P3I: Potential of Paper in Plastics Industry

Feasibility study to assess long-term solutions to use paper instead of plastics that can be recycled into the paper stream or composted, using current plastic processing methods and equipment.

Plastics are a part of our time; it's impossible to imagine life without them in almost any situation. Currently, 365 million tons are produced every year, of which around 40% are packaging materials. As many countries do not have a proper collection and recycling system, around 8 million tons end up in the sea, which is equivalent to about one truck per second. This problem is now considered to be one of the most pressing challenges of our time. Many countries, as well as the EU, have reacted to social pressure. They require very high recycling rates of 50% for packaging plastics by 2025.

A possible alternative to plastic is paper. Made from renewable raw materials, it is also easily biodegradable without additives and has an existing recycling loop. However, the use of paper generally leads to drastic restrictions when it comes to formatting. In addition, for flat sheets of paper, the surface is generally compact and closed, but for fiber molded parts, such as egg cups, the surface is rough and porous. Paper processing has changed very little over the last 100 years.

The aim of the project is to combine the material advantages of paper with the innovative and economic processes of the plastic industry in order to develop components that can be recycled via the paper collection flow. The idea of developing injectable paper has existed for several years, but many projects have failed due to the fluidity of the mixture. This is often achieved by means of a thermoplastic matrix and a very low cellulose content, but the recyclability via paper recycling is lost.

As part of the P3I project, 11 companies together with the IWK of the University of Applied Sciences of Eastern Switzerland and the iRAP of the HEIA-FR (HES-SO) joined forces to study the feasibility of the potential of paper in plastic processes. In addition to analysing the legal framework in Switzerland and the EU, the aim of this project is to assess appropriate materials. In the end, sample components will be developed for the various partners.

This project will allow partner companies to use their resources more efficiently, which will allow them to better position themselves in the market and gain in competitiveness. Four of the companies have production facilities in the canton of Fribourg and thanks to the project, the canton continues to position itself as a driver for the development of renewable raw materials.