Film Alternatives Project
Evaluating Performance and Environmental Impacts of Stretch Film Alternatives
“Industry leadership and innovation has been at our core since 1972. Today, Lantech remains committed to research as a part of our business operations. Our research team prioritizes sustainability in decision-making and sharing Lantech’s experience and knowledge with the public for the benefit of sustainable outcomes beyond our associates and customers.”
-Pat Lancaster, Founder
This project included an investigation into current stretch wrap alternatives. The evaluation compares performance, weight, cost, and estimated environmental impact across representative samples. Lantech utilized industry leading test equipment and technology to achieve containment force with drastically different material properties. Lantech filed several patents related to testing outcomes and evaluated new samples in late 2023.
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100% Virgin films are consistent, high efficiency performers (lowest cost, lowest weight, lowest estimated carbon footprint, steady performance levels)
Ultra-grade virgin films outperform both standard and ultra-grade 30% PCR stretch films in the testing environment and steadily perform to standard at scale. The result of the test was attained using machine settings optimized for the lowest weight to achieve the required containment force with minimum film breaks. The result is replicable across rolls of ultra-grade virgin film without high variance in performance or need for machine settings changes.
PCR stretch film fluctuates & requires machine settings changes
Reductions in pre-stretch and wrap force to stop film breaks for PCR content stretch film can require up to 50% more film weight to maintain the required containment force for standard samples. To run PCR at scale would require optimization of wrapper settings and frequent testing to ensure quality and sustainable results. While a promising Ultra 30% PCR sample demonstrated significant leaps in performance, inconsistency between samples creates significant risks to real-world implementation. In a best-case optimization, Ultra PCR performs near virgin. However, PCR creates a high risk of holes, gels, film breaks, increased operational burden, and unsustainable results.
The journey continues for recycled content
High quality and consistent supply for PCR content stretch film has a long journey ahead. Film producers and recycling companies play a vital role in continued improvement of the PCR landscape.
Significant plastic reduction is possible
Unfortunately, many loads are wrapped inefficiently. More film is used than necessary due to a variety of reasons including incorrect pre-stretch, too many layers on the load, reduced tension to prevent film breaks, improper calibration and settings for the load type, poor machine maintenance, or wrapping by hand. The potential to reduce film without the need for substitutes or replacements is a major opportunity for manufacturing and distribution centers. Following the steps for film reduction offers a large opportunity to eliminate plastic waste.
Post-consumer recycled (PCR) stretch film is collected after it has been removed from loads at the ultimate destination. It then must be sorted, and cleaned of labels, adhesive, ink, and foreign matter before being pelletized into resin for blending with virgin resin to produce PCR stretch film. It is distinguished from Post Industrial Recycled (PIR) stretch film made from scrap or returned goods collected by the film producer.
The gels, and non-compatible materials in PCR dramatically impact the ability to pre-stretch the film without excessive film breaks. Reducing pre-stretch to avoid film breaks generally doubles the film weight to achieve the required containment force. Lantech views film breaks as the key risk of PCR.
Optimizing normally requires experimenting with materials, and all machine settings to find the pre-stretch, tension, that provides the required containment force at the lowest film weight without film breaks. This is sometimes a tedious and time-consuming process that may have to be repeated if the film quality, load profiles, or machine performance varies. When comparing wrapping materials, it is critical to compare their performance only after each has been optimized. Using Lantech Film Auditor, 1000’ film samples were run at the equivalent of 35 RPM at progressively lower pre-stretch until no holes were observed. The result of this test prescribed a pre-stretch level.
While the ultra-PCR sample demonstrated significantly improved results, it was a single sample. The critical part of demonstrating high performance for PCR is a replication of success for thousands of loads in real-world environments. The variation in performance can make or break sustainable outcomes as operators will need to reduce film breaks and change machine settings to withstand inconsistencies in the film. If machine settings are reduced or degraded, more film than the optimized amount will be applied to the load; therefore producing different results than what we show in the optimized results data set.
Overall, it is a challenge to get valid carbon footprint information on all variants of PCR. Although, the LCA of a material is an accepted source for carbon footprint and its relative environmental impact. We have adopted the CO2 impacts of all materials from Mondi’s well-researched “Advantage Life Cycle Assessment” (2021) assuming the recycled end-of-life scenario. We multiplied the gram weights of our results by the carbon footprint factor from Mondi, for a gram-weight-adjusted carbon footprint estimate. Each specific blend of PCR or virgin film may vary, so our category estimates are used for illustrative purposes only. Mondi reserves the right to modify carbon footprint data for its products and publications.