Orthex and Fortum have joined forces in the SULKI research project, which is part of the SPIRIT programme. In collaboration with other partners, Orthex and Fortum are researching whether recycled plastic could be used in products suitable for food contact.
Photo: Recycled material for Orthex freezer containers was tested in the SULKI project. Current freezer containers featured in photo.
Orthex and Fortum have been collaborating on recycled plastics for several years and Orthex has used Fortum Circo® recycled plastic in several products. This project concentrates on researching whether Fortum Circo® could be used in products suitable for food contact, if it was made from food plastic packaging collected from consumers. The carbon footprint of the Fortum Circo®-PP grade used in the project is more than 70% lower than that of virgin polypropylene and is therefore a sustainable choice as a raw material.
Based on the tests performed on separately collected material at Fortum’s Riihimäki plastic refinery, material fractions were found that passed all the same laboratory tests that Orthex regularly uses to ensure the safety and suitability of its products for food contact.
”The executed pilot study shows excellently that even mechanically recycled material is safe to use and can even be used in food packaging. However, a lot of research work is still needed, and especially harmonisation of packaging materials, so that industrial use would be feasible. It is a pleasure to discover that there are responsible and innovative companies like Orthex, which are ready to research and develop future solutions from recycled plastics,” says Mikko Koivuniemi, Business & Technology Development Manager, BL Plastics, Fortum Recycling & Waste.
The results of the product development and tests indicate that recycled plastic is, at least in principle, suitable for food contact. However, starting production on a profitable industrial scale would require e.g., further development of sorting technology. Challenges are also posed by the closed cycle required for product safety, i.e., ensuring that recycled plastic intended for food contact is made from plastic packaging originally used for packaging food.
“These research results are very promising and give us hope that we can make more of our future products from recycled plastic, including those for food contact. It is vital for us to lower the carbon footprint of our products as we’re aiming towards carbon-neutral production by 2030,” says Alexander Rosenlew, CEO of Orthex.
“It is very exciting to see that these results show a possible pathway for the use of mechanically recycled material in contact-sensitive applications such as food packaging. Packaging is by far the largest application area for plastics and for plastics circularity it is extremely important that we are able to mechanically recycle packaging waste back to packaging use,” sums up Auli Nummila-Pakarinen, Expert, SPIRIT programme, Borealis.
The next focus areas of the research project are the development of sorting technology, improvement of traceability, and further review of the legal restrictions. The project will last until the end of 2024.