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Metal recycles forever

RECYCLING

of food packaging materials

Food packaging often turns into waste after short periods of use. Recycling is currently discussed as one option to reduce the environmental impact of food packaging. Efficient collection and separation processes are a prerequisite for successful recycling.

However, whether recycling can be applied to keep the material in a closed cycle and produce new food packaging strongly depends on the material type. Properties such as stability, color, and smell can change during recycling. Additionally, the chemical safety can be compromised if the material allows carry over of contaminants or tends to degrade in the process.

Therefore, some materials can be recycled almost infinitely into new food packaging. For others, the number of cycles is limited, and special measures are needed to guarantee the safety of the recycled material before it is used in contact with food again. The third group of materials cannot be recycled into new food packaging – these materials are either downcycled or not recycled at all. Currently, the main food packaging materials can be grouped accordingly:

 

 

 

 

 

Material properties and/or missing processes do not allow recycling into new food packaging

 

Most plastic food packaging that is not made of PET cannot be recycled into new food packaging due to missing processes and safety concerns. Therefore, it is typically downcycled and used in other applications, for example, in construction and agriculture.

Multilayer food packaging consisting of different plastic polymers or combinations of different materials is currently almost not recyclable, because the layers are very difficult to separate. Currently, only the paperboard fraction of beverage cartons can be separated in established recycling processes, but the recovered material is not used in contact with food again.

 

Addition of virgin material and special measures needed to guarantee function and safety of recycled food packaging

 

For other materials, such as polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and paper and board, established recycling processes exist. However, certain precautions must be taken to produce materials that are safe to use in contact with food. Alternatively, the direct contact of the recycled material with the food can be prevented by suitable measures such as barriers, which may, in turn, affect further recycling.

In addition to the safety concerns, plastic polymers and paper and board can only be recycled for a limited number of cycles and require the addition of virgin material.

 

Material properties and chemical safety of recycled food packaging remain high after repeated cycles

 

The ‘permanent’ materials metal and glass do not change their properties during recycling. They can be recycled over and over again, and the recycled materials are as safe as the virgin materials to be used in new food packaging. Although a very high content of recycled material is technically possible, some virgin raw materials for metal and glass are commonly added in most processes.

Recycling of metal and glass are energy intensive processes. However, glass in particular can be easily cleaned and sanitized, making this material an ideal candidate for reuse.

 

 

 

 

 

More information about food packaging recycling is available in the respective section of each fact sheet.