Circular economy for food packaging


Various shredded colorful packaging materials and recyclates made from them.
Logo from Circular Foodpack
Logo of the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme
This project was funded by the Horizon 2020 research and innovation program of the European Union under grant agreement No. 101003806.

Food packaging must be safe and provide a protective function

Plastic multilayer composites are often used to package food in a safe and well protected way. Depending on the requirements of the packaged goods, seven or more layers are combined in a single film. Currently, such plastic packaging either ends up in landfills for disposal or is thermally recycled. Approximately two million metric tons of this packaging waste are produced each year throughout Europe. Moreover, EU legislation restricts the use of recyclates in food packaging, as they can contain undesirable substances that may pass into the food.

Making food packaging recyclable

CIRCULAR FoodPack is committed to recycling food packaging in a closed loop and making it suitable for direct food contact. This involves the development of new, innovative single-material packaging that is not inferior to multilayer composites regarding its protective function, but can be sorted and recycled more easily. A safe food packaging partially made of recyclates is being developed as part of the project. A protective barrier layer prevents the migration of individual components.

The recycling process also needs to be adapted to enable the circular use of food packaging. The use of tracer-based sorting systems will allow waste streams to be separated into food packaging and non-food packaging. In this way, substances unsuitable for food contact can be sorted out prior to recycling. Fluorescent tracers containing a material-specific code that can be read by lasers allow for an efficient sorting process.

Recycling using the CreaSolv® process enables the separation of different matrix components

The recycled material is intensively cleaned in several stages to minimize odor, color and other impurities. A deinking technology can remove printing inks and perform deodorization. CreaSolv®, a solvent-based process developed at the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV, allows the separation of different material components such as the basic materials used, e.g. polyethylene and additive components. The resulting recyclates have a high degree of purity and are also suitable for sensitive packaging applications, such as food and personal care products. The Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV and its project partners are developing functional barrier layers and innovative flexible single-material packaging for this new packaging material.

A comprehensive sustainability assessment study is being conducted as part of the project, assessing market and consumer needs while taking social, environmental and economic impacts into account.

14 European industry and research partners (from France, Greece, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and Spain) are involved in the project, while the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV is responsible for the coordination.