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Description of our circular economy project: Starlinger “rPP Circular Packaging” technology for Bag2Bag rPP solutions

Worldwide, more than 380 million 4-loop big bags are sold every year, which equals an annual recycling potential of approx. 800,000 tons of material. PP woven plastic bags are far too valuable to end up on dumpsites or be burned in an incineration plant, so the key objective of Starlinger´s sustainable concept “circular packaging” is to recycle post-consumer big bags in a closed loop that begins with virgin granulate and leads back to regranulate (rPP) through the process steps usage, recovery, recycling, and the final reprocessing into new big bags from a mix of virgin material with up to 50% rPP. In cooperation with the big bag manufacturers Louis Blockx and LC Packaging, this closed loop was simulated. Final tests of these rPP big bags have shown the same quality as big bags made from virgin material in terms of tensile strength, weight, and safety factor. Starlinger provides the machinery equipment from mechanical recycling up to complete lines for big bag production. For the production of rPP big bags, the technology had to be redesigned and adapted in such a way that all process steps are matched perfectly, and the addition of regranulate of up to 50% is possible without a quality loss in the end product. The challenge in recycling big bags is that they come in many different forms, qualities and material mixtures. Therefore, other important factors that have been considered within Starlinger’s closed-loop concept are “Design for Recycling” (DfR), a big bag “passport”, traceability, and materials management.

How has this unprecedented situation impacted your particular product or innovation?

The sudden appearance of the SARS-CoV-2 and its impact on daily life and the economy has temporarily stopped all activities and work on this project. This is absolutely understandable as the companies had to set their priorities to adapt their daily business in order to cope with the new situation and governmental restrictions. As part of the governments’ crisis management, FIBCs were defined as system-critical commodities that are essential for the transportation of goods. The EU is importing the majority of its FIBC demand from Asia, so with the shutdown of the borders, it becomes an important issue to ensure the supply with sufficient FIBCs. In establishing circular economy systems, the industrial globalisation is the biggest problem, as the places of manufacturing and the places of consumption are too far apart to return the used goods to the production facilities in an economical way. This situation shows in a dramatic way the dependence of the EU’s economy on foreign supplies, but at the same time, it increases the value of locally manufactured products. If this effect turns into a trend, local production capacities will be increased and supported, which constitutes a great step towards an efficient circular packaging system. For Starlinger’s rPP Circular Packaging project, this situation may open up new business opportunities.

What positive solutions have you found or used?

Combining the technologies and know-how of both worlds – recycling and manufacturing – we have achieved the production of FIBCs with 50% recycling content, while at the same time maintaining the original design and technical parameters of FIBCs made from virgin material.

What advice or help are we looking for?

Like every environmental technology, our project is focussing on an environmentally sustainable solution, which stands in strong contrast to systems designed for maximum commercial output. As long as our economic society is driving its decisions with the goal of maximising commercial profits without paying attention to environmental issues, it will be impossible to introduce environmental technologies into the market. The first question for purchasers has to be: Is a supplier fulfilling the environmental requirements? Commercial parameters should be of secondary importance. Therefore, we ask for environmental guidelines that have to be fulfilled within the EU, and which cannot be undermined by companies from third countries.

Is there anything that you are particularly proud of, that you would like to celebrate with the community?

Starlinger has again proven its role as a technological leader by setting a new benchmark for a sustainable plastic packaging industry. With our rPP concept, we provide the technical basis for an industry that follows the requirements of a circular economy, and for changing the global opinion with regard to plastic usage.