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As part of our innovation month #LearnHow asks our director of innovation Alan Davey (pictured left) how does LINPAC Packaging ensures it continued to offer innovative packaging solutions like Rfresh Elite?

What made you decide to create Rfresh Elite and choose to use recycled plastic content?
The Rfresh Elite trays for meat and poultry were developed to assist the food supply chain reduce its carbon footprint and costs in handling and logistics, as well as address demand from retailers, food manufacturers and consumers for more efficient packaging which is lighter and more recyclable yet retains all the qualities and functionality of trays which are manufactured from virgin material.

What were they key outcomes and objectives that lead you to design this product?
We wanted to design a pack without the associated industry-standard PE layer that facilitates good sealing at high speed and through contamination. By removing the PE layer we would have a pack that is lighter, with a lower carbon footprint, more transparent and easier to recycle. But having outlined the objective, we were a long way short of having the product. We had to bring together our best intellect, knowledge and skills to design a process that would deliver these high level objectives.

Outline the development phase of the product.
Having decided on a potential process route we mocked up packs and tested them in our own test sealing machines. We then went through a range of sealing systems until we had what we believed to be the best.
These mock ups were then tested on customer lines to see if we got the same performance. We did. But we still had to design a range of experiments to confirm whether the solution was robust; looking at issues such as: How would we pack it? How would we transport it? How would it be after six months in the warehouse? Was there a life expectancy? What happens on the way home from the supermarket in a hot car? What happens in the freezer?
We then moved to design different machine concepts to apply the sealant. Having chosen our favourite we carried out an FMEA (Failure Mode and Effect Analysis) on the design before building a machine.
Further large scale trials were carried out with customers to validate the product. After nine months this machine concept was deemed to have a fundamental flaw and two further concepts were built. One of these is now in routine production and the other is in final commissioning stage.
 
How did you monitor and meet the objectives that you set?
By constant testing in-house and re-trialling with customers until we got it absolutely right. A pack which fails in functionality has more far-reaching consequences. We also undertook a “Can we make, can we do” analysis throughout development.

What is special about the product and its design? How much recycled plastic content does your product contain and where was this sourced from?
Rfresh Elite is a mono-material tray for meat and poultry and is manufactured from up to 95% rPET. It uses a unique, patented, sealant on the tray flange to create a secure seal with the lidding film, removing the need for the industry standard laminated PE base film and creating a crystal clear tray which is 100% recyclable at the end of its service life - a breakthrough in tray packaging design.
Rfresh Elite is a fully recyclable pack which is almost entirely made from recycled material. The recycled rPET used in the manufacture of Elite trays is sourced from three suppliers. These are: Viridor Resource Management, Lancashire; Jayplas in Northamptonshire; and Wellman Recycling, Ireland.
The recyclate is processed via LINPAC’s in-house supercleaning process which is fully compliant to European regulations and successfully vetted by EFSA’s technical committee. The company has invested more than £8 million in high pressure, high temperature cleaning systems at its sites around the globe during the past six years to give customers peace of mind that the recyclate used is free from contamination and suitable for contact with food as the trend towards the use of recycled plastics in food packaging grows.
Elite trays have been developed under Project LIFE (LIghtweighting For Excellence), implemented at LINPAC Packaging to reduce weight and carbon footprint whilst maintaining excellent performance and integrity, resulting in a tray which is 70 microns lighter than previous designs yet is robust and functional.
The removal of the PE film reduces tray weight by up to 3% and CAD/CAM redesign of the tray, along with advanced process engineering, has delivered a minimum 10% reduction relative to standard PET/PE trays; the carbon footprint of an Elite tray is typically 5% less than the average rPET/PE tray.
The new unique sealant used in place of the PE layer can be removed in the hot wash systems of Europe’s PET recyclers, meaning a recycled tray will yield 100% PET. This helps packaging and food retailing industries meet European Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive targets and means consumers can recycle used trays via regular kerbside collection schemes. This has not been possible before due to PE base film contamination present.
PE base film removal reduces pack haze by 20%, improving clarity and on-shelf presentation. Increased transparency sells freshness and quality, making products more appealing to consumers and helping retailers to drive sales.
The Rfresh Elite tray offers superior efficiency and sustainability features for meat and poultry packers.
The ingenious sealant developed by LINPAC is transparent, food contact approved and the tray has the strongest seal strength in its class - there is a 60% improvement in burst test strength and a 24% improvement in vacuum chamber testing compared to standard PET/PE packs - reducing leakers and driving up food safety.
Rfresh Elite trays also require significantly lower levels of heat for sealing. This reduces the packers’ machine energy consumption lowering their overall carbon footprint and in addition, the packaging is not adversely affected by the heat during the sealing cycle. This removes the risk of rolled flanges, hour glass shape trays or poor lid film visuals which sometimes affect other lightweight PET/PE trays.
In addition, Rfresh Elite process sealing conditions are on average 20°C lower than standard PE/PET trays therefore machine energy consumption is reduced by around 15%.  Furthermore, seal dwell times are reduced by up to 50% compared to standard rPET and PP trays; some machines have achieved seal time savings in the region of 0.5 seconds. This means packers can increase their throughput by around 10% which translates to production of an extra 10 packs per minute or 12,000 packs per day.
We expect that the benefits of the Elite system will enhance margin for PET meat trays within LINPAC and also lead to incremental sales.

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