Trends in Flexible Packaging

In our current economy, we take materials from the earth, make products from them, and eventually throw them away
as waste – the process is linear. In a circular economy, by contrast, we stop waste from being produced in the first
place. ©Have a nice day-stockadobe.com

Circularity and sustainability are about more than recyclability

By Evan Arnold, President of Glenroy

Flexible packaging plays a vital role in the packaging industry, offering numerous benefits such as versatility, lightweight design, and extended shelf life for various products. As consumer preferences shift towards more sustainable options, trends in flexible packaging are rapidly evolving to meet the demands for circular and sustainable solutions. However, it’s crucial to understand that circularity and sustainability are not as simple as just recycling.

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the circular economy is based on three principles: eliminate waste and pollution, circulate products and materials, and regenerate nature. In our current economy, we take materials from the earth, make product from them, and eventually throw them away as waste – the process is linear. In a circular economy, by contrast, we stop waste from being produced in the first place.

Sustainable packaging refers to packaging that gradually diminishes its environmental impact and ecological footprint over time. Throughout the entire lifecycle of packaging, factors such as fossil fuel consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and water usage must be carefully evaluated and considered.

Flexible packaging is known to have reductions in all these categories. For example, a recent lifecycle assessment (LCA) conducted by PTIS found that our store drop-off recyclable zipper pouches, when compared to rigid canisters, result in up to 77% less plastic (by weight), 78% less fossil fuel consumption, 79% less greenhouse gas emissions, 65% less water usage, and 74% less landfill waste (even when factoring in plastic recycling rates).

Recyclable, reusable and refillable packaging

A common trend in the industry is the pursuit of total recyclability or reuse of packaging materials. Many brands have made public commitments to achieve this goal. The focus is on developing packaging that can be effectively recycled or reused at the end of its lifecycle, thus minimizing waste and environmental impact. This involves the use of easily recyclable or reusable materials, such as certain types of plastics like polyethylene.

In addition to recyclability, brands are also exploring reusable and refillable solutions. For example, brands like Harry’s, Kiehl’s, Ouai, and Oribe are all embracing refill spouted pouches. By encouraging consumers to reuse packaging or refill it with product, companies can reduce the consumption of single-use packaging materials.

This approach not only reduces waste and improves consumer convenience, but also helps encourage customer engagement through an innovative, new packaging format. It amplifies their commitment to providing sustainable, eco-friendly packaging and serves as a channel to boost sales through e-commerce.

As brands look for sustainable packaging solutions that appeal to eco-conscious consumers, refillable spouted pouches are becoming a popular option. They offer numerous benefits, including reduced plastic use, lower storage costs, and a modern look that appeals to customers.

Post-consumer recycled content (PCR)

Moreover, there is a growing emphasis on incorporating post-consumer recycled (PCR) content in flexible packaging materials. The entire supply chain, including brands, packaging manufacturers, and consumers, recognizes the importance of reducing reliance on virgin materials. PCR content refers to materials that have been used and are then recycled to create new packaging. By increasing the usage of PCR content, companies can minimize the need for virgin materials, conserving valuable resources and reducing the environmental impact associated with their extraction and production.

However, the successful implementation of these trends relies heavily on the presence of robust infrastructure for collection, recycling, and reuse. Without an efficient system to manage the lifecycle of packaging materials, it becomes challenging to fulfill the goals of recyclability and PCR content utilization. This requires the development of a modern system that supports the circular economy. This system should encompass comprehensive recycling facilities, effective collection mechanisms, and awareness campaigns to educate consumers about proper waste disposal and recycling practices.

To achieve a true circular economy, collaboration is crucial among all stakeholders in the packaging industry. Brands, packaging manufacturers, government bodies, and consumers must work together to create an infrastructure that enables the seamless flow of materials through the recycling processes. This collaboration involves investment in recycling facilities, the establishment of collection programs, and the promotion of responsible consumer behavior.

In summary, trends in flexible packaging are driving the industry towards circular and sustainable solutions. Brands are actively pursuing total recyclability, reusability, and refillable systems, and integrating post-consumer recycled (PCR) content. However, the realization of these trends depends on the development of a modern infrastructure that supports the circular economy. By embracing these trends and fostering collaboration among all stakeholders, the packaging industry can contribute to a more sustainable future, reduce waste, and minimize environmental impact.

About the Author

Recently appointed to President, Evan Arnold has been pivotal in driving innovation and packaging excellence at Glenroy for 15 years.  To learn more about the eco-impact of flexible packaging versus rigid plastics, visit www.glenroy.com.

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