Dow's breakthrough barrier film technology makes stand-up pouches recyclable

Innovation was developed in response to consumer demand

The Dow Chemical Co. (Midland. MI) launched the latest addition to its RecycleReady Technology, which enables the recyclability of polyethylene-based barrier packaging as part of existing grocery store drop-off recycling programs.  

Created through collaboration with the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC; Charlottesville, VA) and other industry members, Dow’s RecycleReady Technology helps converters create barrier pouches that answer consumer demand for more recyclable packaging options. The new advanced barrier RecycleReady Technology is a major advancement that enables the recycling of packaging for products like granola and nuts, which was not possible before in flexible packaging.

PlasticsToday caught up with Stacy Fields, North America Director of Packaging Solutions, Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics, to discuss this breakthrough barrier technology, which is a first of its kind in the market.

Why was this not successful before in flexible packaging?

Fields: Flexible packaging, such as stand-up pouches, has been innovative and ideal for the on-the-go consumer. While this type of packaging offered the benefits of flexibility and re-sealability, it has not traditionally been recyclable. This is due to the variety and incompatibility of materials in these pouches, which generally prevents processing via a single recycle stream. And it’s even more challenging for packaging that incorporate materials to deliver barrier performance primarily due to the inclusion of ethylene vinyl alcohol (EVOH).

The RecycleReady stand-up pouch made with Retain polymer modifiers is the first package of its kind with barrier film that can be recycled in a polyethylene recycling stream. When combined with other polyethylene resins, the Retain compatibilizer offers a recyclable solution with enhanced barrier characteristics.

Compared to other control films, the technology in Retain polymer modifiers helps converters develop high quality packages with better clarity, mechanical properties and significantly reducing gels in films produced from barrier film recycle.

Before this innovation, flexible barrier packaging posed unique recycling challenges due to the variety of materials generally used as part of its makeup. Films traditionally used for flexible packaging contain commonly used barrier materials such as polyamide (PA) and EVOH, which prevent scrap from readily being reused in common polyethylene reuse streams. 

How long was this technology in development? What were some challenges in the development phase and how did you overcome them?

Fields: Retain polymer modifier was developed about four years ago, and was originally designed for post-industrial use at converters and Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs) to compatibilize EVOH in PE systems. Two years ago we recognized an opportunity to use this technology in existing packaging, so that we help take all the guess work out of MRFs having to figure out how much to add to PE systems for recycling. Now, the packages have been designed in advance to go directly into the existing PE recycle streams with no issue.

What types of advances are on the horizon?

Fields: Dow is constantly working with customers and others in the packaging value chain to better understand brand owner and consumer needs and develop products that raise the bar in sustainability, customer convenience, and efficiency throughout the supply chain. These challenges often require packaging solutions that are stiffer, have better barrier, reclosability or other features to enhance branding or the customer experience. We will continue to look for ways to add performance enhancing materials to the PE structure and use chemistry to make sure it is compatible with the PE recycle stream.

Has the technology been adopted by any brand owners as of yet?

Fields: Dow is currently conducting commercial trials with customers on barrier packages and expects to see packages on shelves soon that carry the How2Recycle program’s “Store Drop-Off” label. The first packaging made using RecycleReady Technology was launched earlier this year by Seventh Generation, a brand owner that’s committed to sustainability, and sought a recyclable packaging alternative that customers were demanding. The company connected with Dow’s Packaging and Specialty Plastics Group and converter Accredo Packaging (Sugar Land, TX) to create a recyclable stand-up pouch for Seventh Generation’s dishwasher pods product, in collaboration with the Sustainable Packaging Coalition.  

Dow helped create the recyclable package with resin technology that ensures the package’s stiffness, toughness and sealability. Seventh Generation’s Dishwasher Pod Packs carry the How2Recycle Label program’s “Store Drop-Off” label to educate consumers that the packages are recyclable, and can be recycled at more than 18,000 store drop-off locations throughout North America. Converter Accredo Packaging used its award-winning print capabilities to make Seventh Generation’s Dishwasher Pod Packs pop on store shelves for consumers.


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