WATCH: ‘We’re replacing mixed material packaging that’s difficult or impossible to recycle with a mono-material that can be used again and again'

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags ReZorce Sustainable packaging

When it comes to packaging, is it always clear which is the most environmentally-friendly choice? Mixed material packaging combining high levels of paperboard, for example, is often touted as a greener choice than plastic, but if most of it ends up in landfill or incinerators because curbside recycling programs won’t pick it up, is it really a better solution?

When it comes to sustainable packaging, "there’s no silver bullet,"​ says Neil Court-Johnston, VP strategy at UK-based Zotefoams,* which is talking to leading CPG companies in the US about using its ReZorce mono-material recyclable barrier packaging on everything from beverage cartons to potato chip bags.

“The issue is not paper versus plastic. Paper, metal, glass, and plastic all have the positive uses, what we are looking to try to solve here is mixed material, that's the enemy,”​ he told FoodNavigator-USA.

“We are replacing mixed material packaging that is either difficult or impossible to recycle with a mono-material that can be used again and again.

“In the USA​,” added Court-Johnston, “almost no mixed material beverage carton is recycled today, it's quite shocking, which is why we're focusing first and foremost on cartons.

“There are billions of aseptic cartons out there with aluminum, plastic, and paper all welded together with a laminated surface that are either extremely difficult or impossible to recycle. The same applies to chip bags, which are made from film that’s bonded to aluminum, which can’t be separated, so they all go to landfill or incineration.”

'The issue is not paper versus plastic...'

ReZorce packaging​ can be used to replace a wide range of products currently packaged in composite/mixed material packaging, from oatmilk cartons and babyfood pouches to apple juice boxes.

“We're in the midst of trials with beverage cartons,"​ said Court-Johnston. "And we have already commercialized with Kraft Heinz, a bacon board product in the US, where we replaced a golden foiled backing card for bacon with a 100% high density polyethylene ReZorce packaging that is fully recyclable.”

“We have a state of the art food technical center in Boston, Massachusetts, very close to MIT, where this material actually first came from, and we’ve just opened a second facility with a pilot line specifically for ReZorce so we can bring people from around the world to these sites and show what we can do.” Image credit: Zotefoams

‘We’re producing material that looks, feels, and folds like paper…’

To make ReZorce, Zotefoams effectively re-engineers a plastic such as HDPE (high density polyethylene, which is currently used in things like milk containers) such that it exhibits the barrier properties of mixed materials such as Tetra Paks and apple sauce pouches that combine layers of paper, plastic, and aluminum that keep products safe and preserve shelf-life, but are tough to recycle.

Whereas regular HDPE has one layer, however, ReZorce has multiple layers, explained Court-Johnston. “We create a microcellular structure of bubbles of atmospheric gas that are trapped in the polymer layers, and that creates a barrier property, so effectively we're creating multiple layers within a polymer.

“We’re producing material that looks, feels, and folds like paper, and by injecting the atmospheric gases, generally C02 or nitrogen, we are reducing the weight, the mass of the material, by about 15-20%.

“And then we produce sheets of that material that can then be used by fillers and converters on the existing machinery… so if you said to me, I’m running a juice factory in California, and I have four Tetra Pak machines, the easiest thing for you is to receive a roll of pre-printed carton that you can feed through your machines.”

ReZorce is a polymer sheet material made in layers, some of which contain microbubbles, and preserves products by keeping oxygen and water out. It feels and folds like paperboard and is printed using surface printing. It’s made using existing sheet extrusion processes and produced and filled on standard machines. Image credit: Zotefoams

‘It lends itself well to rigid packaging like cartons, but it also has numerous other applications including pouches, tubes, trays, films and flexible packaging such as chip bags’

He added: “ReZorce lends itself well to rigid packaging like cartons, but it also has numerous other applications, for example pouches, tubes, trays, and a big one, is films and flexible packaging such as chip bags; we're able to produce up to nine layers within the gauge of a chip bag.”

And what’s getting food companies excited, is the fact that it’s fully recyclable, and can be made with recycled content, he said.

“We've conducted tests in the UK, across North America, Ireland and Germany, and the ReZorce packaging is sorted with the recyclables every time successfully.”

The other attractive aspect of the technology is that it can effectively plug and play into existing carton making, printing, filling and closing processes, he claimed.

“The material can be extruded using current extrusion processes for the converters, and it can be run through existing production machines for filling and packaging, and from a consumer acceptance point of view, it's effectively going to be recycled, as you would your HDPE milk container.”

*Zotefoams​ ​owns and licenses patented microcellular foam technology (‘MuCell’) to reduce plastic use in extrusion applications and for ReZorce​ mono-material recyclable barrier packaging

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