A Packaging Perspective: Connecting Product Packaging to the Circular Economy

By Todd Meussling, Senior Market Development Manager of Fresh-Lock Closures 

Packaging professionals are currently faced with a difficult challenge: creating consumer-friendly packaging solutions that are also sustainable while maintaining production speeds, performance and packaging appearance. A big part of this challenge is understanding how both packagers and consumers use our resources. With an understanding of the circular economy and the new, sustainable technologies at our disposal, we now have more opportunities than ever to conserve resources and reclaim materials that conventionally get disposed of, such as those used in flexible packaging. By understanding this life cycle, packagers can implement effective green initiatives to make packaging manufacturing more sustainable.

Evaluating Your Manufacturing Process

An important step in implementing green initiatives is identifying opportunities for improvement within your manufacturing processes. Are there areas you know are generating more waste than others? Is your machinery operating efficiently and at maximum capacity? Do you have a plan in place for properly handling unused or leftover materials?

Packagers can also ask suppliers if they offer sustainability programs or other opportunities that support waste reduction. For example, the Fresh-Lock® Green Spool program provides options for spool reusability or recyclability, allowing companies to reduce plastic waste in the environment. With this program, manufacturers can receive a $1 credit toward future purchases for every spool that is returned, washed, and reused. If a spool cannot be reused, it can be disassembled and returned to the Fresh-Lock® plant, where it is recycled into new, single-use spools, preventing it from ending up in a landfill. The Fresh-Lock® brand pays the shipping costs so manufacturers incur no expense.

Diagram
The Fresh-Lock® Green Spool program supports the circular economy by offering manufacturers options for spool reusability or recyclability, resulting in less waste going to landfills.

While some conventional recycling approaches potentially create costs for the converter, others like the Fresh-Lock® Green Spool program help maintain current costs or reduce the cost of spools. These types of programs help brands get ahead of generating waste from the start.

Packaging Materials for the Circular Economy

In our current linear economy, we take resources, make a product, use the product, and then dispose of what’s left. Commonly, consumers and packagers alike have viewed plastic pouches as single-use, meaning product packaging ends up in the landfill and its resources aren’t reused. According to the EPA, rigid plastics are recycled at a higher rate (18%) than flexible plastics (13%). We can see the same linear process with many resources in the manufacturing process.The key to sustainability in the packaging world is a shift toward a circular economy, in which products and packaging are designed to eliminate as much waste as possible and optimized for reuse. The circular economy also involves processing unconsumed materials to be repurposed.

With more and more innovative packaging technologies available, packagers can embrace these opportunities.

Make it Happen – Bear Naked

Developing flexible packaging that supports the circular economy requires time and a team of suppliers that shares a common goal in sustainability. Each component of the package must meet specific standards to be considered recyclable, requiring a certain portfolio of resins, adhesives, and sourced materials.

Adding recyclable zippers and films to replace single opening, multi-material structures on flexible packaging is one step toward supporting a circular economy. Zippers and sliders help maximize the functionality of product packaging while preserving product freshness and therefore extending the life of the product. When coupled with a recyclable film, the entire package can be cleaned and dropped off in-store for the recycling process.

An example of a fully-recyclable, flexible package that was developed by a team of suppliers is the stand-up pouch used by Kellogg Company’s Bear Naked® brand of granola.

Kellogg Company’s Bear Naked® granola utilizes a fully-recyclable, flexible package created by a team of suppliers whose combined resources qualify the stand-up pouch for the How2Recycle label.

With the help of Berry Global, Dow, Colormaster, Fresh-Lock® Closures, and Kashi over an 18-month period, Kellogg Company launched the recyclable pouch that qualifies for the How2Recycle® label. The How2Recycle® label allows the entire flexible pouch to be easily recycled at retail stores, making it convenient for loyal customers to avoid adding to landfills.

Zipper style 8113 from the Fresh-Lock® 8000 Series was used in the fully-recyclable Bear Naked® stand-up pouch.

Bringing it Full Circle

There is a widespread desire to live a more sustainable lifestyle, but many people find it challenging to achieve. According to the Pew Research Center, 75% of American adults say they are concerned about helping the environment, but only 1 in 5 conduct their lives in ways that help the environment all the time. Packagers have the ability to help change this trend.

Through sustainability incentives like the Fresh-Lock Green Spool® program and flexible packaging designs like the Bear Naked® pouch, packagers can ensure that resources are saved throughout the entire life cycle of their products.

About the Author

Todd Meussling is the senior market development manager of Fresh-Lock® Closures at Presto Products Company.