Technological watch

Sustainable rPET cups for school milk

Recycled PET in a closed recycling loopIt is a world premiere: school milk in Upper Austria is now packaged in 100% sustainable cups made of recycled PET (rPET). The joint project of Austrian school milk producers and the three Upper Austrian companies PET-MAN, Greiner Packaging and Starlinger viscotec is revolutionising the food packaging market and proves that a sustainable circular economy is possible.

When the bell announces the break, children in Upper Austria look forward to enjoying their school milk. Every day, around 36,000 children in Upper Austria are supplied with fresh school milk products such as fruit milk, drinking yoghurts or school milk cocoa. “To carry through the origin idea of the regional and sustainable product to the packaging, we thought about how to make it so that the cups are 100% recyclable and reusable,” explains Markus Neudorfer, Managing Partner of the sheet manufacturer PET-MAN. The solution is a white cup made from 100% rPET.

rPET - the sustainable plasticThe benefits of this material are obvious: it is lightweight, unbreakable and plasticizer-free, making it ideal for school kids. However, rPET (recycled polyethylene terephthalate) is far more than conventional plastics. "The new rPET cups consist of 100% recycled, unprinted rPET mono material and can be recycled over and over again into 100% food-grade cups", says Alisa Schröer, responsible for Circular Economy projects at Greiner Packaging.

Recycling the cups requires less energy than reprocessing reusable glass, for example, and produces less waste. The school milk farmers take the used cups back with their next school milk delivery. This results in over 30% less CO2 emissions compared to reusable glass bottles. "The cups are collected, washed and shredded. The shredded material, known as flakes, is then cleaned and processed using viscotec technology. This rPET material will again be used to make cups for food packaging," explains Herbert Hofbauer from Starlinger viscotec. As a result, many tons of packaging waste are avoided every year.

School milk farmers fill their products freshlyRegional product in regional packagingThe entire production and recycling loop of the school milk takes place in Upper Austria. The cows graze on local pastures and the fresh milk is bottled directly by the school milk farmers and delivered to the schools. "Thanks to the partnership with the three Upper Austrian companies PET-MAN, Greiner Packaging and Starlinger viscotec, we can now provide a sustainably packaged school milk to the kindergartens and schools produced exclusively in Upper Austria", states Johannes Strobl, farmer and chairman of the Upper Austrian school milk producers.

Closed Packaging Recycling LoopChildren should be made aware of the sustainable use of nature as early as kindergarten and school age. By using the 100% recycled rPET cups, they learn that plastic is not just plastic and makes it a big difference whether packaging is simply disposed or can be recycled over and over again: the closed recycling loop of the valuable material makes recycled PET a material for the future. It is interesting to know that recycled PET is currently the only post-consumer secondary plastic that is allowed to be used in food applications in the European Union. The school milk packaging made of rPET can therefore be recycled again and turned into food packaging, making it THE recyclable packaging for dairy products.

The visionary project has been nominated for the following awards:

  • Green Packaging Star Award 2021 and
  • TRIGOS 2021, Austrian award for responsible business, in the category „Exemplary project”

Publication date: 07/09/2021

Smart Extrusion

This project has been co-funded with the support of the LIFE financial instrument of the European Union [LIFE17 ENV/ES/000438] Life programme

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Last update: 2020-07-14