Japan: Plastic Recycling Mitsui Chemicals Aiming to Turn Recycled Resin Back into Film

Editor: MA Alexander Stark

Mitsui Chemicals has begun demonstration testing for a material recycling project aimed at cutting down on plastic waste. The company is focusing these efforts on flexible packaging materials, which are commonly used in food packaging.

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Pellets made from film that has had printing removed.
Pellets made from film that has had printing removed.
(Source: Mitsui Chemicals)

Tokyo/Japan — In 2017, Plastic Waste Management Institute (PWMI) published a diagram showing material flows for plastic in Japan, placing the total amount of plastic waste generated in the country at around 9 million tons per year. Cutting down on this figure will be a major issue for the country.

With a new project, Mitsui Chemicals is focusing specifically on the recycling of flexible packaging materials, which is the largest application for the company’s business in polyolefin resins and films. The group estimates that flexible packaging materials make up approximately 2 million tons of the roughly 9 million ton figure mentioned by PWMI. The company is therefore striving to cut down on the amount of plastic waste generated in the flexible packaging materials sector. As an initial effort, the company is starting up demonstration testing for a system that aims to take plastic waste created from the film production and printing processes, then recycle this into new film to be used as a flexible packaging material. Launched in August 2019, this effort is being run in conjunction with The Gravure Cooperative Association of Japan.

Starting in January 2020, Mitsui Chemicals will also introduce roll-to-roll technology that facilitates the cleaning of printed film and the removal of printing from said film. The company will then test this technology’s ability to recycle film into regenerated resin that exhibits stable quality and can be reused as a raw material for flexible packaging.

Going forward, the Japanese company plans to consider commercializing this model for material recycling, as well as expanding its scope to also include plastic waste from lamination through to pouch production, filling and consumption. At the same time, the development of mono-material packaging that contributes to improved recyclability and product quality is to pursued. Additionally, it will work to develop compatibilizing technologies to help secure more high-quality regenerated resin.