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Creating Virgin-Similar Recyclates from Extended Mechanical Recycling

Saperatec will present its delamination approach to composite packaging recycling this fall. A non-chemical, multi-layer delamination recycling plant is set to open in 2023.

Saperatec will highlight its multi-layer delamination approach to produce virgin-similar recyclate results.
Saperatec will highlight its multi-layer delamination approach to produce virgin-similar recyclate results.

With the issue of plastic packaging waste weighing on the industry, governments, NGOs and consumers, technological approaches are being developed. Many of the highest performance materials—multi-layer structures—are difficult or impossible to recycle compared with monomaterial counterparts.

“Of the more than 140 million tons of plastics packaging waste incinerated, landfilled, or even leaking into our environment each year globally, a significant portion comprises composite packaging—that is, packaging consisting of a combination of materials,” says Saperatec GmbH in a recent release. “Such packaging has posed sizable obstacles to recycling efforts, as separating composite packaging into its various origin materials has been technologically challenging and, even when successful, unsustainable due to the need for non-ecofriendly chemicals.

Saperatec is a developer of recycling processes for composite packaging comprised of various materials, and the company will highlight a groundbreaking multi-layer delamination approach at the K Fair Trade Show, October 19-26 in Düsseldorf. Engineers will be on hand to discuss the new technology’s virgin-similar recyclate results and showcase prototypes [Hall 9, Stand D17, a booth shared with machinery manufacturer GmbH].

The extended mechanical recycling process accommodates thin-layer composite materials made of plastic, metal, paper, and glass. The company reports it is currently building its first recycling plant for composite packaging in Dessau, Germany. In 2023, the facility will begin commercial operations with an initial goal of processing about 18,000 tons of packaging waste per year. The delamination technology has been tested in both materials science labs and near-industrial pilot environments—promising results led to the plant’s construction along with investments from several venture capital investors.

The resulting recycled materials have potential to replace virgin raw materials in applications that include film or foil-based packaging. “Importantly, the process adds no contaminants to recycled polymers, and all chemicals used in the process comply with EU food contact regulations,” Saperatec says. 

   Watch this video about how recycled materials fit with healthcare packaging.

At the outset, Saperatec is focusing on composite flexible packaging materials and tube packaging with aluminum foil barriers, and plastics and aluminum from beverage cartons. Beyond packaging applications, the technology may improve recycling rates for glass-polymer composites such as car glass, and for metal-polymer items like certain pipes and panels. 

To offer a net benefit, new recycling ventures must be economical and sustainable with regard to energy, inputs, and more. The hot-wash separation fluids utilized are water-based and solvent-free, and are reused more than 30 times in the process. “Any and all materials employed during packaging recycling are listed for food contact materials without specific migration limit, per European regulations,” the release notes.

“After years of extensive research and thorough testing, we are thrilled to be constructing our first industrial-scale recycling plant, which will commence operations next year,” said Thorsten Hornung, CEO of Saperatec GmbH. “Our goal is to have a true, lasting impact on the circularity of composite packaging materials, which have proven notoriously challenging to separate and repurpose.”

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