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PACKAGING FEATURE PLASTIC PLAYS A ROLE IN THE CIRCULAR ECONOMY


Tomi Nyman, principal at Pöyry, tackles the issue that everyone is talking about - plastics. He says that we must seek to substitute our existing plastics for sustainable alternatives, and ensure that plastics that exist can be recycled and reused


I


t seems like there is a never-ending deluge of negativity about plastics in the


media. Yet for all the valid and important points being made about the environmental impacts of plastics, the most important question is all too often missed: can plastics be replaced? Ending plastic use is not an


environmental panacea – indeed, it could lead to greater harm – and changing how we use them is not as straightforward as some commentators would like you to believe. While it’s clear that plastics are not the


enemy, we need to face reality: firstly, the materials we use in the future will need to be sustainable and secondly, we need to overcome legitimate challenges that plastics are causing today. In my mind, it is also clear that this change will be led by companies, big and small, as they aim to manage their impact on the environment – and as they seek to ensure a long-term commercial standing for their businesses. It is entirely possible to find sustainable


replacements for plastic products and packaging – and it doesn’t need to undermine existing commercial models. However, given the wealth of different


plastics, all with different fundamental traits and properties, too often the response I hear back is that the bottleneck is simply finding the right solution to meet a particular problem. It means developing alternatives to


plastics alone cannot be the solution. We must also create a framework to allow organisations to find appropriate alternatives. One solution we’ve explored at Pöyry, has been to develop our own substitution methodology. We built a database and a set of tools that reflect the various applications of fossil plastics and the available bio-based plastics and fibre- based materials. Using this, we can sort through the wealth of substitution options to find the right one for any particular end use scenario, whether that is in industry or consumer products. Companies that make the switch are


finding that using more sustainable substitutes helps them overcome reputational challenges, drive customer preference, and get ahead of their competition. With all that said, substitution won’t


solve the problems we already face with unsustainable plastics – but here too


DESIGN CHANGES SPEED UP TORTILLA PACKING


ILAPAK’s Delta 6000 R flow wrapper with MAP for packing tortillas and flat breads is now capable of speeds of up to 150ppm following several design enhancements. ILAPAK’s engineers have improved the performance of the machine’s transversal sealing system by


upgrading the motors and gearbox, resulting in a more robust construction that can support higher speeds. The Delta 6000 R combines all of the features of the Delta 6000, including full modularity and ultra-


hygienic design, with the ability to produce MAP packs with hermetic seals for products of up to 15” in diameter. The specialised ‘inverted’ system was developed for delicate bakery items such as soft tortillas and flatbreads that cannot be handled mechanically. “The key to handling these difficult products is a combination of lugless technology and an independent


motion multi-belt system. Product is received from the upstream process, synchronised and handled through the machine without any direct mechanical action. Instead, it simply uses linear belts running at different speeds to provide soft transfer and create a pitch for the flow wrapper without accumulating the product. A counter-rotating calibration belt ensures that the stacks being presented to the wrapper are of a consistent height,” explained Christian Ballabio, product manager at ILAPAK. Prior to sealing, the system gently pushes together the tortillas to draw out any trapped air, a step that


improves MAP performance and maximises shelf life. Strong hermetic seals are created on a high speed long-dwell sealing


system. The longitudinal sealing unit features independent motorisation for more precise fin control. It uses four sets of heated rollers operating at different speeds to create the longitudinal seam, resulting in superior presentation. For adding reclosable functionality, the system can be


equipped with a web-directional adhesive or tear tape applicators. Mounted at the film unwind area of the wrapper, this unit slits the film in the longitudinal direction, and continuously applies the tape over the slit, maintaining MAP integrity and pack’s barrier properties. Ilapak





Tomi Nyman, principal at Pöyry


there are commercial solutions. Plastic is valuable, even as waste. We spend money in drilling for oil and producing plastics and then, after use, we quite literally throw it away or burn it. All plastics products and packaging are in fact valuable raw materials and should be treated as such even after use. This can be done through recycling – in theory, everything can be recycled, it is just a matter of will – or through pyrolysis. Pyrolysis and thermochemical treatment of waste materials can turn them into hydrocarbons, which are a good reusable raw material, for example new plastics production. Thus, the construction of pyrolysis capacity and conversion of incineration units to pyrolysis is something worth considering. Traditional oil refineries need converting into bio- based hydrocarbon producing and plastics recycling units or they will become obsolete. It is perhaps an unexpected truth that


plastics are a good form of storage for carbon dioxide (CO2). In fact, the more bio-based plastics or other products we produce, the more CO2 we absorb from the atmosphere. A sustainable plastics future is possible, and businesses will be at the heart of championing it. We must seek to substitute our existing plastics for sustainable alternatives and ensure that plastics that exist can be recycled and reused. In addition, the plastics economy can be


completely transformed. Replacing the crude oil (and shale) with bio-based hydrocarbons in plastics production is possible. We can invest into chemically recycling of plastics and bio-based raw materials in new or modified assets. When we ensure the materials are recycled and leakage to the environment (for example excess heat or littering) is minimised the new circular economy starts to take over and almost roll forward on its own.


www.ilapak.co.uk


Pöyry www.poyry.com


PROCESS & CONTROL | MARCH 2019 29


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