Noora Nylanden 23.04.2024 7 min

Recycled, biobased, biodegradable, and food-safe packaging – how to have it all

As environmental awareness continues to grow, so does the demand for eco-friendly packaging materials that leave no microplastics behind. Many companies are now seeking to increase the percentage of recycled content in their packaging. But what precisely qualifies as recycled content, and how can its quality and safety be assured? Sulapac’s Quality Director Aino Tynkkynen has the answer.

Legislative pressure, corporate sustainability targets, and consumer demand are driving many brands to increase the proportion of recycled content in their packaging materials. However, ensuring the quality, safety, traceability, and compliance of recycled content is not always evident. This is where certification comes in.

As Sulapac’s Quality Director, Aino Tynkkynen plays a pivotal role in ensuring that the company’s processes and materials comply with regulatory and customer requirements. She maintains the company’s documentation management system, coordinates internal and external quality audits, and advises customers on matters relating to regulatory compliance.

In this Q&A, Aino guides us through the terminology, definition, and certification of recycled content.


  1. What qualifies as recycled content?

The term recycled is slightly ambiguous because there is no clear-cut legal definition for it. According to the broadest definitions, nearly any material that is not a virgin raw material is considered recycled. The EU Waste Directive defines it this way: if a material has previously been classified as waste or a by-product and can be restored to a usable condition, it qualifies as recycled content.

However, not all definitions include side streams. The ISO 14021:2016 standard also excludes rework, regrind, and scrap. This distinction is significant when considering the wood used in Sulapac’s materials. We utilize sawdust and small wood chips, which are residues from wood processing. Since these materials are not specifically harvested for our products, they are not classified as virgin material. Even so, when providing recycled content percentages for our materials, we exclude side-stream raw material from those percentages.


  1. PIR and PCR are abbreviations commonly used in the context of recycling. What do they stand for?

PIR stands for Post-Industrial Recycled. It refers to materials made from waste generated during the manufacturing process. PIR should not be confused with side streams.

PCR stands for Post-Consumer Recycled, referring to materials recycled from products that have been used by a consumer and then disposed of.


  1. What does recycled content mean in Sulapac’s materials?

When we talk about recycled content, we are referring to recycled biopolymers. Our recycled polymers are partly collected from industrial waste and partly from consumer waste, and then chemically recycled. The materials have been discarded, collected, and reprocessed. This ensures that our recycled content always meets even the strictest definitions of the term.


  1. What are some of the benefits of using recycled polymers in packaging?

Using recycled polymers offers several advantages, both for the environment and for companies. For one, it eliminates the need to extract virgin materials from nature. This helps to protect natural resources and conserve biodiversity at a time when the demand for materials is constantly increasing.

Secondly, with new regulations restricting plastic usage, companies are seeking alternatives. Recycled biobased biodegradable biopolymers provide an excellent solution. Their chemical recycling requires far less energy than the recycling of conventional plastic, and no permanent microplastics are produced during the process.

Finally, choosing recycled biopolymers allows brands to fully embrace circularity and reduce their carbon footprint.


  1. What is the origin of Sulapac’s recycled biopolymers?

Sulapac doesn’t have recycling facilities of its own, but we collaborate with partners operating in the fields of waste collection, processing, and recycling. For example, we integrate the biodegradable biopolymers recycled by TotalEnergies Corbion into specific material grades for use in cosmetic packaging.

The Sulapac Closed-Loop Platform allows us to collect our customers’ waste and recycle it into new Sulapac material. With our pioneering circular model, our customers can adopt circularity and contribute to a more sustainable future.


  1. Are recycled polymers suitable for food contact? How can their quality and safety be ensured?

Our customers often ask whether recycled biopolymers are truly as safe as virgin raw materials. The answer is yes.

Chemical recycling ensures that the purity of the material is identical to that of virgin material and complies with food contact material requirements. This is achieved by breaking down the collected materials into starting substances and then polymerizing them.

Mechanically recycled materials, on the other hand, are not usually suitable for food contact. Any impurities they contain will remain in the material unless further purification steps are employed.

Many companies also outside the food industry, especially cosmetics brands, prefer food contact compliant packaging and with chemically recycled biopolymers we can provide this.


  1. How does Sulapac ensure that the material has been recycled?

The origin of recycled content needs to be proven with a method called chain of custody​, which adheres to the requirements of the ISO 22095:2020 standard.  We have implemented a chain of custody management system that applies the mass balance model. It allows us to track and verify the origin of the recycled materials we acquire.

In addition, we are about to obtain a third-party certification for our recycled content.


  1. What is the role of certifications? What certification is Sulapac in the process of obtaining and why?

Certifications for recycled materials have been available for a long time, but they have primarily been intended for mechanically recycled raw materials, especially for plastics. However, certifications for chemically recycled material haven’t been available until recently.

The field is now undergoing significant change, and it has been recognized that also chemical recycling needs to be certified.

We are in the process of obtaining a certification from SCS Global Services, a global leader in third-party environmental, sustainability, food safety and quality certification. They were one of the first companies to introduce certification for chemical recycling. Since we want to be at the forefront of development, this is the certification we chose to pursue.


  1. What other certifications are there available for recycled content?

There are several types of recycling certifications available for different purposes, each focusing on slightly different aspects of the recycling process. Some of the most well-known certifications are ISCC PLUS, GRS, and FSC for forest-based materials.

We are constantly keeping an eye on what other options may become available to ensure our certifications best serve the needs of our customers.


  1. What would you say to a company that is thinking about including recycled content in their products or packaging?

I would say go for it! The world is drowning in plastic, and now’s the time to act. But it’s crucial to opt for recycled materials that are chemically safe and won’t harm our planet.

Keep in mind that not all recycled materials are equal. When conventional plastic is recycled, it releases substantial amounts of microplastics into the environment. Additionally, recycled plastic can contain toxic chemicals.

Sulapac’s materials are biodegradable and biobased, and they leave no permanent microplastics behind. They can be almost endlessly recycled in a safe polymer-to-polymer process. Our expertise lies in upcycling – we know how to transform waste into food-safe material, suitable even for luxury brands such as Chanel and Shiseido.


Please don’t hesitate to contact our sales team – they’ll be happy to help you find just the right material for your company’s needs!


Sulapac Ltd is an award-winning material innovation company bringing solutions to the global plastic crisis. By replacing conventional plastic with sustainable, beautiful, and functional Sulapac materials, companies can reduce their carbon footprint, eliminate microplastic pollution, and advance the circular economy. The Helsinki-based company was founded by three scientists in 2016 and serves customers across various industries on three continents. Investors behind Sulapac®, the patented material innovation, include CHANEL and Sky Ocean Ventures.

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