Oct 27, 2016  Düsseldorf / Germany

Theme week: Sustainable packaging

Revving up recycling

Our customers have high expectations of our adhesives – and this requires packaging that protects the product and ensures highest level of performance. How do packaging developers design packaging that meet these expectations while also driving progress toward sustainability? Matthias Schäfer, Global Manufacturing Engineer Packaging Equipment, Technology & Sustainability from the business unit Adhesive Technologies at Henkel, gives insights on the topic.

Metylan Objektkleister

The container for the popular object paste now has a more sustainable profile thanks to its use of recycled material.

Can you name an example from recent years of how packaging has been made more sustainable?
One example for the German market is the Metylan Object Paste (Metylan Objektkleister) in which the packaging is made of 50 percent recycled material and 50 percent regrinded resin. We are now preparing the rollout of this material to other specific products together with one of our turnkey packaging suppliers.

What major developments have there been in the packaging industry in the last 15 years?
Sustainability first became a big topic for the packaging industry in the early 1990s. At that time, the circular economy concept, a model in which resources are used in a continuous cycle, was becoming well known, and laws regarding packaging – as well as recycling – were being introduced. These changes led to the first wave of adjustments and optimizations that aimed to create more environmentally-friendly packaging. And since the 2000s, there has been an even stronger focus on sustainability.

What challenges does sustainability present for packaging developers?
We have to consider the entire value chain, because adjusting one element may have an unexpected impact further down the line. There are technical challenges as well. Using different packaging materials can trigger a reaction that causes the adhesive to harden. Similarly, thinner packaging walls can reduce the lifespan of the product in some cases, which is a problem when it comes to products that you use only occasionally over a long period of time. Even when a recycled material passes tests and can be used without any complications, it could still be non-viable if there isn’t an adequate supply of the material available in the market.

What about your process: How long does it take to turn an idea into a product on the shelf?
Depending on type and scope of the change, for an innovation that requires new equipment like injection molds or machines, you can expect a project timeline of about 24 months. Research & Development and a number of operational teams are all involved in the process. Working together with external suppliers is crucial. They play a major role in introducing new materials and optimizing production processes for packaging. Through close cooperation with suppliers, we are able to ensure access to the newest breakthrough technologies.

How do you expect the packaging industry to change in the coming years?
I expect a greater prevalence of highly automated technology for production and bottling, more Smart Packaging and a stronger focus on sustainability. I also think there will be further adaptations to the changes in our society.

Revving up recycling efforts

Recycling empty anaerobic adhesive bottles is a challenge: Small amounts of glue stay stuck to the insides of empty bottles, which means the bottles cannot be processed by normal recycling systems. But now, Loctite North America has teamed up with recycling innovator TerraCycle to become the first adhesive company to offer industrial customers a recycling solution for anaerobic adhesive packaging.

You can find out more about the North American program in the video on YouTube.