Retort pouches are popular when it comes to packaging ready meals, baby foods, pre-cooked rice, soups, and wet pet food. They are also hard to manufacture because they lack a natural recycling stream.

This is why we have taken the time to look into this and ensure our packaging is recyclable or reusable by 2025. In the past, we have heard how it’s impossible to make a recyclable retort pouch.

Noemi Bertolino is the Vice President of R&D at Amcor while Gerald Rebitzer is the Director of sustainability. Both of them take the time to look through the challenges of retro pouches and how the Amcor team has spent time innovating to create a recyclable version.

Q – What is retort packaging?

Noemi Bertolino – Retort processing involves having food cooked inside the pouch at a set temperature that goes up to 130 degrees Celsius. The goal is to sterilise the product and the packaging, which helps keep the bacteria and oxygen inside. This helps keep the food in good condition and safe to eat for more than a year.

Q – Why is it important to go out and develop a recyclable retort pouch when it is difficult to do so technically?

Gerald Rebitzer: There are different reasons for doing so. The main reason comes down to Amcor’s vision for putting together the best packaging that is reusable or recyclable heading into 2025. Recyclable packaging is something customers are looking for including other parties such as the retailers. The product development team is also talented enough to make sure the packaging is world-class and as sustainable as it needs to be heading into the future.

The pandemic has brought along with it a long list of challenges and it has become even more important to think about sustainability. The best brands on the market are dealing with issues surrounding global warming and plastic pollution, which are impacting the planet in a bad way. This is why the leading brands are looking to deal with responsible packaging and there is a desire to show the target audience that their brand is listening.

The retort pouch has never been an option in the past but this is the most efficient solution for those who want to optimise cyclability when it comes to managing heat and increasing the shelf life of the material. This is the type of solution we are aiming for with the work we are doing behind the scenes.

Q – What are the hurdles associated with putting together the recyclable retort pouch?

Noemi Bertolino – Most people think about this idea as being impossible. They assume anything that is recyclable should not be a possibility. We have taken the time to push the envelope when it comes to seeing good results in this part of engineering excellence. It is what allows us to push forward a unique solution.

This type of retort packaging is something that helps keep things safe including wet pet food and ready-to-go meals. Everything inside the packaging is kept fresh and that is due to the materials used for the pouch. Most businesses were using PET retort pouches, which worked but were dangerous for the environment. This was due to them not having a recycling stream available to them.

Q – What is the main issue with PET for soft packaging?

GR – The primary benefit of PET is that it works well for packaging purposes. It helps with production machines and it is good as a barrier coating and heat-resistant material. Customers also enjoy setting things up when it comes to performance. Unfortunately, all of these benefits go out the window when it comes to those who want to be eco-conscious.

NB – PET bottles and containers have a plastic recycling stream but that is not how other types of flexible packaging work. The polyester found in the finished pack cannot be recycled. This is why it’s important to loo for an alternative such as the retort pouch. The PET materials that do work well are the ones that are of the highest quality material and are transparent.

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