Plastics packaging is at a critical point in its history. Never before has there been so much talk about reducing or even ending the use of plastics for packaging foods and drinks. Within the industry, we all know that these materials offer major benefits with their abilities to keep foods fresh, reduce energy consumption in transport and handling, and improve safety. But graphic images that demonstrate the results of the irresponsible and unthinking disposal of plastics packaging – massive floating islands of plastics in our seas, despoiled beaches and countrysides, suffering wildlife and so on – are leading to a public backlash.
Nostalgia is building for the days when rigid packaging was all glass and metal and some supermarkets are already introducing what they term “plastic-free” aisles. There is something of an “out of sight, out of mind” element to this attitude of course: metal and glass packaging is also dumped, but in our oceans it virtually all sinks to the bottom. The legislation is also changing the landscape. The European Commission says its first-ever European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy, adopted at the beginning of this year, will transform the way plastic products are designed, used, produced and recycled in the EU.
Under the new plans, all plastic packaging on the EU market will be recyclable by 2030 and the consumption of single-use plastics will be reduced. Trying to keep ahead of the game, at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January, 40 of the world's biggest companies agreed to come up with cleaner ways to make and consume plastic. Companies including Unilever and Procter and Gamble made a commitment to increase recycling and cut back overall use, with Unilever saying it would ensure that all of its plastic packagings is fully reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.
At the same meeting, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation awarded $1 million to five new recyclable and compostable flexible packaging solutions intended to stop plastics becoming waste. Today though, too much of the circular economy is still a theory. Many of its concepts are largely untried. Only by putting them into practice will we find out how realistic they are and how they can be improved for real-life situations. SIPA can stand proud in this regard. For a long time, the company has been working, alone and with partners, to develop PET container production technologies and product designs that minimize the use of materials as well as energy and other utilities.
It is also putting its own house in order. Leading the way with XTREME Renew SIPA is the first company in its sector to engage in a complete and coherent project for the reduction of its environmental footprint and is highly committed to combine environmental sustainability and economic development. The company is showing to the world its strong commitment after the recent introduction of XTREME Renew, the world's first integrated system for the production of preforms containing 100% of recycled PET, but with the same quality as preforms made from virgin PET.
XTREME Renew was developed in collaboration with EREMA, the Austrian company specialized in plastics recycling technologies. XTREME Renew is the synergistic combination of two already successful innovations – Erema's Vacurema and XTREME from SIPA. Compared with alternative systems for recycling old PET bottles back into new ones, it uses less energy, creates less CO2, and costs less to run. A key reason for this is that the XTREME unit can process PET directly from the Vacurema recycling system in flake form.
There is no need to transform the recycled material into granules that would otherwise have to be cooled and then reheated. Vacurema makes use of innovative technology to produce recycled PET (rPET) flakes that are exceptionally clean and ideal for food and beverage containers. In a fully integrated, fully automated, continuous process, the output is then fed directly to SIPA’s revolutionary XTREME rotary injection-compression platform for producing lightweight preforms at high speed and with high efficiency.
The preforms can be as much as 10% lighter than preforms made on traditional injection molding systems. The XTREME system is not alone among SIPA technologies in being able to process recycled PET material. The XFORM system for producing preforms using more conventional injection molding can run with 100% rPET. XFORM is well-known for its high level of energy-efficiency as well as its ruggedness and versatility in being able to accept legacy molds from all major suppliers.
Bringing back more post-consumer PET PET packaging is already more sustainable than many other forms of packaging, but, of course, the situation can always be improved. We need to increase the rate of post-consumer recovery and recycling as well and the global throw-away culture must be broken. SIPA is playing its part to break it and it’s ready with a groundbreaking technology that can close the loop for the Circular Economy. Not only it is 100% sustainable but it brings back countless advantages for the user.