Ecoplasteam: New Idea for Recycling Multi-Layer Packaging

Multi-layer packaging like “tetrapaks” for beverages and food is still a challenge for the circular economy. However, the Italian company Ecoplasteam has found a solution.

Such packaging for beverages and food consists of paper, polyethylene and aluminum. While paper mills take off the paper layer, the mixture of polyethylene and aluminum (PolyAl, sometimes referred to as PE-AL) is part of the multi-layer packaging waste because the components cannot be easily separated.

Stefano Giacchetto (Photo: Ecoplasteam S.p.A.)

According to the European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform, the Italian company Ecoplasteam S.p.A. “employs an innovative process to melt the polyethylene and aluminum into EcoAllene”, a material consisting of both components. In this way, the costs of recycling could be reduced. In February 2021, the company won the “Impresa Ambiente Award” for “Best Product” in Italy. Stefano Giacchetto, CSR of Ecoplasteam, told GLOBAL RECYCLING about the company’s specialty.

From the beginning, Ecoplasteam focused on finding a solution to the problem of recycling polylaminates, “PolyAl” (plastic-aluminum), which derive from recycling food containers. In which way does your solution solve this problem?
From the beginning, the beverage cartons, after consumption, are thrown away and go to the paper mills that extract the cellulose from the cartons. The PolyAl inside, on the other hand, is waste. Usually, it goes to landfill or incinerator, but now there is a new green solution, Ecoplasteam. We can manage this waste to create a new raw material, called EcoAllene. But why is our solution innovative? Our solution is innovative because we do not separate the plastic (polyethylene) and aluminum inside the beverage carton, but we keep them together. Our innovative process is therefore unique in the world.

Ecoplasteam uses a process to treat these elements of polylaminates to create a third material. But what are the main differences to other companies which address this problem?
There is only one main difference, but it is a major one that makes a big difference. We keep the PolyAl together. That means we do not use solvents and other chemicals. Our competitors try to separate the aluminum and polyethylene parts and thus use chemical solvents and pollute the environment.

Can you tell us more about EcoAllene, the new material derived from recycling polylaminates?
Our material is like a virgin low-density polyethylene. Thus, it can be used for the same applications. We can add fillers to our base material to create different “formulations”, one for each sector, for example, formulations for toys, stationery, household items, etcetera. You can see some examples on our website. But we have many other applications.

According to your website, EcoAllene has a wide variety of use. Which companies can benefit from using this material?
As I said, our material has a variety of applications. Our most famous customer is Carioca, an Italian company that produces markers, pens and other stationery products. Gerbaldo Polimeri, who, with our material, has developed a special formulation for rotational molding and now produces jars. Moreover, we have clients making household utensils, CTP company is one of them.

Photo: Ecoplasteam S.p.A.

What is the production capacity of your plant in Spinetta Marengo (Alessandria)?
Our factory in Alessandria produces 6,000 tons/year of EcoAllene.

Ecoplasteam was born and developed as a start-up. How would you describe the company’s first steps?
The first step, for all start-ups, is to find investors, money to turn the idea into reality. Our project is very innovative, so this step was easy, many investors were interested in our business. We quickly reached our goals. The second important step was finding customers, which was not easy. The plastics sector is full of large and established companies. Thus, it was not easy to convince companies to do production tests with our new material. After a bit of word of mouth, however, everything was easier. Now customers call us directly. There is almost no need to look for them.

How rapidly has Ecoplasteam expanded to its present level?
It took years of work to reach this level of development. For the first two years, the increase was low. But when the product took the market, the growth became rapid. Nowadays, we double our sales every year, and in 2022 we will reach full capacity. Therefore, the next step will include the opening of a new plant.

Technology never stands still. So, what are your plans and goals for the future?
As I said, we plan to open a new plant in 2022, but we want to open more plants in the next three years. PolyAl is a big problem, and Ecoplasteam offers a good and green solution. We want to do our part in this phase, a crucial moment for us and future generations. We have to do something, and EcoAllene is part of that. Taking the waste and bringing it back to life is the only way to a more sustainable world.

(Published in GLOBAL RECYCLING Magazine 1/2022, Page 14, Advertorial, Photo: Ecoplasteam S.p.A.)