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  • 06 Jul 2020

Polifilm and Herma develop matrix waste recycling program

Polifilm and Herma develop matrix waste recycling program

In a joint project, the film manufacturer Polifilm Extrusion and the self-adhesive materials specialist Herma have succeeded in initiating a genuine recycling stream for matrix waste that arises during the production of film labels.

‘In practice, this means that we are recovering a film product and returning it to the production cycle in the form of a high-quality recycled material. The method we are applying also allows the adhesives in particular, as well as the customary printing inks, to be processed,’ says Jens Kölble, head of packaging and performance films at Polifilm. ‘In the initial phase we are using the recycled material in the production of construction films. Mixing in a small quantity does not impose any restrictions whatsoever as regards either functionality or processing.’

According to Polifilm, groundwork on further film applications is already taking place. The actual quantities of matrix that can be processed at present remains small, however, because a market has yet to be established. Until now there has not been any economically viable or ecologically acceptable recycling option for PE matrix waste. As a rule, the matrix enters the thermal recovery stream, otherwise known as incineration. Label printers currently pay between EUR 150 to 200 (USD 170 to 230) per metric ton for this form of waste management.

‘Apart from the costs, simply destroying precious raw materials cannot be a sensible option from a sustainability perspective. We are always keen to highlight ways of bringing about a circular economy and further reducing the ecological footprint of labels,’ commented Dr Ulli Nägele, head of development at Herma.

Matrix waste is created wherever labels are die-cut from a web of label stock. Depending on the shape, size and arrangement of the labels in the web, substantial quantities can arise. Although the exact figures are not available for the quantity of PE matrix produced worldwide, Herma has estimated that European converters currently generate around 7,300 metric tons of this waste annually.

Matrix recycling, as implemented now by Polifilm, is for the time being limited to PE label film stock. But as Dr. Nägele confidently predicts,

‘It’s only a matter of time before a similar approach is adopted for PP films as well,’ added Dr Ulli Nägele. ‘In the case of PE films, we were certain from the outset that pooling our adhesive skills with Polifilm’s expertise in the recycling and manufacture of films would quickly give rise to workable results.’

Polifilm had already partnered with schäfer-etiketten and Herma to develop a PE label, regarded as the first of its kind worldwide, consisting entirely of post-consumer recycled (PCR) material. Even the masterbatch containing the white pigment is a PCR PE product. For a similar project utilizing 50 percent PCR and 50 percent industrial PE waste, the three companies were awarded the German Packaging Prize in the sustainability category in the autumn of 2019.

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