The recycling industry is fraught with challenges. In the USA, CarbonLite has dealt with its own recently in the journey to investing a new plant. The company confirmed that it is building a $62 million PET recycling plant in Dallas, which will make it the largest producer of food-grade PET with a yearly capacity for nearly 100,000 tonnes.

CarbonLite, which counts Nestlé Waters North America and PepsiCo as its customers, had originally identified Abilene in Texas as the location for the plant, but the deal went wrong in 2015 after problems with the developers. The company subsequently decided that being closer to Dallas would improve the availability of skilled labour and reduce freight costs.

It was definitely a month of highs and lows, with Swedish furniture giant IKEA falling foul of criticism from the EPS Industry Alliance (EPS-IA) on one hand, but then serving up a kitchen made from PET bottles on the other.

The EPS-IA accused IKEA of “environmental delusion” over its decision to phase out oil-based polystyrene from its flat packs and replace it with fibre-based packaging. But while plastics is getting the heave-ho in its secondary packaging, IKEA has also launched a range of ‘sustainable’ kitchen facia that are made from recycled PET bottles. The company uses more than 25 50cl bottles to create a plastics foil, which is then used to coat reclaimed wood kitchen facia.

While consumers fit their plastics kitchens, they can also wash their hair with shampoo in bottles made from plastics recovered from beaches. Procter & Gamble rolled out a limited-edition run of Head & Shoulders shampoo in bottles featuring 25 per cent recycled content. Just like the hand-wash bottle made by US firm Method that was launched some time ago, the bottle is coloured black due to the nature of the recycled material sourced.

Recycling also grabbed the attention in London, UK, this month after environmental charity Hubbub launched an initiative aimed at tackling the issue of disposable coffee cup recycling. The scheme aims to process the cups into new products during an initial run in April.

On the subject of the circular economy, almost one million FutureLife Smart Food pouches have now been distributed to schools in South Africa as part of the Virtuous Circle project. The idea is to develop smart packaging to keep food fresh as long as possible in order to meet the needs of children in isolated communities.

Meanwhile in Europe, trade association European Bioplastics congratulated the European Parliament’s Environment Committee on its strong efforts and the latter’s positive vote on waste legislation proposals. This, the association says, will help to ensure a separate collection of bio-waste across Europe.

Keen to climb the rungs of success in the infant formula market, UK firm Reckitt Benckiser Group has moved in on US-based Mead Johnson with a $16.7 billion takeover. The dairy-based baby food market is said to be worth $41bn, with strong growth in sales to China and India.

Having admitted that their protracted $72bn merger had slipped down the playing board due to global antitrust concerns, chemical giants DuPont and Dow Chemical are now expecting the deal to be completed in the summer rather than this month. To climb straight back up the ladder, Dow proposed the divestiture of its EAA copolymers and ionomers business to SK Global Chemical.

In other deals, Silgan Holdings agreed to pay more than $1bn for the Home, Health and Beauty business of WestRock Company, while RPC continued its spending spree with the $640m purchase of US-based food packaging firm Letica Group. RPC has signed six deals since September 2016 for more than $1bn, including this new one.

Packaging converter Alpla has acquired Romanian PET preform producer Star East Pet so that it can expand its production capabilities in Eastern Europe, Berry Plastics completed its purchase of AEP Industries, and Nordson Corporation bought Plas-Pak Industries, a manufacturer of industrial plastics packaging.

Several building projects hit the headlines last month, with Jade Group moving its tooling business to a new location in Guangdong Province, China, in response to growing demand for its products in North America, Canada and Europe, Holland Colours upgrading its production and laboratory facilities in The Netherlands and Hungary, and US converter Bemis Company creating nearly 100 jobs at its business centre in Campsie, Northern Ireland after receiving government funding.

And finally…

Rolling the dice for success in the booming coffee capsule market, RPC Bebo has launched Bebo B2nature, which features a special multilayer sheet with an oxygen barrier that is claimed to deliver a long ambient shelf-life. It also says that the coffee itself assists in the capsule’s decomposition within industrial composting systems.

RPC Bebo is hoping that its BASF Ecovio-based capsule will take it enough spaces forward on the game-board to guarantee success.

Steven Pacitti

The view from the back

Although new plastics packaging designs do enter the market, there seems to have been a recent lack of truly earth-shattering and inspirational innovations that are fit for purpose and have long-term shelf appeal.

This may be partly attributed to a change in priorities as companies focus more of their development budgets on materials reduction and environmental issues. An example of this can be seen by comparing the different ideas that two companies have used to develop their packaging in the future.

Brand owner Unilever, whose sales of around US$55 billion a year is gleaned from a portfolio that includes food, household and personal care products, proposes to make all of its plastics packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable in the next eight years. Prior to this, the company had already committed to a one-third weight reduction across its packaging by 2020.

Meanwhile, UK supermarket Marks & Spencer (M&S) is assessing the viability of reducing its plastics packaging down to one type of polymer to aid recycling. It is an interesting idea, but will it work?

It is highly improbable that every brand owner will alter all of its packaging designs and manufacturing processes. Even if M&S were to concentrate exclusively on own-brand packaging, the fact remains that foods, beverages and household products use a variety of different plastics for specific reasons. Consider a raw meat tray sealed with a peelable film lid, or a milk container with a screw-top closure. These two basic items of packaging are manufactured from four different types of plastics, none of which are interchangeable.

Although it is practical to fabricate various types of packaging from a common material, it is unlikely that anyone could find one polymer that was able to offer a combination of rigidity, flexibility, transparency and opacity, while also complying with food contact and hazardous substance safety requirements, plus a long list of other properties.

If that could be achieved, we would certainly have something earth-shattering, inspirational and innovative.

Printz Holman