Once different material types (paper, metals, plastics) have been separated into distinct fractions they can enter a recycling process.

The focus of the D4ACE guidelines is on mechanical recycling processes for polyolefin-based flexible packaging, recognising these will be the primary route for recycling flexible packaging in the short to medium term.

Mechanical recycling processes for flexible packaging polyolefin-based materials are already proven and operated on a commercial scale in some European countries.

Significant expansion of this infrastructure will be required to manage and process the increasing volumes of materials to be collected for recycling.

Flexible plastic mechanical recycling process

diagram representing the magnetic separation stage of the recycling process


It is common practice for most recycling facilities to perform some degree of additional sorting processes on the unbaled materials which can include magnetic separation, eddy current separation and NIR optical sorting stations.

diagram representing the feeder/shredder stage of the recycling process

Size reduction & washing

The waste plastics are typically shredded and washed to remove contaminants such as paper, residual food/product waste, dirt, and sand.

diagram representing the density separation stage of the recycling process

Density separation

This process is used to separate polyolefins from other plastics such as Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or polystyrene (PS).

diagram representing the extrusion stage of the recycling process

Drying & extrusion

The final stage where plastics are melted, filtered, and pelletised.

The quality of the input material to the recycling process has a significant impact on the associated costs and yields for the recycler.

Cleaner, less contaminated input material is preferred as this reduces the cost of washing and subsequent processes, improving both the yield and quality of material obtained from the recycling process.

While for plastics and paper a mechanical recycling process is currently used, for structures containing aluminium the process will generally start with pyrolysis to recover the aluminium fraction by ‘removing’ the plastic and other non-aluminium materials at high temperature/low oxygen. The hydrocarbon fraction is also recovered and used to generate energy.

Other advanced recycling technologies, such as solvent-based recycling, are being developed and commercialised, opening further opportunities to improve the recyclability of flexible packaging structures.

In parallel, the development of other types of processes and technologies such as chemical recycling is gaining momentum and is likely to have an important role to play as we move towards a circular economy.

Understand each of these steps and connect them to your packaging design choices by consulting the complete guidelines

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