The pioneering design overcomes many shortcomings of the recycling process and is the result of a joint effort by Werner & Mertz, Mondi, EPEA Switzerland (Cradle to Cradle®), Der Grüne Punkt – Duales System Deutschland and Institut cyclos-HTP.
In 2014, Werner & Mertz decided to develop packaging that is recyclable in the fullest sense. This was before most fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies viewed a commitment to sustainability as an indispensable building block for brand equity. Several packaging suppliers told them it could not be realized. Then they met Mondi.
The project was truly ambitious. It was not about developing flexible plastic packaging that is only theoretically recyclable – packaging likely to end up in landfill. Rather, the design aim was to “reverse-engineer” the recycling process: to create packaging fit for every stage of the recycling process.
The challenges of true recycling
A crucial and often neglected step in the recycling process is sorting. Failure to sort the collected packaging into material streams that recyclers can use leads to down-cycling – that is, the production of recycled material no longer suitable for its original application. “If you want to avoid a ‘garbage in, garbage out’ scenario,” explains Immo Sander, head-Packaging Development, Werner & Mertz Group, “the entire value chain must be aligned – from packaging producers through players in sorting and recycling to buyers of recycled material.” This is the aim of the Recyclate Initiative that Werner & Mertz launched in 2012.
To develop packaging that would yield high-end recycled material, Werner & Mertz and Mondi consulted multiple recycling experts: Der Grüne Punkt – Duales System Deutschland, EPEA Switzerland as well as Institut cyclos-HTP for later certification.
The packaging needed to be made of a polyethylene mono-material, which is a prerequisite for recycling. “Our collaboration with Werner & Mertz shows, in the best possible way, how challenges can become solutions,” adds Jens Kösters, mgr.-Technical Services, Mondi Consumer Goods Packaging, “We worked our way through an ‘innovation funnel’— testing different materials until we arrived at a designed-for-recycling concept that convinced everyone at each point of the value chain. Furthermore, the concept offers clear benefits related to sealing strength and maximum filling volume.”
A giant leap: a pouch with detachable decorative panels
A final touch was added to solve the issue of recycling printed plastic materials. The pouch has two layers. “We dress the pouch up in an eye-catching ‘outer garment’ that is printed with brand design on the front and consumer info on the back,” says Sander. “When the pouch is empty, we ‘undress’ it automatically by shredding and sorting the two components into separate recycling streams.”
The patented pouch is now 100% recyclable. The material is, of course, free of adhesive. Spout and cap are also made of polyethylene, which means the recycled material will be equivalent in quality to the original material.