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Recycling plastic? It’s fantastic!

22 March 2023

The fact that plastic packaging can be recycled is something we take for granted these days. Even though recycling is still a challenge for packaging with barrier properties. This includes applications used in packaging for food and cosmetics which needs to be impermeable to air or other contamination. Why? And more importantly, what is the solution? We spoke to Bene Heuer, co-founder of IonKraft, who explained to us in great detail how they ensure that this packaging can be recycled.

IonKraft is a young spin-off from the University of Aachen. They are doing their bit for the circular economy thanks to their unique coating technology that allows these plastic containers to be recycled.

“Plastic packaging with barrier properties is more difficult to recycle because it consists of multiple layers which reduce permeability. These multiple layers are made from different materials and that complicates the recycling process or even makes it impossible,” Heuer clarifies. This is why Ionkraft has developed a pioneering coating based on plasma technology that can replace this multi-layer technology. The coating has the same barrier effect but is 100% recyclable. “Our mission: to replace all non-recyclable plastic packaging.”

From multi-material to mono-material

IonKraft’s coating is only a few nanometres thick and is applied to mono-material packaging, keeping it 100% recyclable. The silicon based coating is food-safe and can be used for various applications like pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and industrial chemicals. Thus, this technology takes steps toward a circular economy.

From start to future

A special coating machine is needed to apply the coating. “We are currently still in the pilot phase, but want to evolve to a full-scale production environment next year, so we can fine-tune the process and also become commercially competitive. The intention is that our machine will be sold to packaging manufacturers.”

Textbook example of sustainability

“It’s by proving that something works and that it works even better than a non-sustainable process that you can convince people,” Heuer said. In this respect, IonKraft is a textbook example of sustainability and how we can take steps towards the circular economy. “I’d also like to pass this on to SMEs: surround yourself with people who are willing to invest and test. People who think beyond what is commonplace today.”

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