Solving Flexible Packaging’s Biggest Challenge Interviews –

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Solving Flexible Packaging’s Biggest Challenge Interviews –

Flexible packaging plays a huge role in getting products to consumers, but the Flexible Packaging Association says turnaround remains one of the industry’s biggest challenges.

Data compiled by GlobalData analysts shows that in 2022, food and beverage markets held 87% of the packaging market (51% food and 36% beverage).

Head of global packaging services at Globaldata, Dominic Cakebread said that 63% of the market share was flexible plastics and rigid plastics. Data collected by GlobalData also showed that flexible packaging had the highest sales volume of all types of packaging materials from 2019 and that in 2022 the flexible packaging industry saw record sales of over 1.4 billion units with projected increase on an annual basis.

Flexible Packaging Association President and CEO Alison Keane told Inside Packaging exclusively that flexible packaging plays an important role in protecting and preserving a wide range of products, including food, medical devices and e-commerce.

“The use of flexible packaging, the largest packaging segment globally and second only to corrugated in the US, is increasing due to its utility, but there are limited opportunities for end-of-life management and end markets for recycled material. The lack of material recovery means that the potential for full circularity is limited. This means that flexible packaging is prevalent and visible in the waste stream or as litter, which has led to negative public perception and concerns about ocean litter.”

Flexible circular packaging shape

Keane told Inside Packaging that one of the biggest challenges facing the industry is how to go full circle, and this correlates with data collected by GlobalData on consumer concerns about the environment. A GlobalData webinar titled: “Top Packaging Trends 2023” revealed that 50% of consumers believe it is important to know if a product’s packaging is recyclable and how to recycle it.

“Like every other manufacturing industry in the US, flexible packaging is facing workforce and supply chain disruption. Perhaps unlike other industries, however, packaging, and flexible packaging in particular, faces the full challenge of circularity,” Keane said.

“How do we modernize the US recycling system to collect and process the packaging we use today? The US recycling system is managed at the municipal level with 20,000 to 30,000 different programs. It is inefficient and based on markets that no longer exist (ie much of our recycled plastic was exported overseas to China, which stopped accepting it).

“It was also designed for glass, metal and plastic with edges, when there are many more types and combinations of packaging in use today. Viable turnkey solutions exist for flexible packaging, but investment in collection, sorting and processing infrastructure is required. This includes advanced chemical recycling, such as pyrolysis and gasification, so that flexible packaging, in particular food and medical flexible packaging, can be made from post-consumer recycled materials.’

Keane says the FPA believes a well-crafted extended producer responsibility program can deliver those solutions. She adds that there are currently four of these laws in the US, and implementation of each will be key to proving whether they will actually deliver on the promise of increasing recycling, reuse and circularity in these states as a model for others.

How to achieve a true roundabout

For the industry to experience true circularity, companies must produce packaging that fits within the framework of the circular economy, and businesses play their part through innovation.

In January, the multinational packaging company Amcor was recognized as a leader in four categories at the WorldStar Global Packaging Awards organized by the World Packaging Organization. The US-based company received awards for its innovative product design in the food, health and personal care, medical and pharmaceutical categories.

One of his designs was the PrimeSeal Eco-Tite Recycle-Ready Shrink Bag, a 100% recyclable flexible packaging solution with a new high barrier performance comparable to existing bags. Amcor says this new packaging solution is free of PVDC and other contaminants that prevent recycling.

Amcor also claims to be the first company to provide certified round plastics to the Australian and New Zealand markets, which Amcor Asia Pacific director of sustainability Richard Smith describes as an important resource.

Keane points out that flexible packaging plays a big role in the circular economy and that it is the fastest growing segment of the packaging industry.

“Consumer brands recognize its sustainability benefits, such as resource efficiency that reduces water, energy and greenhouse gas emissions during production, distribution and use. It also optimizes the volume and weight of the packaging needed to protect and preserve the product as it moves through the supply chain and is ultimately used by the consumer. This means it creates less waste in the first place and reduces the amount of packaging needed for end-of-life management.

“By protecting the product, it reduces product loss and damage and extends the shelf life of foods, thereby reducing the number one cause of greenhouse gases from landfills. For example, the shelf life of a cucumber is extended from three to 14 days when it is wrapped in flexible film, and packing grapes in the perforated flexible bags leads to a 20% reduction in waste in stores.

“Even when it comes to landfill, for example, when we compare a flexible coffee bag with a traditional steel can with a ridged plastic lid, the recycling rate of the steel can (one of the most highly recycled containers) will need to increase from 71% to 93% , and the plastic lid would need to go from 21% to 75% for the steel coffee can to have the same amount of deposited material as the stand-up pouch. The key is closing the loop with end-of-life management solutions.”

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