The Association of Plastics Recyclers
  • PE Film

    PE Film

LDPE, LLDPE, HDPE Film

Film is used for many applications requiring a variety of properties. The vast majority of film is polyethylene and polypropylene but currently, only polyethylene is routinely collected and recycled postconsumer.

The following guidance provided for film plastics diverges from the scope outlined in the Design Guide introduction because it does not consider the single stream MRF the primary collection source. The film plastic guidance must address a different supply chain in which single stream curb side collection systems are a very minor part. Single-stream recovery of film, and film sortation in MRFs, does exist but the technology and logistics are in their infancy.

Collection and source selection of plastic film is an extremely important part of film recycling and is discussed at depth in the design guide resources section of the APR website.

Residential postconsumer film is primarily collected at retail locations, mostly grocery stores, and thus may include a mix of materials including LDPE, LLDPE, HDPE, PP and a growing number of multi-layer packages. Depending on the contamination present and the desired application the recycler may use a wet or dry system to process this material. This guide considers both processes. Each modification and addition to a single clear base polyolefin polymer in a film or film package must be considered for its effect on the recycling stream.

Plastic film is used in a wide number of industrial applications and postindustrial film is an important source of film that is collected and recycled. The APR Design® Guide can be a reference when designing industrial applications with film, but not all guidance may be applicable when collection and recycling of such commercially used film is in a dedicated, closed loop system.

RESIN IDENTIFICATION CODE, RIC

APR encourages the use of the correct Resin Identification Code symbol of the proper size as detailed in ASTM D7611.

  • PREFERRED

    Polyethylene mono-material flexible packaging

    Pure polyethylene is compatible with the store drop-off collection stream and easily recycled into a variety of end use applications, including new flexible films, composite lumber, and other molded plastic products. As the supply stream includes a mixture of grades of PE, including LLDPE, LDPE, and HDPE, individual packages may also be comprised of various PE grades.

    Postconsumer PE content

    The use of postconsumer PE in all packages is encouraged to the maximum amount technically and economically feasible.

    DETRIMENTAL

    None specified

    RENDERS NON-RECYCLABLE

    None specified

    REQUIRES TEST RESULTS

    Blends of PE and other resins designed to enhance properties in the intended first use with unknown residual effects in future uses of the recovered resin.

    DEFINITIVE TEST

  • PREFERRED

    Unpigmented (Natural) PE / White, buff, or lightly colored film

    It is not common for film to be sorted by color in the recycling process. Therefore, the resulting recycled material is a blend of all the colors present. Light colors blend well with little effect.

    DETRIMENTAL

    Dark colors, particularly blues and greens

    It is not common for film to be sorted by color in the recycling process. Therefore, the resulting recycled material is a blend of all the colors present. Dark colors have a great effect on a lot of material. Since the standard material is a light blend and dark colors are relatively rare, the reclaimer normally hand selects dark colors and processes them separately. In some cases, the dark colors are discarded. The recyclers are adapting to this issue by building processes that are more accepting of dark colors, while at the same time, brand names are replacing dark colors with light colors for their packaging films.

    RENDERS NON-RECYCLABLE

    None specified

    REQUIRES TEST RESULTS

    None specified

  • PREFERRED

    Polyethylene flexible seals, closures, or dispensers

    Since polyethylene is the same polymer as the package body, closures made of it will be captured and processed with the PE film. This increases the reclaimers yield and reduces possible waste.

    DETRIMENTAL

    See “Requires Test Results" section

    RENDERS NON-RECYCLABLE

    See “Requires Test Results" section

    REQUIRES TEST RESULTS

    All non-PE flexible seals, closures, or dispensers

    The impact of any additional materials on the PE must be evaluated to determine recycling compatibility.

    BENCHMARK TEST

    DEFINITIVE TEST

    All rigid closures or fitments

    BENCHMARK TEST

    DEFINITIVE TEST

  • PREFERRED

    Workhorse additives historically used without issue

    Most PE film contains some form of additives. The “workhorse" additives commonly used have not been shown to cause significant issues with the recycling process or further uses of the recycled PP. Commonly acceptable workhorse additives include:

    • Thermal stabilizers - These additives typically enhance the further processing of the polymer and are therefore preferred for recycling.
    • UV stabilizers – These additives typically enhance the further processing of the polymer and are therefore preferred for recycling
    • Nucleating agents
    • Antistatic agents
    • Lubricants
    • Slip agents
    • Fillers – note that many fillers are dense, so particular attention should be paid to the overall blend density
    • Pigments
    • Impact modifiers
    • Chemical blowing agents
    • Tackifiers

    Additive usage should be minimized to maintain the best performance of recycled PP for future uses.

    DETRIMENTAL

    See “Requires Test Results" section

    RENDERS NON-RECYCLABLE

    PVC and PVDC layers and coatings

    PVC and PVDC degrade at low temperatures rendering large portions of the recycled PE unusable.

    Additive concentration that causes the material to sink, when recycled in a wet wash system

    Many of the additives and fillers used with PE are very dense and when blended with the polymer increase the overall density of the blend. When their weight percentage reaches the point that the blend density is greater than 1.00, the blend sinks in water rather than floats. Density is an important property and float-sink tanks are critical separation tools used by film reclaimers who use a wet wash process. Therefore, a sinking material will be considered waste by such a film reclaimer. Film reclaimers using a dry process are normally able to process this material but there is no way to determine if a particular film will be processed by a dry or wet system.

    Also see “Requires Test Results" section

    REQUIRES TEST RESULTS

    Metalized layers

    Metalized layers are extremely thin layers of metal deposited on the film as a vapor. They should not be confused with actual metal layers addressed as “foil" in this document. Metalized layers are not removed in the recycling process and are melted and blended with the PE. This may cause material discoloring. In many cases a metalized film will be detected early in the recycling process by metal detectors designed to protect machinery from catastrophic damage. Metal detectors are unable to differentiate between a metalized film and a solid metal part so the entire package is normally discarded rather than accept the risk.

    BENCHMARK TEST

    BENCHMARK TEST

    DEFINITIVE TEST

    Degradable additives (photo, oxo, or bio)

    Recycled film is intended to be reused into new products. The new products are engineered to meet particular quality and durability standards given properties of typical recycled film. Additives designed to degrade the polymer by definition diminish the life of the material in the primary use. If not removed in the recycling process, these additives also shorten the useful life of the product made from the recycled film, possibly compromising quality and durability.

    Degradable additives should not be used without testing to demonstrate that their inclusion will not materially impair the full-service life and properties of any product made from the recycled film that includes the additive. Testing must show that these additives will either separate and be removed from the film in the recycling process or have no adverse effects on the recycled film in future uses. When used, their content should be minimized to the greatest extent possible.

    BENCHMARK TEST

    Non-PE additives, layers, or coatings not listed

    A growing number of innovative materials are being used as additives in PE film packaging. These materials must be tested to determine their impact on PE film recycling processes and the PCR produced.

    BENCHMARK TEST

    DEFINITIVE TEST

  • PREFERRED

    Polyethylene labels

    PE labels are the same polymer as the final product. These labels that remain with the PE throughout the recycling process, whether they detach or not, increase yield and have minimal negative quality impact for the reclaimer.

    Direct printing

    Of the available labeling methods direct printing adds the least amount of potential contamination. Small levels of the correct inks disperse in the final polymer without having much of an impact on quality. Heavily printed film of dark colors can be problematic since the dark colors affects a large amount of polymer, limiting its potential for reuse. The amount of printing should be limited since heavy levels of ink volatize in the extruder and may cause gels in the final product even if most recyclers use vented extruders. Large amounts of printing can overwhelm the capacity of these extruders to remove the volatile components.

    DETRIMENTAL

    Paper labels

    Paper labels pulp and become a water filtration and contamination problem if they are processed through a wet recycling process. Individual paper fibers are very difficult to remove and attach themselves to the film creating specks and irregularities in the products made from recycled film. Furthermore, in either a wet or dry process they degrade in the extruder creating an undesirable burnt smell that cannot be removed from the recycled plastic. This significantly limits its reuse.

    RENDERS NON-RECYCLABLE

    Metal foil labels

    These labels should not be confused with metalized film. Metal foil labels are extremely problematic in two areas. First, they alarm metal detectors that are employed at the beginning of the recycling process to protect machinery. When this occurs, the entire package containing the offending part is discarded and landfilled. Secondly, if they happen to pass through the process into the extruder they can quickly blind a melt filter causing a pressure upset which automatically shuts down the process for safety.

    REQUIRES TEST RESULTS

    Label inks

    Some label inks or direct print inks bleed color in the reclamation process, discoloring the PE in contact with them and possibly diminishing its value for recycling. Since most recycled PE is colored, the impact of bleeding inks may not be significant; however, since the end use is not known beforehand, label inks should be chosen that do not bleed color when recycled. If inks redeposit on light colored or clear PE flake, this discoloring may diminish its value for recycling. Inks should remain adhered to the label and not bleed into wash water to avoid this potential discoloration.

    SCREENING TEST

    Label adhesives

    Testing must show that adhesives will either wash off cleanly from the PE in the recycling process or be compatible with PE. Since typical film PE recycling process conditions are not aggressive enough to remove all adhesive material, a certain amount of residual adhesive is to be expected in recycled PE film. Adhesive residue that is not removed from PE during the wash step, for those film recyclers that use washing, is a source of contamination and discoloration when PE is recycled. Recyclers without wash systems may encounter melt filtration issues from adhesives. For these reasons, minimal adhesive usage is encouraged.

    The APR is developing a screening PP/HDPE Adhesive Test to classify adhesive as either wash friendly, non-wash friendly and compatible with PE, or non-wash friendly and incompatible with PE. Companies that are considering label adhesives and are unsure of their compatibility with recycling should ask their suppliers to provide APR test results.

    DEFINITIVE TEST

  • PREFERRED

    PE attachments

    Fitments and closures are addressed in the Closures section of this document. Other attachments to film packaging should be minimized. If attachments are used, they should be polyethylene to be compatible with recycling.

    DETRIMENTAL

    See Requires Test Results section

    RENDERS NON-RECYCLABLE

    Metal and metal containing attachments

    Metal parts are extremely problematic in two areas. First, they alarm metal detectors that are employed at the beginning of the recycling process to protect machinery. When this occurs, the entire package containing the offending part is discarded and landfilled. Secondly, if they happen to pass through the process into the extruder they can damage the extruder or quickly blind a melt filter causing a pressure upset which automatically shuts down the process for safety.

    REQUIRES TEST RESULTS

    Non-PE attachments

    Attachments enter the film recycling process along with the film they are attached to. They enter the extrusion stage of the process with the base material where they are either melted and blended with the PE or remain solid and are filtered from the melted product. Testing must show that the material is removed from the PE stream or has no adverse effect on the recycled PE in future uses.

    BENCHMARK TEST

    DEFINITIVE TEST

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