Dow's breakthrough in barrier film technology

“Breakthroughs in Barrier Film Technology: How We Made Recyclable Stand-up Packaging Possible,” is one of the topics that Stacy Fields, Packaging Director—North America, The Dow Chemical Co. (Midland, MI), will discuss during a Center Stage presentation at Expoplast, which comes to Montréal, QC, Canada, on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1.

PlasticsToday caught up with Fields to get some preshow insight on his upcoming presentation next week.

Why are stand up pouches so difficult to recycle?

Fields: Flexible packaging has long offered consumers benefits such as flexibility, portability and re-sealability. While this innovative type of packaging, which includes the stand-up pouch, has been ideal for the on-the-go consumer, it has not traditionally been recyclable.

Currently, only mono-material (all polyethylene) can be recycled at store drop-off locations. Because a variety of materials like polyester are used to create stand-up pouches and they are generally incompatible with one another, the pouches cannot go into the polyethylene recycling stream. Recycling is even more challenging for packaging that incorporates materials to deliver barrier performance, primarily due to the inclusion of ethylene vinyl alcohol (EVOH).

Dow has introduced the latest evolution of its RecycleReady Technology that helps enable the development of oxygen barrier packaging that can be recycled in areas where store drop-off programs exist, after being accepted by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) into the How2Recycle program. New oxygen barrier RecycleReady Technology with Retain Polymer Modifiers is a major advancement that enables the recycling of packaging for products like granola and nuts, which was not possible before in flexible packaging.

This expands the applications to allow pouches made with ≤5% EVOH that include Retain to be accepted at store drop-off locations and have the How2Recycle Label.

Are there more developments in the works for RecycleReady technology?

Fields: Value chain collaboration is helping Dow evolve and grow the RecycleReady Technology portfolio. Dow continues to collaborate with the SPC, packaging converters and brand owners to increase production of stand-up pouches that can be recycled through existing PE recycle streams. By working with industry partners, we are continuing to optimize RecycleReady Technology to create recyclable packaging without sacrificing performance or aesthetics, and moving into new applications like oxygen barrier packaging.

What are some points in your upcoming presentation at Expoplast?

Fields: A recent study by Trucost on the environmental costs of plastics in consumer products and packaging showed that replacing plastics with a mix of alternative materials that provide the same function would increase environmental costs from $139 billion to $533 billion annually. Also, 78 million tons of plastics are produced annually, but only 14% is collected for recycling.

What were some challenges in developing the technology?

Fields: Two key challenges are enabling the production of a recyclable pouch without sacrificing the package’s integrity, and continuing to educate consumers about what can be recycled and where.

The general approach to overcome that challenge is to only use all-PE packaging or PE packaging that incorporates specialty compatibilizers for non-PE materials. The compatibilizer used for RecycleReady Technology packaging with oxygen barrier is Dow’s Retain polymer modifiers.

The other challenge is continuing to educate consumers about what can be recycled and where things can be recycled.  We encourage all of our converter and brand owner customers to clearly label on their packages if they’re recyclable, preferably using the How2Recycle “Store Drop-Off” label after acceptance by the SPC.

Do you anticipate more pouch designs incorporating the technology?

Fields: Seventh Generation, a brand owner that’s committed to sustainability, launched the first packaging made using RecycleReady Technology earlier this year. Due to customer demand for recyclable packaging options, the company sought a recyclable packaging alternative. Seventh Generation connected with Dow’s Packaging and Specialty Plastics Group and converter Accredo Packaging to create a recyclable stand-up pouch for the brand’s dishwasher pods product. The packaging was developed in collaboration with the Sustainable Packaging Coalition.  

Three new packages made using the original moisture/vapor barrier RecycleReady Technology are now hitting store shelves. And three converters are currently testing RecycleReady Technology with Retain for oxygen barrier packaging for food applications.

This success with Seventh Generation inspired another collaboration to develop moisture/vapor barrier stand-up pouch packaging for Boulder Clean’s Dishwasher Pods. Dow worked with the same converter partner to produce this packaging, which hit store shelves in September. Beyond Organic is also using moisture/vapor barrier RecycleReady Technology for “90 for life” nutritional supplement pills and Philly Seafood  is using it for its frozen shrimp product packaging.

What types of advantages does RecycleReady offer converters? Manufacturers?

Fields: Dow’s RecycleReady Technology is helping customers create recyclable pouches that answer the demand for more recyclable packaging options. Stand-up pouches made using RecycleReady Technology including Retain polymer modifiers are the first packages of their 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 (Retain) and EVOH, which typically prevent scrap from reuse in common polyethylene reuse streams. 



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