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Eco-design: When Colours Add Value to Recycled Packaging

REPI’s “Smoky Shades” improve R-PET aesthetics and therefore make it possible to increase the percentage of recycled material going into packaging. 

2018 drilled into our minds two major warnings “…there will be more plastics in the ocean than fish by 2050”…, “single-use packaging will be banned soon”. Emotional claims and some touching pictures of dead birds with stomachs full of plastic have gone around the world alarming consumers and putting the plastics industry under incredible pressure. Meanwhile a lot has been discussed and hopefully people are reviewing their ideas coming back to the matter of plastic packaging:  single-use packaging will hardly be banned since this is the response to metropolitan life style, spreading very quickly from industrialized countries to the developing ones. A light, practical and portable PET bottle is exactly what people want to have in their hands while moving around on a subway or on an electric scooter. As simple as that. Practicality is not the sole consideration; it is in fact closely connected with the demand for food safety, freshness and quality. All these requirements together are easily offered by plastic packaging. So why should we give up our freedom and consumer experience? Because there are currently no other real alternatives. Once again in order to limit plastic waste, plastic going to landfill or into oceans and wherever, an environmentally conscious culture together with effective collection strategies is what we strongly need, no doubt at all. 

I personally had the feeling that public opinion in the recent months is convinced that nobody cared at all about plastic pollution and waste until those alarming pictures emerged. This could not be further from the truth. The plastic packaging industry is highly advanced and has already unveiled a lot of potential related for example to the reduction of material used, with the light-weighting and the rise of the “Eco-Design” philosophy and to the exploration of the use of BIO-plastics (which struggle to establish themselves in the market due to production capacity limits). 

The main challenges for the next years are driven by keywords like reuse – recycle – reduce - bio. Ambitious goals have been set by Brand Owners, who want and need to stay on the right side of the river and later on confirmed by International Associations: 50%, 75%, even 100% of R-PET will be used for single use packaging within the next 5 years. Challenging isn’t the word…! Critical points will be sourcing, processability, safety and aesthetics. 

As for the latter, one might consider it less important than the other questions, but it is not at all. Are we ready to give up nice, attractive packaging? Will we accept that? Will Brand Owners be ready to see their excellent products on shelves packaged in poor looking R-PET containers? Not sure….

Fortunately, in our opinion it will not necessarily be that way: colorants and additives come to the rescue.   REPI, as a liquid colours and additives manufacturer with more than 45 years’ experience, works more and more with Brand Owners and their converters on projects involving R-PET in order to find solutions that allow them to use more and more recycled content in their packaging by correcting off-shade colours in addition to the polymer’s mechanical performance.

This is the case of REPI’s successful Anti Yellow Range (AY), composed by different liquid additives able to balance the appearance of uneven incoming material. So, it is possible to regain brightness, as well as to correct the greenish or the greyish tone. As a result, more recycled plastic content can be used to produce acceptably  good-looking preform and sheet.

From the left: 100% R-PET - same with AY 00015 @0.03% - same with AY 00201 with optical brightener @0.03% 

The mechanical performance of R-PET must be also kept under control, since IV drops can compromise the quality and strength of a bottle. REPI’s IV Enhancer is normally added during the injection moulding process, it attracts and binds to itself the oligomers and therefore makes IV increase again to the level of the virgin material. 

IV Enhancer additive helps the mechanical performance of a R-PET bottle increasing IV level from 0,05 dl/g to over 0,10 dl/g depending on the LDR

Not only transparent additives take the field, but also colours. REPI’s Smoky-range in fact offers a wide choice of “fumé shades” which cover the R-PET material and even give a premium and delicate nuance to bottles and containers both for drinks as well as for cosmetic applications. This can be obtained by adding colour amounts as small as 0.05% to the PET/R-PET mix. The range goes from a light amber to light blues, greys, aqua-marine shades and even antique rose. 

Left: Light amber with Virgin PET       Right: With 50% R-PET

We are receiving real interest from customers, since the Smoky-range represents the answer to their concerns related to aesthetics when adding recycled material and also they get the opportunity to reduce the amount of colour, but without removing it out completely. Yes, because it is the case that many brands are moving from opaque/covering shades to transparent ones, and in a few cases, brands are even taking into consideration to go clear in order to help the recycling loop. 

Left: Antique rose with Virgin PET       Right: with 50% R-PET

Left: Olive green with Virgin PET        Right: with 50% R-PET

This would have significant marketing impact especially regarding the iconic shades of many brands both in the food and drink and in the cosmetic industries. 

Colour, in fact is crucial for Brand Recognition, is easily memorized and recalls other feelings related to the product. Sometimes, colour is what makes you saying “wow” at the very first sight. Colour normally is able to compensate revolutions in the design, shape, weight or material of the packaging. 

Adding a small amount of a liquid colorant to PET/RPET mix (again the range of dosing sets itself between 0.02% and 0.6%) would not affect the recycling cycle. 

Left: Smoky black with Virgin PET        Right: with 50% R-PET

In the same way the protective action played by colours (even when transparent) in preserving content to loose colour and properties should not be underestimated. A simple example could be vitamin or tonic water, both very light sensitive. When packaged in a transparent monolayer bottle, the best protection is granted by a green or an amber colour, which protects even more than a transparent UV additive due to the wavelengths barrier provided precisely by the pigments present in the colour. Going clear in such cases would mean having to move to a full sleeve or to adapt the drink recepy. 

REPI’s Smoky-range offers BOs the opportunity to launch a new packaging look focused towards sustainability and circular economy without affecting brand iconicity and recognition.

A dark blue on Virgin PET and on 100% R-PET – the difference is hardly observable

There is at the moment nothing available to replace PET because this material has excellent properties and has not built its success overnight. 70 million tons are used in the packaging industry worldwide and recently we saw facilities expand to increase production capacity. Polyester is not going anywhere, at least not soon. The recycling rate of PET is high and its quality gets better and better every day. 

Colorants and dedicated additives are available to make it look and work even better, let us take advantage of this opportunity, because after all… how would the world look without colour?

Contact Information

Lucia Buffoni - Marketing Manager REPI S.p.A.


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