In the search for more sustainable alternatives, the switch to mono-material packaging solutions is helping companies.
The development of more efficient and functional and protective mono material alternatives has pushed this transformation to the front and is helping companies reach their sustainability goals.
Moreover, at the end of this article you will find an interview with our Innovation Director, Patrick Sutter, who will explain how we are implementing sustainability at our organization and the fundamental role of sustainable materials for the future.
In a time when recycling and joining true sustainable models are necessary in order to comply with regulations and consumers’ changing preferences, companies are looking into mono material solutions.
What are the benefits of mono polymers, why are they more sustainable and what are their possibilities for developing packaging? Keep reading to find out.
What is a mono-material?
A mono material is a product that is made of just one type of material. Thus, mono polymers are products that are made of a single type of polymer (for instance, just PE or just <PP).
Mono materials are increasingly popular in many areas, including the packaging industry, as a report from Smithers Research confirms: mono-material film packs are expected to grow at a CAGR of 3.8%, reaching $71 Billion in 2025. This growth will be especially relevant in industries such as the food, confectionery and pharmaceutical sectors.
The growth of mono material packaging responds to a main benefit: mono materials are easier to recycle than other products made of multiple plastics, or mixed with other materials such as cardboard or glass.
Up until very recently, packaging has been made from different packaging materials and polymers, as companies prioritised versatility. However, recycling them isn’t easy or efficient: materials must be separated in order to follow their own recycling processes or else the recycled plastic product will not present a high quality.
On the contrary, a mono-material product uses less energy in the recycling process (as dividing materials is not necessary) and creates higher-quality recycled products.
Choosing mono materials and facilitating the recycling process also means companies can comply with urgent regulations. This includes the European Strategy for plastics, which is pushing companies to join circular-economy models and guarantee that all plastic packaging must be recyclable by 2030.
Knauf circular presents an example of such programs, where a series of production sites and a picking-up program guarantees expanded polystyrene and expanded polypropylene are recycled.
“At Knauf Industries we innovated in several areas to reduce our environmental impact…new raw materials from renewable feedstock, Ecodesign and numerical simulation to optimize our solutions (process and parts)…”
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Types of mono-materials used for packaging solutions
Polyethylene or PE is a thermoplastic polymer that today represents half of the global packaging market, according to the Smithers report mentioned above. Typically found in film packaging, its characteristics include:
- Thermal insulation
- Resists moisture
- Flexible (not stiff)
Polypropylene (PP) is also a thermoplastic and widely used in the packaging industry because of its excellent features in terms of:
- Thermal insulation
- Resists moisture
Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is widely used for packaging food and beverages and is also lightweight and transparent. Developments in this material have allowed to achieve full mono-material packaging made just from this mono polymer.
Polystyrene (PS) is a thermoplastic widely used as solid plastic and as a foam. Is commonly used in protective packaging for its lightness and flexibility, among other properties:
- Thermal and acoustic insulation
- 100% recyclability
Mono-material packaging designing process: the challenges
Mono materials are increasingly preferred because they allow companies to move towards their sustainability goals.
However, the transition to mono-material packaging also presents at least two challenges:
Functional limitations of the mono-material packaging
Companies have traditionally relied on designing packaging that includes several types of polymers. For instance, in the case of flexible packaging, it typically presents three layers with differentiated functions: sealing, barrier and printing.
Another example in industry could be mixing an EPS cushion with a cardboard tray to have shock absorption and drag protection. At Kauf Appliances we have developed a full PS alternative that keeps those properties with only one material.
Including mono-materials without an adequate re-designing process might compromise some of these functionalities, especially the barrier function and the mechanical properties.
However, new developments in mono materials means that they’re increasingly overcoming these technical limitations and will soon be able to cover these needs.
Alternatives to counteract some of mono-materials’ limitations include incorporating resin solutions as coating. This eliminates the need to add additional materials or multiple layers and enhances the mono-materials’ performance in terms of barrier protection.
“Sustainable solutions are performing as well as standard solutions”
Up until recently, choosing mono polymers was considered as compromising on design possibilities and aesthetics. On the other hand, multiple-layer packaging solutions were contemplated as an option that enabled many different design choices.
Such a viewpoint saw the standardisation of mono-material packaging as an issue. However, new plastic mono materials have evolved in terms of aesthetics and now also include customizable options such as plastic foam.
At the same time, applying the principles of eco-design allows companies to experiment in incorporating new possibilities in tune with what customers want today.
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Mono-Material packaging: a recycler’s wish
To sum up, mono-material packaging represents the best alternative today for companies to be able to access sustainable, recyclable packaging solutions.
At Knauf Appliances, we’ve worked for 40 years in the manufacture and supply of packaging using mono materials such as expanded polystyrene, PS-PE copolymers, expanded polypropylene and other specialised foams.
We are committed to generate sustainable, efficient packaging that helps companies comply with regulations and become sustainable, without compromising on packaging performance.
Want to learn more about the current mono-material packaging possibilities? Download our technical manual about expanded mono-material foam and discover how to use expanded foam for your business.
Interview with Patrick Sutter
“ Knauf Industries is considering sustainability as a key driver for our business. We have the people, the processes and the tools to design for our customer solution with sustainable performance”.
In relation to this article about mono-material packaging, we have interviewed Patrick Sutter, Innovation Director at Knauf Industries, to get to know his vision about business sustainability and its role in companies.
What would you say are the main industrial trends that are gaining importance in 2022/2023?
Carbon impact is becoming a key driver for the business as well as solutions in compliance with a circular economy.
Why is sustainability important for companies and which are the main aspects that should be improved?
As we all know human activities have a negative impact on the environment. If we want to improve, we need to measure. So the first priority is to define harmonized tools, key indicators and rules to measure the environmental impact. This is a key to making the right decision for the future.
Energy efficiency means feedstock preservation and therefore reduce the impact on the environment. But also the selection of type of energy will have an impact on CO2 emissions with significant difference if you compare energy produced from coal or from nuclear or eolien sources.
What are your hopes and projections for the reduction of the carbon footprint in plastic manufacturing?
I hope that the plastic industry can achieve a carbon footprint reduction above 30% by 2030.
Are all plastics 100% recyclable?
Almost all plastics are recyclable. But this is not enough. To be recycled the plastic parts have to be designed respecting Ecodesign rules and it’s crucial to have plastic waste collected in place.
What is the role of mono material plastic in sustainability?
One of the principle of Ecodesign is to anticipate the recycling feasibility. Monomaterial solutions are easy to recycle, so it’s better to consider always a mono material solution if possible.
Which innovations has Knauf to improve its sustainability?
At Knauf Industries we innovated in several areas to reduce our environmental impact. To give you some examples: New raw materials from renewable feedstock, Ecodesign and numerical simulation to optimize our solutions (process and parts), the collection of waste to insure the recycling (Knauf Circular), the development of reusable solutions…
How does Knauf make sure that their sustainable models don’t compromise on product quality?
…including the mechanical and physical properties of products.
We validate our sustainable solution with R&D programs, simulation and testing to guarantee the performance of our solution before presenting them to our customers. We cannot compromise on the product quality. Sustainable solution are performing as well as standard solution
Why choosing Knauf can help companies to improve their sustainability?
Knauf Industries is considering sustainability as a key driver for our business. We have the people, the processes and the tools to design for our customer solution with sustainable performance. Just challenge us to see our innovative solutions towards more sustainability.