Plastic (Polyethylene, PP, PET) remains one of the most effective substrates used in processing food of all types, particularly plastic food packaging and food transport, through the manufacturing process. From farm to fork, polythene hygienically protects food as it passes through the manufacturing process and transits to the consumer. However, in line with environmental concerns which have been highly publicised recently as a war on plastics, all reputable manufacturers of plastics are reviewing best practice within an environmental context.
When removing plastic from the equation or seeking alternatives, education is essential. Research shows that in many cases, such as polythene food packaging in food production, the removal of plastic entirely would be catastrophic. Flexible packaging, otherwise known as soft plastic, contributes greatly to the reduction of food waste worldwide. If food was not packaged in plastic, the energy consumption of the food chain would double, greenhouse gas emissions would triple and the weight of food packaging would quadruple compared to the current situation. (Denkstatt, 2012).
Hanmere, along with Plasmech and Amerplast, aim to be as environmentally aware as possible, reviewing and innovating our products regularly to ensure we are always delivering the most sustainable solution when it comes to plastic food packaging. Following a clearly mapped out ESG strategy keeps us on track each quarter and edges us closer to achieving our vision of being the leading circular economy flexible packaging group in Europe.
The issue with plastic lies not with the use of plastic itself, but the way it is disposed of. There are multiple ways that commercial businesses can use and recycle plastic responsibly, it is about finding the one that works for you and ensures a lesser impact on the environment.
Types of plastic recycling
There are currently two ways that polythene food packaging and other plastic materials used within food processing can be recycled responsibly; mechanical recycling and chemical recycling, also known as feedstock.
The most common, representing 99% of recycled quantities in Europe, is mechanical recycling which involves processing used plastic into new plastic without altering the fundamental elements of the material. When a plastic product has reached the end of its life cycle, it can then be processed into a secondary raw material to begin a new lifecycle with the same or new purpose. Many types of flexible plastics can be recycled. This refers to any plastic material that can become soft and mouldable at a certain temperature yet solidifies when cool, including; polypropylene and polythene. The most ideal form of recycling to go through the mechanical process is a large waste stream consisting of a single type of clean plastic.
A newer technology, chemical recycling is the conversion of end of life plastic waste into hydrocarbon oils. The benefit of this process is that mixed, multilayer contaminated waste (within limits) can be used without the need to separate or wash. This method is focused on polyolefins. The resultant hydrocarbon oils replace fossil oil in the petrochemical cracker for making plastics. The resulting polymer feedstock is suitable for food contact packaging whilst currently limited to closed loop recycling projects food standards approval is being actively sought.
Initially there will be supply/demand issues as the technology scales up to meet waste processing and the resultant food grade recycled feedstock demand.
Green polymers and plastic alternatives
Replacing fossil based plastics with bio based, alternative materials is also an option. In fact, both Plasmech and Amerplast, part of the Hanmere group, are increasing their use of green polymers and bioplastics, finding natural resources that work just as well in commonly soft plastic products. Green polymers, by definition, are polymers taken from a natural source or living thing. These materials are then utilized in a variety of applications depending on the needs and properties of the product.
Amerplast is aiming to make the use of bio based raw materials a standard practice within the business. Their development of green polymers includes using raw material, derived from sugar cane, for example to redevelop the iconic Amergrip freezer and food storage bags. Another endeavour includes a collaboration with Woodly, a company providing wood-based raw materials to create sustainable packaging.
Plasmech’s polythene is also made from ethanol, an ingredient derived from sugar cane which is a renewable raw material. The end product mirrors that of traditional polythene therefore it is a worthy alternative.
As pioneers in the polythene industry, we are constantly striving to reduce our own, and others, carbon footprint by providing a responsible solution to excess plastic use. At Hanmere, we utilise the benefits of polythene within plastic food packaging, aggregates and pharmaceuticals yet are passionate about providing plastic education to commercial businesses and lessening the impact plastic has on our planet. All of our products are 100% recyclable and we have saved over 124 tonnes of waste from landfill. The wider group also shares our ethos with all of Plasmech products being 100% recyclable and Amerplast, 95%. Our mission together is to manufacture safe, hygienic products that are also environmentally conscious whilst falling in line with our brand ethos.
We are here for all your polythene packaging needs, from plastic food packaging to pharmaceuticals. If you’d like to talk to us about our products and how you can make your food processing business more sustainable, please get in touch and we will be happy to advise.