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“Virtuous Circle” project partners in South Africa announce ground-breaking research into recycling options for multi-layer packaging

5 May 2017, Dusseldorf: Partners of the innovative “Virtuous Circle” project today announced the results of ground breaking research into new recycling options for multilayer food packaging at leading global trade fair Interpack. The findings shed new light on the potential of this type of packaging to be “upcycled” for use in products of value in a circular economy.

Multimaterial multilayer films are an innovative type of packaging used to preserve food and to protect it from contamination or from oxygen that would lead to faster degradation of food. Multi-layer packaging, while highly effective, has been criticised for being challenging to recycle due to the challenges of separating the different layers and sorting them by type. In addition, the general preconception is that even if these materials can be technically recycled, the resulting raw material is of such poor quality that it effectively amounts to “downcycling”.

One of the core aims of the “Virtuous Circle” project, launched in South Africa in October 2016, has been to challenge these assumptions. Project partners DuPont and Rural Waste Poverty Alleviation Solutions (RWPA) have worked together on testing innovative methods of creating new products of genuine value from multilayer film packaging after it has served its original purpose.

While multi-layers play an essential role in preserving food, waste from this type of packaging has been growing steadily, so a solution had to be found.” says Dr Andrew Venter CEO of Wildlands.

Green Desks

The main focus of the Virtuous Circle project is the distribution of nutritious FUTURELIFE® Smart food™ to school children in South Africa, and the subsequent recycling of these pouches into school desks. These multilayer film pouches were manufactured by Equaltrade 4 and Amcor supplied the foil for the sachets. Each Wildlands Green Desk not only ensures that 40kgs of waste is diverted from landfill, but also contribute to address a current shortage of an estimated 3 million schools desks in South Africa[1].

The desks have been made possible thanks to an innovative process developed by project partners Wildlands and RWPA Solutions which results in desks that are stiffer and stronger using recyclate multilayer waste compared with virgin low-density polyethylene (LDPE) resin. A unique characteristic of RWPA’s methodology is that no water is required to clean the multilayer film before it is recycled.

The desks containing recycled waste from the multilayer pouches are now being delivered to schools involved in the project.  In this way, the school children, who have already enjoyed the nutritious food kept fresh by the pouches, are getting to see first-hand the benefits of a circular economy approach.

Housing materials

Research undertaken in parallel as part of the project has also demonstrated that there are other potential uses for higher volumes of multilayer comingled film waste – ones that can add value in larger market segments in an economically efficient way.

Until now, it has been necessary to add recycled high-density polyethylene (HDPE) to recycled multilayer waste to achieve stiffness and strength in end-products. Thanks to the research carried out by DuPont and RWPA Solutions, a new way to recycle multilayers and contribute to high quality products without the use of HDPE has been successfully tested.

By mixing compatibilizers and coupling agents with the raw material converted from the comingled multilayer film waste, and combining it with sawdust (itself a recycled material) it is now possible to manufacture building planks for the construction of low cost housing that comfortably conform to strength standards under South African building codes (see infographic below).

According to Karlheinz Hausmann from DuPont Performance Materials “The key element is the use of compatibilizers and coupling agents. It is now possible to develop an end product using multilayer waste that is 16% stronger than before and meets a genuine need in an important market. Rather than being recovered for energy or simply sent to landfill, the compatibilizers transform the waste into a valuable and cost effective raw material. ”

Commenting on the significance of the findings for housing markets in developing countries Iqbal Hirji, Founder of RWPA Solutions said that “houses built with materials containing recycled comingled film waste bring significant improvement in both comfort and safety for many developing countries’ inhabitants. These houses can last more than 10 years if properly maintained and can help respond to housing shortages in many areas. Not only can they be rented like normal houses, making it economically sustainable, but at the end of life the planks can be reground and remoulded into new planks again. This adds to the environmental sustainability of the model and provides a true Circular Economy solution.”

As a leading packaging manufacturer, seeing such ground-breaking innovations is great news as it allows the packaging industry to continue to develop films that have the best performance for food waste prevention. Continuous investments in design for recycling is important to drive forward innovation in this area so that recyclates are of increasingly better quality and can compete with virgin material, added Gerald Rebitzer, Sustainability Director of Amcor Flexibles.

The research findings will be presented at Interpack on 8 May from 1600-1700 during a roundtable discussion with Virtuous Circle Partners taking on the Innovationparc stage at the Save Food Pavilion.



Notes to the editor:

About the project

The three pillars of the Virtuous Circle project are:

  •       feeding undernourished school children in disadvantaged areas thanks to innovative packaging solutions (the “feeding pillar”)
  •       upcycling the waste packaging into Green Desks  (the “recycling pillar”), and
  •      educating the students about the importance of sustainability and equipping local partners with the tools to maintain a true circular economy approach to nutrition (the “education pillar”)

For additional information please contact:

–          Cassandra Biehler, Amcor:

–          Sandrine Le Pallec, DuPont :

–          Nic Watts, EqualTrade4:

–          Karyn Hamilton, Futurelife:

–          Julika Falconer, Futurelife Foundation Trust:

–          Karam Hirji, RWPA Solutions:

–          Katy Newnham, Wastbuster:

–          Roelie Kloppers, Wildlands:  

Check out the website  and follow us on Twitter @3PillarsZA

Amcor Limited (ASX: AMC; is a global leader in responsible packaging solutions, focusing on a broad range of flexible and rigid plastic packaging that enhances the products consumers use in everyday life, with 95 percent of its sales into the food, beverage, healthcare and tobacco industries.  The company employs more than 31,000 people worldwide, operating in 40-plus countries and across more than 190 sites.

DuPont (NYSE: DD) has been bringing world-class science and engineering to the global marketplace in the form of innovative products, materials, and services since 1802. The company believes that by collaborating with customers, governments, NGOs, and thought leaders we can help find solutions to such global challenges as providing enough healthy food for people everywhere, decreasing dependence on fossil fuels, and protecting life and the environment. For additional information about DuPont and its commitment to inclusive innovation, please visit

DuPont Performance Materials (DPM) DuPont Performance Materials (DPM) is a leading innovator of thermoplastics, elastomers, renewably-sourced polymers, high-performance parts and shapes, as well as resins that act as adhesives, sealants, and modifiers. DPM supports a globally linked network of regional application development experts who work with customers throughout the value chain to develop innovative solutions in automotive, packaging, construction, consumer goods, electrical/electronics and other industries.  For additional information about DuPont Performance Materials, visit

Equaltrade 4 (Pty) Limited is a supply chain management company founded in 1995 and deals with the supply and logistics of food and related products to the mining industries in Sub Saharan Africa. Situated in the mining towns of Rustenburg and Carletonville in South Africa the company is well placed to service these industries. The twin pouch concept was developed as a mid-shift meal supplement for this industry but its application has broadened to the support of communities in distress. The unique middle seal allows for the nutritional powder and purified water to remain separate increasing the shelf life of the product to 6 months – by squeezing the pouch the seal is broken allowing for powder and water to combine into a nutritious meal.

FUTURELIFE® is a functional food company with a mission to improve the health and wellbeing of everyone by helping them to make the right nutritional choices in their daily lives. FUTURELIFE® is South Africa’s first and only scientifically formulated, balanced, nutrient dense food to contain Moducare®. Most FUTURELIFE® products are also high in Energy, Protein and Dietary Fibre, and contain Calcium, Iron, Selenium, Zinc, essential vitamins and minerals, 19 Amino Acids and Omega 3+6.

The FUTURELIFE® Foundation Trust was established as a nonprofit to enhance broad-based community development, particularly for the benefit of children at non fee-paying schools, vulnerable groups in society, and to support projects that promote sustainable livelihoods in areas where such non-fee-paying schools exist.

RWPA Solutions (Pty) Ltd, an advisory consultancy and manufacturer founded in 2012, has devoted its efforts to poverty alleviation in South Africa through initiatives in the recycling, clean energy and affordable housing environments. RWPA is set up to develop: sustainable solutions for difficult to recycle rural and household multilayer and commingled plastic film waste; alternative cooking, heating and lighting solutions to reduce hazardous indoor smoke pollution specifically within informal settlements; and innovative, green and low-cost housing solutions. RWPA works in conjunction with local and international conservation and development organisations towards achieving these unique solutions.

Wildlands is a charitable Non-Government Organisation and one of South Africa’s leading environmental non-profits (, working to improve the livelihood of South Africa’s poorest communities and restoring the ecosystems that support them. The current project footprint includes over 80 poor urban and rural communities in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and Gauteng. Wildlands’ work is focused around 7 core programmes, which contribute significantly to our growing footprint; Trees for Life, Greening your Future, Recycling for Life, Clothes for Life, Ubuntu Earth, Khuthaza Business and Conservation SPACE.

Wastebuster is a not for profit Community Interest Company (CIC) that delivers a school’s education programme designed to foster positive values, attitudes and behaviours that prevent waste and encourage children to carry the messages from curriculum, to campus and into the community. Wastebuster specialise in environmental education, waste reduction and recycling campaigns and initiatives that engage, inform, and empower children to play a direct and active role in shaping their own future. Wastebuster also develop teacher and volunteer training programs to show how changes in the way we learn, live, play, work, and travel can help us live happy and healthy lives – within the resources available to us. Almost all Wastebuster’s work involves partnerships and collaborations. We team up with not-for-profit agencies, NGOs and charities and form relationships with local councils, regional government offices and waste and utility companies. We also work with businesses that would like to activate positive change as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility commitment: