Canadian Packaging

Innofibre research: Recycled food and beverage cartons yield quality moulded pulp packaging

By Eloi Courchesne   

General

Packaging made from cartons has been shown to be stronger than conventional products made from old newspaper

TORONTO, Ont. and TROIS-RIVIÈRES, Que., June 27, 2024 — A recent research project conducted by Quebec industrial innovation centre Innofibre has demonstrated that used food and beverage cartons, which are mostly made from paperboard, show great potential for the manufacture of moulded pulp packaging. At present, no manufacturer of such packaging in North America uses pulp made wholly or partly from fibres derived from recycled cartons.

Cartons come in two variants: shelf-stable cartons, also known as aseptic cartons, and refrigerated, or gable top, cartons. In addition to paper, cartons are composed of thin polyethylene coatings and, for shelf-stable cartons, an additional fine layer of aluminum. Cartons are commonly used for such products as juice, milk and milk substitutes, soups, water and wine.

Innofibre is an applied-research centre renowned for its expertise in the development of products made from plant fibres. For this research, Innofibre produced pulp from post-consumer cartons obtained from a Quebec material-recovery facility (MRF), which it then transformed into moulded products using two commonly used techniques: transfer moulding and thermoforming. “Our tests confirmed that recycled carton fibre pulp has similar mechanical and physical properties to virgin kraft pulp,” explains principal researcher Eric Desnoes. “This means that we can manufacture high-quality moulded products with it.” According to the researcher, the strength of carton pulp is therefore significantly higher than that of mechanical pulp, such as that obtained from old newspaper, which is the pulp most frequently used for moulded products made from recycled fibres. In addition, the research concludes that carton pulp would be particularly suitable for industrial manufacturing, given the relatively short production time of items and a shrinkage rate that does not interfere with nesting.

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“Packaging made of recycled carton pulp could be used to contain or protect a wide variety of products in the food and non-food industries,” says Isabelle Faucher, Managing Director of Carton Council of Canada, which commissioned the research. The mission of the organization, which brings together four competing companies—Elopak, Pactiv Evergreen, SIG and Tetra Pak—is to work with the various stakeholders to increase the collection and recycling of these containers. The partnership with Innofibre aims to encourage the emergence of new local recyclers for cartons collected in Canada. The Council now hopes to collaborate with pulp- and moulded-packaging manufacturers in the country who would be willing to further explore the possibilities offered by recycled carton pulp. In particular, the Council would consider participating in the financing of additional in-house R&D and in the acquisition of new equipment.

The full Innofibre research report can be downloaded in English and French.

According to data compiled by Carton Council of Canada, around 58,000 tons of post-consumer cartons per year are collected through blue-box and deposit-return programs in Canada, a portion of which are still recycled outside North America. As a result of the transformation of programs underway across the country under full extended producer-responsibility policies, the Council expects to see an increase in the number of cartons collected and in the local recycling rate over the next few years. “In a context of declining volumes of newsprint and office paper, cartons can represent an alternative source of quality raw material for packaging manufacturers accustomed to working with recycled fibres, as well as for those seeking to increase their participation in the circular economy,” believes the Council’s Managing Director.

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