food packaging

Safe and Circular (Food) Packaging Materials

European and national governments aim for a circular economy of materials that is decoupled from fossil feedstocks. This is especially challenging for food packaging materials, which must meet the highest safety standards. Thanks to a multidisciplinary approach and unique knowledge of both packaging materials and food, Wageningen Food & Biobased Research supports companies that are seeking more circular solutions.

Managing contaminants

Multiple companies have pledged to produce only recyclable, reusable and compostable packages by 2025 and some even have committed themselves to progress towards a fully circular economy by 2050. To achieve full circularity all packages need to be reused and/or recycled maximally. Packages, however, pick-up contaminants along the value chain, which can be removed by cleaning and recycling processes to some extent. The balance between the accumulation rate and the cleaning rate for the various contaminants determines the safety of the reused object and recycled material. In-depth knowledge of the origin of these contaminants and their removal efficiencies is vital to keep circular systems safe. The focus of our attention is on compounds of high concern and non-intentionally added substances (NIAS).

Experts in (food) packaging

Wageningen Food & Biobased Research joins forces with companies to find solutions for this challenge. We study conventionally-used packaging materials and biobased alternatives in the existing collection & recycling value chain. We specifically study physical and chemical pathways that result in the contamination of these materials. Furthermore, we suggest and study new sorting and recycling technologies that prevent the formation of contaminants or enable their removal. This includes the newly developed enzymatical depolymerisation pathways and related back-to-monomer depolymerization routes.

Wageningen Food & Biobased Research has extensive expertise in the field of packaging materials, as well as in-depth knowledge of food and food packages. In our own lab and pilot facility, we are able to mimic waste processing, cleaning and recycling processes on a relevant scale, identify the NIAS or contaminants that are present in the reused / recycled plastics and devise containment strategies. Together with recycling facilities, feedstock producers and brand owners, we are working on safe and circular packaging.

Working together on safe and circular packaging

Wageningen Food & Biobased Research has a track record of successful projects in which we collaborate with industry and governments on multiple aspects of circular packaging systems:

  • We are continuously modelling, monitoring and measuring the flow of plastic packages through our society and the presence of contaminants in them throughout the plastic value chain.
  • Our scientists have determined the theoretical limit in circularity for plastic packaging and proposed improvement measures at the four stages of the recycling value chain (packaging design, collection, sorting and recycling).
  • We have determined the recycling rate of beverage cartons in the Netherlands and proposed improvement measures to increase it from 31 to around 51 per cent.

Contact us

Recycling large quantities of (food) packaging requires not only commitment, but also expertise and research on ways to do it safely and economically. If you have any questions on these and other aspects of recycling (food) packaging materials, contact us for more information.