The project, funded by the Horizon 2020 programme and coordinated by the research centre, brings together 14 partners with a common goal: the development of disruptive processes for the sorting, delamination and recycling of multilayer rigid and flexible plastic packaging.

The ITENE research centre is working on the development of new delamination processes that allow the separation of the different layers in post-consumer flexible packaging with multilayer structure. These developments are part of the MERLIN project (2021-2024), coordinated by ITENE, which brings together 14 European partners to work together in the development of disruptive processes for the sorting, delamination and recycling of rigid and flexible multilayer plastic packaging with a circular economy approach.

In this Project, funded by the Horizon 2020 programme, ITENE is focusing its efforts on the end-of-life management of packaging: from the development of new recycling processes and improvement of properties of recycled materials, to the manufacturing of new packaging for the food industry. More specifically, to achieve a new delamination process for multilayer flexible packaging, the research centre will use CO2-based processes under supercritical conditions and other cosolvents to separate the layers of the structure, without altering or degrading the main layers and substrates that make up the multilayer packaging.

This novel delamination process will allow the recovery of high-quality substrates so that they can be used in the manufacture of new products with high added value and, furthermore, it is intended to be applicable to the widest variety of multilayer structures on the market. To this end, once the process with these green solvents will be optimised, it is planned to extend the tests carried out to other samples provided by both the project partners and collaborating companies in the packaging sector.

The delamination of multilayer packaging, key to Europe’s circular economy

This delamination process will provide a solution to one of the key challenges of packaging in terms of sustainability, as the use of multilayer structures is widespread due to the specific properties that the combination of different polymers brings to the packaging (e.g., physicochemical or sealing properties, or increased shelf life). However, the combination of these different polymer layers decreases the recycling options, because the low miscibility between the polymers means that mechanical recycling requires the use of additives to increase the mixing of the polymers. The development of processes to achieve the recycling of this type of structures is key to meet the requirements of the European roadmap for the circular economy established in the European Plastics Strategy, the Circular Plastics Alliance, the European Green Deal, and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

ITENE research centre

The ITENE research centre offers companies cutting-edge knowledge to build a safer, more sustainable and digital future in four main areas: sustainable materials and technologies for the circular economy; design, safety and functionality in packaging; chemical exposure and air quality monitoring; and logistics and smart mobility.

Thanks to the high degree of specialisation of its team, made up of more than 180 people, of which more than 16% have a PhD in their speciality, ITENE develops an intense research activity through R&D projects (375 carried out between 2018 and 2021 alone) and also offers consultancy and innovation services (1,037 in the same period), testing (2,357) and training.

Founded in 1994, the research centre is based in the Paterna Technology Park (Valencia), where it currently has 7,500 square metres of facilities, half of which are dedicated to laboratories and pilot plants.