Organocatalyzed Closed-Loop Chemical Recycling of Thermo-Compressed Food Packaging Films of Poly(ethylene furanoate)

Monomers derived from renewable feedstocks have emerged as a novel sustainable alternative to petrochemical polymers. One of the biomass derived polymers that is recently gaining attention for food packaging applications is poly(ethylene furanoate) (PEF). However, PEF is not biodegradable and its end-of-life options must be considered in order to avoid contributing to the accumulation of plastic waste. In this paper, after analyzing the suitability of PEF for packaging applications using an industrially relevant film-processing method, the chemical glycolysis of PEF was investigated using a thermally stable acid-base organocatalyst. After succesfully deconstructing the PEF films into bis(2-hydroxyethyl)-furan-2,5-dicarboxylate (BHEF), the obtained BHEF was used to resynthesize PEF using the same organocatalyst to sucessfully generate a biopolymer with similar chemical and thermal properties to virgin PEF following a closed-loop cycle according to the Circular Economy principles.