Digital Magazine

Film offers food packagers green marketing opportunity

When ICI Films decided to develop the first polyester foodpackaging film using post-consumer recycled (PCR) content nearly a year ago, we did so believing that growing consumer awareness of environmental issues would soon lead to tough environmental mandates for the flexible-packaging industry.

We had no special insights on this, but it doesn't take a crystal ball to anticipate what legislation may be coming. All one has to do is look at recent mandates directed at the rigid plastics industry m states like California, Oregon, Wisconsin and Florida.

The laws and implementation dates vary, but packagers in those states are already scrambling to produce rigid containers with at least 25% recycled content, or that are reusable up to five times, or that are made with a plastic that is being recycled at a rate of 25% to 55%. If we re to face similar challenges in flexible packaging, it's isn't to soon to begin exploring our options.

ICI s new Melinex ECO film is a product containing a minimum of 25% PCR resin which comes from waste beverage bottles. This PCR film, already cleared for food and drug applications in the US, is 100% pure PET. It's equivalent in nearly every way to one of the most widely used PET films for flexible-packaging applications--Melinex 813. In fact, we've given the new film the suffix 813G, the G standing for green, our environmental designation.

Although Melinex ECO 813G is perfectly clear, we offer converters the option of purchasing the film with a light green tint to further promote environmental awareness. Individual sheets, however, will still appear clear.

A perfect substitute for Melinex 81 3, but with an environmental advantage

Standard Melinex 813 is a pretreated PET film offering improved surface adhesion for inks and adhesive laminations. It's favored by many food packagers and converters over other films both PET and non-PET, because it offers greater thermal stability and machinability in horizontal and vertical form and fill packaging equipment. Melinex 813 has improved receptivity to a broader range of coatings, inks and adhesive systems. It's particularly suited to water and solventborne inks systems.

Melinex ECO 813G performance is indistinguishable from standard Melinex 813 except that it may be somewhat tougher. Preliminary ICI testing suggests Melinex ECO film has improved flex-crack performance versus standard 813 film. This is important in terms of the finished film's barrier properties.

Added toughness may also offer another unexpected benefit--it may permit increased processing speeds leading to improved productivity and yields. Of course, this is a general advantage for PET films over all polyolefin-type films. Oven temperatures can be higher with PET, which permits faster running on processing equipment.

Melinex Eco handles a broad range of coatings and inks

As with standard 813 film, Melinex ECO 813G handles lidstock coatings, thermo stripe coatings, and overlacquers which provide scuff resistance protection for printing when the film is used on board stock.

Melinex ECO 813G can also be used with a wide variety of solventborne and waterborne-ink systems, with solubility data available upon request. Due to the inherent properties of Melinex ECO 813F film, ink coverage can range to 100% with no film/pretreat overload resulting in an adhesive failure, which is a problem with some non-PET substrates. Melinex ECO film also delivers identical color performance versus standard 813 with no variations in hue.

Melinex ECO film can also be corona-discharge treated to enhance receptivity of waterborne systems to the pretreated surface.

With these characteristics, Melinex ECO film is suitable for many packaging applications. It can be reverse printed and has excellent tear resistance making it suitable for use with butter tubs, jelly packets, cookie bags, candy wrappers, and many other flexible food packages where aesthetics and package strength must go hand in hand.

PET is the Most Recycled of All Plastics

A question at this point might be, "If I'm already using a non-PET laminate, why switch to Melinex ECO 813G?" The answer, we believe, is strictly environmental. Melinex ECO film is 100% PET, the most recycled of all plastics. It represents a significant opportunity in material source reduction, plus gives food marketers the opportunity for differentiated PCR packaging. We believe any company with an environmental strategy should be interested.

Customers sometimes ask if waste soda bottles are our only source of post consumer PET. There are alternative sources, such as spent X-ray film and custom PET bottles, for example, shampoo bottles and peanut butter containers. These sources, however, generally require more processing to yield a PET resin that is pure enough for use in food and drug packaging. This added processing involves the depolymerization of the waste PET either by methanolysis, an alcohol-based process, or by glycolysis, interaction with ethylene glycol. In both cases, the product must be repolymerized to be used again.

When ICI Films made the commitment to produce PCR-content packaging film, we made the commitment to do it cost effectively to provide our customers with the best possible pricing.

We researched all sources of PCR resin and found that PET from waste beverage bottles made the most economic and environmental sense. It's derived through a lower cost mechanical process rather than chemically. Melinex ECO 813G will, however, carry a modest price premium as it's more expensive to manufacture than standard films.

The Future of PCR Films

Due to the worldwide movement toward recycled packaging materials, we're confident PCR films have a very bright future. Although Melinex ECO 813G is the industry's first polyester PCR film, our proprietary technology permits the development of virtually any Melinex film with PCR content. For example, a PCR version of our Melinex 840 film offers a pretreated surface that is ideal for cold-seal operations, or for improved metal adhesion.

Likewise, our self-sealing Melinex 850 film can be made in a PCR version. This special product can be metallized printed, and overlacquered on the plain side, then heat sealed to itself on the amorphous side, thus eliminating the need for a multistructure laminate. This is a move that pays off in two ways for the environment. First, through the use of reclaim material, and again in material source reduction.

With these benefits, market demand for PCR films is likely to grow, and ICI will be ready. We have substantially reduced order cycle times, and have installed an new manufacturing and resource planning system for greater flexibility in meeting market needs. We can take multiple feedstocks and blend them into our lines at precise ratios to achieve a homogenous end product, and do it faster than most manufacturers.

Second, we are encouraging our converting customers to work closely with us in recovering the value from their PET film waste: Our waste-recovery program is already paying dividends, and is proving to be a productive environmental step for all concerned.

Availability of Melinex ECO 813G

Melinex ECO 813G is now a commercial product and availability for customer sampling. Major food marketers have already begun to evaluate Melinex ECO film in conjunction with their environmental packaging strategies, but it's available to any converter or food marketer.

Melinex ECO 813G is pure PET, and approved for immediate use in food and drug packaging applications in the US. It offers all the same performance properties as standard Melinex 813, and is available in all the same gauges and roll widths.

Sherrod B. Tatum is the Global Product Life Cycle Manager for ICI Films Melinex Polyester Film Business. He manages product environmental affairs including recycled content products, PET film recyclability issues and product stewardship. Tatum has been employed at ICI for over 16 years.

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