonated soft drink stock option, crafted entirely from 100% post-consumer recycled materials. This first-of-its-kind stock option supports customers as they strive to meet regulatory requirements and fulfil the growing demand for sustainable packaging solutions.

In 2018, Amcor committed to ensuring that all its packaging would be recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025. Moreover, in the past year alone, Amcor used over 375 million lbs of recycled material, setting a new industry standard in sustainable packaging practices.

Alpla, meanwhile, introduced a recyclable wine bottle crafted from PET. This innovative bottle weighs merely one-eighth of its glass counterpart, slashing carbon emissions by up to 50%, while enabling cost savings of up to 30%. Furthermore, it can be produced entirely from recycled PET (rPET).

Available in both 0.75-litre and 1-litre sizes, this packaging solution has already debuted in Austria, adopted by customer and development partner, Wegenstein. The sustainable design boasts a 38% reduction in carbon footprint compared to traditional glass bottles, even without rPET content.

Additionally, Alpla plans to ramp up production to several million units annually by 2025, with a focus on solutions crafted entirely from rPET.

“PET is light, unbreakable and recyclable, and can be molded with little energy needed, making the plastic the ideal packaging solution,” said Daniel Lehner, global sales director for food and beverage at Alpla. “With it, winemakers can improve their environmental footprint and lower their costs.”

Smart systems

rPET offers a packaging solution that reduces reliance on virgin plastic and promotes circular economy principles. Additionally, it helps companies comply with regulatory requirements focused on waste reduction and environmental sustainability.

To aid manufacturers in adopting rPET, Sidel introduced its RePETable offer in June last year. “This comprehensive suite of services from Sidel is tailored to facilitate a seamless transition to rPET bottle production while also assisting in the development of innovative, recyclable primary packaging materials that prioritise sustainability,” enthused Stéphane Menard, product manager for blowing care at Sidel.

He added: “With RePETable, we’re committed to creating a virtuous closed-loop process for food-grade rPET bottles which will help grow the market for recycled PET further in the future”.

Earlier this year, Sidel also launched IntelliAdjust, a smart bottle blowing control system, which is capable of producing consistently higher bottle quality and, crucially, supports the production of bottles with rPET content.

“IntelliAdjust is a patented solution that guarantees consistent quality and high efficiency,” Menard commented. “It works within a ‘closed loop’ system using interferometric sensor technology, and ensures perfect material distribution, resulting in high production uniformity for PET bottles, including those made from rPET.

“This means that the quality will stay consistent across a range of variable production conditions, such as the resin used, preform storage, workshop temperature and relative humidity.”

It’s chemistry

Beverage giant Kirin is at the forefront of sustainable PET initiatives in Japan, having introduced an alkaline decomposition method for PET that achieves rapid breakdown while minimising energy consumption.

Tatsunori Okubo and Masaki Nakaya from Kirin Holdings’ R&D Division shared insights with FoodBev, detailing the company’s innovative approach. They highlighted the development of a refining method using electrodialysis, which not only reduces environmental impact and costs but also enables the recycling of chemicals used in the decomposition and refining processes.

Traditional PET recycling methods often involve high temperatures and lengthy processing times; however, Kirin’s novel method achieves PET conversion in just 15 minutes at lower temperatures.

Kirin has also introduced chemical recycling resin in its 3-litre PET bottles for restaurant use. This marks the first instance in Japan of such resin being used in PET bottles for alcoholic beverages.

The company’s goal extends beyond establishing a circular economy for PET products; it is also committed to developing a comprehensive system for collecting PET items beyond just beverage bottles. Since 2022, Kirin has collaborated with beauty brand Fancl to advance the reuse of PET materials, furthering its sustainability initiatives.

“In Japan, where a robust resource recycling system has been established, the degradation of PET plastic purity due to multiple recycling cycles is anticipated to emerge as a significant societal concern,” said Okubo and Nakaya.

They continued: “Kirin Group recognises this impending issue and is actively promoting the adoption of chemical recycling technology as a proactive solution. Specifically, Kirin is working to develop its own PET chemical recycling technologies, aiming to contribute to the regeneration and sustainable use of PET resources.”

UBQ Materials is another company working in the chemical recycling space. Its patented UBQ conversion process begins with the receipt of residual municipal solid waste – everything from food residues and mixed plastics to cardboard, paper and even dirty diapers, that would have otherwise been sent to landfill or incineration.

Metals and minerals, which have high recyclability, are removed and sent over to traditional recycling streams. All that remains is transformed into UBQ – so nothing goes to waste.

The sole feedstock to the UBQ conversion process is household waste, which is largely comprised of organic materials. UBQ’s advanced waste conversion technology breaks down the organic matter into its basic particulate constructs – lignin, cellulose, fibres and sugars – and then reassembles them into a matrix.

Residual plastics present in the waste stream are melted down and get mixed into the matrix to create a homogeneous and consistent composite thermoplastic material.

As opposed to conventional chemical recycling systems that use high temperatures to break apart polymer bonds of synthetic plastics, UBQ requires significantly lower temperatures and energy. In 2021, UBQ’s solar array generated 100% of the energy required to produce UBQ.

Paper and PET

Paperboard serves multiple roles in PET packaging, offering structural support and protection during transportation. It can also be laminated or coated with PET to create composite materials with improved properties. As a core part of sustainable packaging solutions, paperboard components reduce environmental impact.

Additionally, paperboard allows for versatile printing options, aiding in brand differentiation and enhancing shelf appeal. Overall, paperboard plays a vital role in enhancing the functionality and sustainability of PET packaging.

Graphic Packaging International has introduced a new range of paperboard bottle packaging designed to replace plastic, enhance ease of use and elevate the premiumisation of multipack PET bottles, including hydration drinks, energy lines and sparkling/flavoured waters.

Graphic’s solutions, Cap-It and EnviroClip Beam, replace traditional shrink film, offering a sustainable option with high-quality print service and excellent billboarding space. These advancements are complemented by machinery tailored to PET.

“Our Cap-It clip-style multipack solution is specifically designed for PET containers, effectively addressing the challenges of container variance while offering excellent billboarding space and a

premium appearance,” added Graphic’s Dale.

The design work makes these solutions adaptable to a wide range of PET bottle shapes and sizes. Developed with high-speed packing machinery in mind, the packaging meets the demands of modern filler speeds and ensures supply chain efficiency.

As the food and beverage industry evolves, the emphasis on sustainable and innovative packaging solutions intensifies. PET packaging excels with its versatility, lightweight design, recyclability and product safety. These features not only mitigate environmental impact but also meet consumer demand for eco-friendly choices.

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