The value of mono-materials is really quite simple: Being able to recycle packaging together with its label equals a more circular economy and eco-friendly packaging. What's not quite as simple is recycling packaging when the label is made from a different type of material.
When packaging is made of the same material as its label, they can be sorted and handled as the same waste product – together. This is what we call mono-material, which ultimately increases the possibility of packaging being sorted correctly, and thus recycled.
In other words: Mono-materials are a big part of sustainable labelling and packaging in a circular economy.
Recycling and environmentally sustainable packaging is essential for the circular economy
According to the European Commission's Science and Knowledge Hub, waste recycling will play a central role in the circular economy for a long time to come. Resources that can be recycled and reused in "infinity" are the very definition of a circular economy:
"For a circular economy, it is essential to recycle materials from waste in order 'to close the loop'. – EU Science Hub."
This also implies that further advancements within mono-materials and sorting automation will be necessary for companies geared towards a circular business model.
The crisp packets that went from 5 layers to recyclable
Crisp packets have a terrible reputation when it comes to recycling. Traditionally, the packets are constructed from 4-5 layers of different materials. Often in a combination of various plastic, metallised plastic film or aluminium materials. Both plastic and aluminium are recyclable in themselves, but not when assembled into a multilayer material with different components.
In order to be recyclable, each layer would have to be individually separated, sorted and recycled. There is no closed-loop system here in the UK – or in most countries – to accommodate this. Especially multi-layered high barrier materials constructed with aluminium foil in a polyethene (PE) laminate, which means most crisp packets end up in a landfill.
In December 2018, the infamous crisp company Walkers answered massive consumer complaints by launching their own recycling scheme for crisp packets here in the UK. In collaboration with TerraCycle they collect, recycle and reuse the multi-layered crisp packets plastics that standard household recycling schemes still don’t accept. Meanwhile, they state that they aim to make all their packaging 100% recyclable, compostable or biodegradable by 2025.
The HolyGrail project may become the holy grail of recycling and environmentally sustainable packaging
Now that an increasing number of sorting plants are going from manual to automatic sorting, it's crucial that the sensors at the recycling stations can read and interpret different materials correctly.
The HolyGrail project's approach is to improve automated recognition and sorting by testing the labelling of various packaging with visible and invisible codes.
The code can contain information such as the type of plastic, product manufacturer, content, and components in the barrier layer. Thus, enabling the packaging to store vital information throughout the entire value chain, and the complete life cycle of the packaging is clarified.
The HolyGrail project can therefore streamline sorting by reading these codes and further increase the recycling rate.
Part two of the project has now commenced. Procter & Gamble is testing the labelling of selected products in collaboration with Tomra, and here at Skanem UK we're excited to follow the global developments as an associated member of the HolyGrail project.
As a British label manufacturer, here at Skanem UK, we know how vital continuous innovation is for our clients. Our industry has enormous potential and a responsibility to contribute to a circular economy. For this reason, we are focused on mapping innovative solutions to streamline and realize our customers' sustainability goals. Who knows, maybe this indeed will be the Holy Grail of recycling?