Henkel invests in recycling innovation for flexible plastics packaging

Consumer goods giant Henkel has invested in a startup that has developed a recycling technology for flexible plastics packaging which contains aluminium foil, such as crisp packets, juice pouches and single-use toiletry sachets.

Previous attempts to separate layers from flexible packaging have broadly resulted in the downgrading of the materials, decreasing their value. Image: Henkel

Previous attempts to separate layers from flexible packaging have broadly resulted in the downgrading of the materials, decreasing their value. Image: Henkel

The startup, Separatec, has been working with Henkel as part of a technical collaboration for the past two years to develop solutions aimed at boosting the recyclability of adhesives. Henkel said in a statement this month that the collaboration has enabled the development of adhesives which are compatible with Saperatec’s recycling technology for flexible packaging with aluminium foil content, paving the way for a “significant” investment in the solution.

The technology, touted as patented and scalable, works by submerging packaging into a liquid chemical mixture which separates the layers – PE, PET and aluminium – from each other without disintegrating them. The layers can then be sorted and re-introduced to the manufacturing value chain.

Saperatec has been trialling the technology at a pilot facility in Bielefeld, Germany, since 2014, but will use Henkel’s funding to contribute to its first full-scale production plant at an as-yet-undisclosed location in mainland Europe. Henkel has not confirmed how much it is investing in the venture, but claims its contribution helped Saperatec to close its fundraising round for its first full-scale plant.

“From keeping food fresh and reducing food waste to ensuring the safety of food and anti-counterfeiting for pharmaceutical and medical products, flexible packaging plays a vital role for consumers all around the world,” Henkel’s global head of packaging adhesives Tilo Quink said.

“Flexible packaging is literally a lifesaver, but current industrial processes also result in the loss of valuable raw materials as production scrap. As a supplier to this industry, we have the responsibility to develop new solutions to enable our customers to be more sustainable and to regain the value from the scrap they generate.”

Plastics strategy

Amid growing public and policymaker concerns surrounding plastic pollution, Henkel announced last September that it would redesign its packaging in a bid to ensure consumers are able recycle, reuse or compost all items by 2025.

Less than four months later, the parent company of Persil and Schwarzkopf had managed to achieve this target for 80% of its packaging portfolio, according to the firm’s sustainability report.

Innovative solutions have played a key part in this transition. Aside from Saperatec, Henkel has made investments in carbon-pigment-free black plastics, BASF’s chemical recycling solution for rigid plastics and software which tells users how recyclable their packaging really is.

In a bid to help these learnings reach beyond its own four walls, Henkel has joined The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy Commitment, Germany’s Rezyklat-Forum and the Alliance to End Plastic Waste. Each of these cross-industry schemes aims to ramp up ambitions, actions and investments in plastics solutions across the areas of recyclability, reuse and reduction – but critics have argued that the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, in particular, is providing a “front” for members to invest billions in creating new plastic production facilities or expanding their existing infrastructure.

Sarah George



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