Within the scope of the Recyclate Initiative, Werner & Mertz has reached still another milestone on the way to a genuine circular economy. The world's first completely recyclable pouch is made of a monomaterial (polyethylene) with removable wrap-around label in accordance with the Cradle to Cradle® Priniciple. The result of a four-year joint project by Werner & Mertz and the global packaging and paper firm Mondi, the innovative, patented pouch design solves the problem of recycling printed plastic. Eighty-five percent of all the packaging material is not printed and can therefore be recycled without any loss of quality. Because the remaining 15 percent, the printed label, is free of adhesives and bonding agents, it too can flow back into new uses. The complete recyclability of the pouch was recently confirmed by the independent Institute Interseroch and HTP Cyclos. Interseroh certified that the stand-up pouch has "very good recyclability that cannot be optimized any further."
The patented stand-up pouch is the first packaging that complies with the three Rs -- reduce, reuse and recycle. The pouch can be recycled completely, so the plastic remains in the closed material loop (recycle). Compared to a bottle, the pouch saves 70 percent on packaging material for the same amount of product (reduce). Finally, thanks to the refill packaging, a product bottle can be refilled repeatedly. It's like having a refilling station at home (reuse). Still another special feature: the original bottle for Werner & Mertz Frosch consumer brand consists of 100 percent used plastic from post-consumer household waste collections.
The first monomaterial refill pouches for Frosch brand products have been on retail shelves since November 2019. The innovation has already received highly respected awards.
In 2019 the pouch concept convinced the German Packaging Award jury. "The great challenges of our time are packaging developments perfectly adapted to the recycling economy," the experts on the jury said about the innovative packaging which won in the Sustainability category. "This bag impressively demonstrates what can be achieved today with a consistent recycling approach to design."
At the Interpack trade fair in Düsseldorf, the stand-up pouch will receive the international WorldStar Packaging Award. "The highly innovative 100 percent recyclable pouch has cleared sorting and recycling hurdles on its way to genuine recyclability. […] That is Cradle-to-Cradle!" said the competition's jury of the World Packaging Organization (WPO) about its decision.
Pouch concept revolutionizes the recycling industry
The design objective was to use "reverse engineering," starting from the end of the product life cycle, and create packaging fit for every stage of the recycling process. With the involvement of all stakeholders along the entire supply chain, it was possible to design packaging perfectly suited to recycling and the circular economy. The development of the stand-up pouch even influenced the design of sorting facilities. Because sorting and recycling equipment could not handle the plastic sheeting smaller than letter-sized paper, the material was thermally recycled, i.e., incinerated. "Plastic sheeting makes up about 40 percent of the waste in the Yellow Bag and represents enormous but untapped potential! In the sense of "Design for Recycling" it was important to us to develop a stand-up pouch that was not just theoretically recyclable. It also had to ensure practical implementation of the recycling process," said Immo Sander, developer of packaging at Werner & Mertz. During the years of development work, designers consulted with manufacturers of sorting systems in order to guarantee separate sorting and recycling.
Over the course of 2020, Werner & Mertz will convert all its Frosch brand pouches to the new design and then expand the conversion to incude its green care PROFESSIONAL brand for professional users. The cleaning products company based in Mainz has no intention of resting on its laurels, but is working on bigger plans. In the future the flexible plastic packaging not only will be completely recyclable but also made of recycled materials. When sufficient amounts of packaging go into recycling systems that comply with Design for Recycling guidelines, this packaging solution can be realized with recyclates and spare the use of new materials. "In this chicken or egg situation, we lay the foundation with our pouch and hope for imitators. After all, as far as climate change is concerned, we have no choice but to increase recycling rates significantly," said Werner & Mertz owner Reinhard Schneider.
We have summarized the most important information on the stand-up pouch in a factsheet.
factsheet (PDF, 3MB)
Development History of the Patented Stand-up Pouch
The first completely recyclable stand-up pouch of a monomaterial (polyethylene) with a removable wrap-around label (also of polyethylene), designed according to the Cradle-to-Cradle® Principle, is a joint development of Werner & Mertz and the packaging and paper company Mondi.
"With this groundbreaking design for recycling, we have taken a giant step toward closed-loop circulation of plastic packaging," said Sander. After use, the patented innovative stand-up pouch can be recycled 100 percent into recyclates of nearly the same quality as the raw material.
This innovation is the fulfillment of an idea which has long been on the Werner & Mertz agenda. "Back in 2014 we at Werner & Mertz were looking for 'single-material concepts,' said Sander. The goal was a pouch of monomaterial – instead of the usual multi-layer product – which could be printed and filled by using existing technologies. It quickly became apparent that the goal could be achieved only in cooperation with a packaging specialist, Sander added. Werner & Mertz found exactly that in Mondi. "Nowadays it is hardly possible for just one company to come up with such an innovation on its own. It takes a network to develop packaging for the circular economy," said Thomas Kahl, Project Manager EcoSolutions from Mondi Consumer Packaging. "And we – Mondi and Werner & Mertz, were prepared to take up the challenge."
In 2015 the two companies established a project group together with The Green Dot, EPEA Switzerland and cyclos-HTP. The three partners supported the development with advice on material selection and confirmation of the pouch's recyclability and integration in existing recycling structures. The first thing the project participants did was to find out exactly what "Design for Recycling" meant. Even the experienced packaging experts had to learn to think the product through from the other end. At the conclusion of an intense development phase in 2017, a stable and fully usable stand-up pouch made of polyethylene was realized.
After overcoming all bureaucratic hurdles, Mondi and Werner & Mertz presented the new development to the public in 2018. The first pouches were made available in retail markets in autumn 2019.
The completely recyclable pouch is just the beginning of the development of recyclable flexible plastic packaging. "Our goal is to have flexible plastic packaging that is not only fully recyclable, but is itself made of recycled materials," said Sander.