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    All in for the circular economy

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    20. October 2022
    7:05 min.

    The K 2022 and Krones are a perfect fit. And that is certainly not because both names start with a K. Though I must admit “K as in Krones” really makes my copywriter’s heart skip a beat. The true reasons why we’re a perfect match are the circular economy and climate protection, the two paramount issues addressed at the K where Krones is able to make very substantial contributions.

    An as-is analysis of the articles in the Krones magazine revealed that compared to our climate-protection activities, on which we’ve published regular reports, coverage of the circular economy has somewhat fallen by the wayside. That is due to purely pragmatic considerations: Since this issue touches on so many different fields, we have as yet not managed to put them all into a single article. At the K 2022, too, we will intentionally concentrate on recycling solutions because these are the key technologies instrumental in establishing and maintaining a closed material cycle. Yet they are just part of the whole jigsaw puzzle – perhaps its most important pieces but surely not the only ones.

    That is precisely the reason why we joined the European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform in 2020. It was set up by the European Commission and the European Economic and Social Committee and brings together companies and initiatives proactively engaged in creating a circular European economy. By joining, we entered into a self-imposed commitment to eight qualitative targets which cover different aspects of the packaging cycle. What are these? And above all, what is Krones doing to achieve them? A short summary is given below.

    Number 1: rPET compatibility

    Target: By 2025, it will be possible on all new Krones PET bottling lines to handle bottles made of up to 100 per cent high-grade recyclate without any impairment to production quality, efficiency or efficacy.

    Recycled PET (rPET) and Krones machines are old friends that appreciate each other. Back in 2003, a Dutch customer started to use his Contiform stretch blow-moulder for producing bottles with an rPET content of 30 per cent. The project was way ahead of its time back then. Handling bottles made of 100 per cent recyclate on Krones lines is nowadays a matter of course. Even high speeds are possible, for example at the Canadian water bottler Ice River Springs or in the  ErgoBloc L which processes up to 100,000 bottles per hour.

    Even though rPET containers have long ceased to be a niche phenomenon, they do still meet with occasional misgivings. In order to eliminate these once and for all, a Krones team of experts conducted a scientific series of trials. They analysed various virgin materials and recyclates in regard to their processability, quality and food safety, to mention just some of the properties tested. You can find the results in a free white paper. But let me warn you: Once you’ve read it, there are hardly any reasons left not to switch to rPET!

    Image 30563
    Produced on a high-speed ErgoBloc L system: the rPET bottles from Ice River Springs

    Number 2: Plastic-free secondary packaging

    Target: By 2022, Krones will offer alternative secondary-packaging solutions containing no single-use plastics whatsoever for all multipack formats in common use.

    As things stand at present, packs of cans or PET bottles are frequently wrapped in shrink-film or packed with plastic rings that hold them together. Bans have already been imposed on the latter in various regions near the coast because they pose a hazard for wild animals if they are not properly disposed of and end up in our natural environment.

    The LitePac Top from Krones constitutes an eco-friendly alternative to both of the above-mentioned types of packaging. It consists of a paperboard clip, which needs less material and less energy for its production than shrink-film and can be made of recycled material. In order to cover as many different applications as possible, further variants have been added to the LitePac Top series since it was introduced.

    Image 30564
    In 2021, Mahou San Miguel switched from plastic rings to LitePac Top for several of its brands.

    Number 3: Support for recyclable-packaging design

    Target: Krones uses its technological expertise to support clients in designing forms of packaging that are optimally suited for recycling.

    A packaging’s sustainability always starts with its design because factors like a material’s colour may impact the quality of the recycled material. And the ecological advantage of using recyclates can be nullified if a packaging contains more material than actually needed for its function. Krones has a dedicated team of specialists who are available to answer all these questions relating to Design from Recycling and Design for Recycling: These experts’ tasks include the development of material-economical and recyclable packaging – either on a customer’s request or also for in-house research.

    What is what?

    Design for Recycling means that a packaging’s entire lifecycle is anticipated in the design stage. For example, packaging materials are chosen that can be recycled into a product of at least the same level of application as the original material or object. This approach also includes abstaining from all those design elements and substances which may adversely impact the recycling process and/or the quality of the recycled material.

    Design from Recycling follows the same path, only in the opposite direction: The packaging is designed to ensure that it can be produced in a resource-economical, low-emission process without using virgin materials.

    As part of our enviro design programme, innovative packaging solutions developed in-house at Krones are also examined against sustainability criteria. The relevant criteria catalogue was drawn up in conjunction with the certification body TÜV SÜD. It is aimed at minimising the impact of beverage and food packaging on our natural environment. That includes both the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and the preservation of our planet’s eco-system and biodiversity.

    Image 30565
    Sustainable design: The “3 Circles” bottles combine rPET, direct printing and tethered caps.

    Number 4: Changing over from linear production to circular economy

    Target: Clients get the support they need in order to achieve optimum results on existing lines, too, when handling recycled and/or renewable materials.

    All those who want to give their product a sustainable design must focus on the entire product lifecycle. When it comes to food and beverages, packaging recycling is an important criterion in this context – but by no means the only one. Responsible management of other resources also exerts an influence on a product’s ecological footprint. To minimise this latter, Krones offers a number of solutions and services, ranging from energy- and media-efficient enviro machines right through to planning and implementing 100% carbon-neutral production.

    One of the jobs of Krones’ sustainability consultants is to facilitate access to the multiplicity of options available in this field for customers. Their work typically relates to finding solutions for how to save energy and media in the production operation, subsidies for regenerative energies, wastewater recycling, or establishing a carbon-neutral operation.

    Within the framework of the Association of the Beverage Machinery Industry (ABMI), moreover, we are involved in a working group specifically set up for tackling sustainability, whose clearly defined goals include promoting the circular-economy concept in the food and beverage industry, and developing and implementing a joint, standardised approach in order to ensure that emissions in our sector are reliably reduced.

    Number 5: Permanently attached closures

    Target: Krones offers equipment that enables the use of tethered caps (= closures permanently attached to the bottle).

    To meet the EU’s Single-Use Plastics Directive, tethered caps (meaning closures that remain permanently attached to the bottle even after it has been opened) will as from 2024 have to be fitted to non-returnable plastic containers in the EU. In order to prepare our customers and ourselves for this change, we have together with the cap producers conducted some trials in our pilot plant where the different types of tethered cap were examined in regard to their processability on Krones lines. The tests showed that we can completely cover the relevant demand with our current product portfolio. The first bottling lines are already being changed over accordingly. Moreover, we actively recommend to customers who have to change over their kit anyway that they switch to a shorter (and thus material-saving) bottle neck finish in one go.

    We have additionally compiled the most important information on the EU Directive, and our resultant recommendations, in a Whitepaper, which is available for free download on our website.

    Image 30566
    Tethered caps will be obligatory in the EU as of 2024.

    Number 6: Sustainable labelling

    Target: For optimum recycling results, Krones’ portfolio includes packaging solutions where labels can be removed from the empty container without any problems. The long-term goal is to recycle the labels together with the containers – or do entirely without a separate material for container decoration.

    Krones offers a range of different solutions for saving material in bottle decoration and labelling. The Contiroll, for example, effortlessly handles extra-thin labels of less than 20 micrometres while the Sleevematic is able to dress containers in 35-micrometre sleeves – even thinner films are possible in individual cases.

    Customers who want to do without additional materials across the board can decorate their containers by means of the direct-printing technology developed by our Dekron subsidiary. This technology offers the following advantages: Not only is it able to translate entirely new design options into hands-on reality, it can also apply a personal decoration to individual containers within a batch. And the ink used for this purpose can during recycling be removed from the container without leaving any residues.

    Image 30567
    The Contiroll also handles extra-thin label films.

    Number 7: Investing in recycling

    Target: Upgrading Krones’ solutions for material recycling of packaging plastics (solid/flexible, PET, polyolefins and PS) is further progressed by continually investing in the relevant research and development projects.

    After being refurbished, the Recycling Technology Center at our Flensburg facility restarted operation in summer 2021. Capital expenditure of roughly 600,000 euros was channelled into increasing the output of the experimental washing plant and technologically upgrading the integrated Krones MetaPure W washing module. The recycling plant can now be used to run trials not only with PET but also with polyolefins (PE/PP) and various film materials. The aim is to optimise Krones’ recycling technology for use in other sectors, for example in the furniture or automotive industry.

    The wastewater recycling system also enables the closed-loop concept to be implemented in a recycling plant because it continuously removes contaminants, and/or substances which may adversely impact the recycling result from the recirculated washing water. Not only does that make for a consistently high process quality, it also substantially reduces water consumption. In addition to recycling plants, water-consuming process steps in beverage filling operations can also be fitted with this feature.

    Number 8: Beyond PET Packaging

    Above and beyond conventional PET solutions, Krones is proactively pursuing development projects connected with disruptive technologies that take beverages to the consumer in innovative ways (packaging-free solutions, paper bottle).

    Sorry, top secret! At the moment, we’re not yet allowed to reveal any details on this target. Several relevant research projects are currently ongoing in the Krones Innovation Lab, in particular. But in order to make sure the interdisciplinary teams there can work on them in peace, this door is kept closed for the time being.

    20. October 2022
    7:05 min.

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