Multilaminate small packaged goods are widely used to distribute sauces, lotions, and myriad other liquid-viscous goods that require a high Oxygen Barrier, Abrasion Resistance, and Hassle-Free Tearability. However, they come at a high cost to the environment in many ways:
- Recyclability: Unilever has developed a method to recycle multilaminate materials, but the recovery cost is still prohibitive. The flexibility of the packets makes them nearly impossible to process using the same setups for bottles.
- Source: The polymer components of multilaminate materials are typically sourced from fossil fuels.
- Size: Due to their small size, they are difficult to collect if placed in a trash reclaiming scheme.
- Discarding: High portability means they are easy to throw away anywhere in the environment.
- Post-Use Contamination: The contained material (sauces, lotion, etc) continues to contaminate the package after use.
- Lifetime: Sauces in packages have an extremely limited lifetime due to low oxygen barrier of existing multilaminate materials. A pack of ketchup goes rancid in under 9 months. For sauces with fats in them, the expiration is between 2-5 months.
Large restaurant chains that cater to on-the-go customers present a ripe opportunity to replace their multilaminate sauce packets with sachets made from single-source polymers with a high oxygen barrier. Most restaurants have already made it easy for end-users to obtain their condiments, thus enabling restaurants to add on to this a receptacle area where they can place their emptied sauce packets.
A candidate material with a high oxygen barrier and flexibility is Polyethylene Furanoate (PEF), which is very similar to Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) in its structure and has already been introduced by the Coca-Cola Company for use in bottles.
Compared to PET, however, PEF actually has many technical advantages:
- 10x Oxygen Barrier of PET
- 2x Water Vapor Barrier of PET
- 4x CO2 Barrier of PET
- Glass Transition Temperature (Tg) of 190.4 F is 53.6 F higher than PET (for withstanding heat)
- Melting Temperature is 86 F lower than PET (for processing)
- Tensile modulus 1.6 x of PET.
Even though PEF has about a 5% higher density than PET, it could make lighter bottles by thin-walling and/or eliminating barrier layers. Processing PEF into thin and flexible packaging reduces many of the environmental issues currently surrounding sachets:
- Recyclability: PEF is completely recyclable, and with processing can be upcycled into thin films, fibers, and other form factors. Infrastructurally, PEF can be recycled using current PET recycling systems, with possibilities to blend with PET streams up to 5% without impacting performance.
- Source: PEF’s chemical precursors, Furandicarboxylic Acid (FDCA) and Ethylene Glycol (EG), can be completely bio-sourced. EG can also be synthesized directly from CO2 using chemistry Avantium has recently acquired
- Size: By redesigning sauce packaging to be more environmentally friendly, larger package sizes could be introduced to match typical portion sizes by region. For example, Australia created a different single use package with 14g serving size (compared to the standard US 9g) and without the need to tear off a film.
- Discarding: Introducing an in-store recycling program will incentivize users to throw trash in correct receptacles instead of the standard trash bins.
- Contamination: If collected as part of a recycling program in retail shops, the concentration of PEF sachets would make it economically feasible to process materials to clean before recycling.
- Lifetime: The high oxygen barrier of PEF should significantly extend the lifetime of sauce packages.
In sum, introducing PEF and an associated collection program within the largest users of sauce packaging will create a complete recycling solution and effectively extend the lifetime of the goods that are stored in packaging.
(Australian ketchup packet design)
This concept is independent of region, as the current multilaminate products are cheap and abundant worldwide. It would be most relevant in areas that have a high density of fast food chains which distribute sachets.
Heinz and McDonald’s are currently two of the largest producers of ketchup products in the United States. In particular, McDonald’s presents us with an interesting use-case and potential industry partner, as they control both extremes of the sauce package supply chain. Their supply chain centralization and recent redesigning of restaurant spaces could make it easier for McDonald’s to promote the recycling of these packages.
Using McDonalds’ franchises in per capita, we get a proxy of target nations where this could be successfully implemented at scale:
1. United States - .433 per 10,000 people.
2. New Zealand - .369 per 10,000 people.
3. Canada - .352 per 10,000 people.
For initial pilots, small American cities with a massive per capita density of fast food restaurants could be the first targets. The top 3 cities in the United States with fast food density are:
#3. West Virginia: Beckley
Fast Food Restaurants per 10K People: 10.84
#2. Oklahoma: Durant
Fast Food Restaurants per 10K People: 10.90
#1. Kentucky: Paducah
Fast Food Restaurants per 10K People: 13.18
Our largest concern is designing pilots that would enable a critical mass of small PEF packages to be agglomerated and recycled. This would incentivize regional PET recyclers to create a separate recycling stream for PEF. In the case of vertically integrated package companies, for example McDonald’s, critical mass would be easier to achieve due to their large store footprint and influence over package manufacturers.
Initial pilots in smaller American towns with a high density of fast food chains would simplify customer point of access, behavioral education, and package consolidation between multiple franchises in the same city. Success in a few chains could then be expanded city-wide to promote recycling programs for PEF products.
For this idea, we are primarily concerned with the following 3 problems and believe the accelerator program will help us address them head-on:
- Funds/resources to work with an industrial designer to rethink the form factor for use and recyclability
- Funds/resources to collaborate with external partners developing PEF for qualification and testing of the design
- If the design requires the use of other materials for successful implementation, the brand name and funds to draw in other startups/materials developers to combine PEF with another environmentally friendly material in a way which would not impact overall recyclability