Mono-materials and the 2025 circular economy

By 2025 all plastic packaging will need to be recyclable, reusable or compostable. Regional and national commitments have made this the standard we will all work towards.

Agreements like the ANZPAC Plastics Pact in our region are pushing brands and packaging manufacturers towards a circular economy for plastics, where it is never waste or pollution.

These agreements focus on four key areas:

  • To eliminate unnecessary and problematic plastic packaging through redesign, innovation and alternative (reuse) delivery models.
  • All plastic packaging to be reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025.
  • To increase plastic packaging collected and effectively recycled – by at least 25% – for each geography within the ANZPAC region.
  • An average of 25% recycled content in plastic packaging across the region.


New frameworks and new solutions

In Europe, CEFLEX’s Mission Circular commits to collection of all flexible packaging, with over 80% of recycled materials channeled into valuable new markets with applications to substitute virgin materials. The Mission Circular is a collaboration of over 160 European companies, associations and organisations representing the entire value chain of flexible packaging. They drive policy change to support regulation and bring stakeholders together to reassert producer responsibility. This is vital to making flexible packaging circular, sustainable and economically viable.

Flexible packaging made from mono-materials is one of the best emerging options to support recycling efficiency and retain value. The plastics industry taking direction from the likes of ANZPAC, CEFLEX, WRAP and APCO, is making a huge shift towards the simplification of soft plastics. Polyolefin-only substrates are a particular focus.

Clear and coordinated policy direction will determine how, and the speed with which companies across the value chain transition to mono-material solutions. FMCG companies and large retailers like Tesco in the UK and Woolworths in Australia are continuing to set out clear strategies, releasing preferred materials lists that narrow the inputs to ensure we can capture and reuse the packaging we produce. Large retailers like Tesco and Woolworths additionally support their own strategies internally, offering return to store schemes. This is a good interim solution whilst the kerbside collection infrastructure plays catch up. We have no time to waste!

Flexible plastic packaging is a growing segment in the packaging industry. Total sales for flexible packaging worldwide reached $228 billion before the pandemic and are set to grow at an annual average rate of 3.3 per cent, reaching $269 billion in 2024. Soft plastics, and specifically mono-materials are versatile and enable various formats compared to rigidpacks and are entirely recyclable: stand-up pouches, sachets, films, bags, liners, or wraps.

Packaging is critical in meeting the global priority to reduce food waste. A 50% reduction in expected food waste (100 million tons) by 2050, with a decrease of 250 million tons of CO2 equivalent should be our aim. Then we can do more from there. Plastics are lightweight and in a global market offer an overall lower carbon footprint compared to rigid packaging alternatives such as glass and metal.

Increased inclusion of PCR, (post-consumer recycled) polymers in packaging specifically will create a truly circular economy. Current third-party applications like benches – aggregate for roads – offer an excellent alternative to disposal. More end user applications are being developed, a process that will accelerate as we increase the quality and constancy of PCR polymers.

While most rigid materials are primarily mono-material-based, soft plastics flexible packaging has traditionally been multi-material. They consist of several layers of different types of polymers, sometimes including aluminium, all of which makes recycling more difficult, less efficient, with recycled materials having a lower retained value.


Design for recycling

Cyclpac develops products for the circular economy. CEFLEX and other pacts offer extensive and detailed guidelines for polyolefin packaging design. Mono-materials play an important part in this thinking.

Polyolefins-based mono-material solutions like BOPE provide the required building blocks for development of a comprehensive range of products. Most recycling centres are equipped for PE, PP, and PET. These materials are broadly recycled around the globe and have clearly recognisable secondary markets for recycled polymers. The use of mono-materials makes collection, sorting and recycling more efficient.

Cyclpac has developed both PP and PE laminates with high barrier properties as an alternative to packs using aluminium foil as a barrier layer or other mixed laminate solutions. Improving recyclability, enabling ease of recycling is crucial for designing for the circular economy.

Following the success of Melbourne Coffee, mono-material packaging, which was awarded gold for recycling by the Australian Institute of Packaging, Cyclpac continues to collaborate with clients developing fully recyclable mono-material pouch solutions for both PE and PP-based materials. These include pouch concepts made of PP and PE  with and without high barrier properties.


Value chain developments – spouted pouches

While developing mono-material packaging to be more easily recyclable, all stakeholders in the value chain must develop and redevelop technologies to support recycling.  Menshen, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of closures, plastic lids, and packaging systems for 50 years, developed Reverse Spout Sealing Technology, which enables the production of spouted pouches made of mono-material films.

The new process is designed to seal spouts in more heat sensitive, mono-material structures made from all polypropylenes or all polyethylene packaging layers. Traditionally the heat is applied from the outside, applying the heat from outside the pouch forming film to melt the seal layer and the spout. Menshen reengineered the machine to pre-melt the spout at its base before insertion into the pouch and sealing.

Reversing the traditional sealing process helped reduce the excess heat needed to the outside of the film to seal the inner, lower density film layers to a high-density spout base. The packaging structure is less dependent on a film’s thermal resistance – one of the key challenges when moving to mono-material solutions.

Significant stakeholder investment

Leading convertors such as Amcor, Huhtamaki and Constantia, in collaboration with global brand owners such as Unilever, P&G, Nestle, Mars are driving the continued development of mono-material packaging as a consequence of policy shift, responsibility and accountability to the markets they dominate.

Cyclpac cheers this change and the significant momentum and urgency with which it is happening, as we move towards a truly circular economy.

Cyclpac can help your business to develop a sustainable road map in a couple of simple ways:

1. Education & conversation, working with your teams, discussing the guidelines and principles of the circular economy, helping to prioritise actions for your business

2. Packaging & process audit, collect base line data, understand your businesses from a packaging, process, and market perspective, set some practical objectives and timelines for change, developing alternative solutions, working with you in each phase of transition

— Edward