Flexible Packaging and the Environment: Part II

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By now, we have recognised that although flexible packaging by its nature is one of the most environmentally friendly packaging options available, consumer demand paired with tightening regulations and a changing social landscape is pushing the hands of brand owners to make the switch to packaging made from sustainable materials. Though transitioning to sustainable packaging should be at the forefront of many companies strategy, it can be a daunting task.

Making the Switch

When making the switch to sustainable packaging, brands need to consider the fact that the perfect solution may not exist. Just like choosing an outfit, one size does not fit all when it comes to choosing the correct sustainable material. while bio-based materials might fit the needs of one product, a widely recyclable single polymer plastic may be better suited to another. Likewise, although green is good, brands can not afford to compromise the quality of their products by choosing packaging that doesn’t match the practicality, protection and attractiveness they already have. Until recently, sustainable materials such as bio-based alternatives and paper laminates could not compete with traditional mixed plastic when it came to protecting and preserving the product being packed. However, the continuous development of new and innovative alternative materials paired with packaging manufacturers ability to successfully convert these materials is bridging the gap between what consumers want, what legislation demands and what brands can offer.

 

the happy pear compostable pouches

The Happy Pear made the switch from rigid plastic tubs to compostable pouches for their range of  granolas

 

Compostable Flexible Packaging

 

compostable-pouchIn the world of sustainable packaging, two words come up more often than others; compostable and biodegradable. But what do they mean? By its definition, compostable packaging will break down to natural elements without leaving behind toxic residue. The main difference between compostable and biodegradable packaging is that compostable products require specific conditions in order to break down i.e. specific temperature and moisture settings along with the presence of microorganisms, whereas biodegradable products will break down naturally. As with many sustainability claims, the devil is in the detail. In this particular instance, the detail is time. We have already mentioned that biodegradation is a natural occurrence, in fact, everything from banana skins to toxic batteries will biodegrade eventually. Because the definition of biodegradable packaging does not have a time limit attached to it, consumers assume that it takes much less time to break down than the 1,000 years that is estimated for plastic, however, this isn’t always the case. Compostable packaging, on the other hand, does have a time frame associated with it. In order to claim compostability under the EN13432 standard, packaging materials must break down within 180 days in industrial composting conditions and no more than 365 days in home composting conditions.

As part of the generation green range, foxpak has developed a compostable laminate made from a mixture of bio-based and synthetic polymer materials which have been individually certified to the EN13432 global standard for home and industrial composting. Our compostable packaging is available with a certified press-to-close zipper and printed with compostable inks that are non-toxic to the environment meaning you can benefit from the look and feel of plastic packaging without the negative environmental impact.

 

Recyclable Flexible Packaging

 

recyclable-pouchRecyclable packaging is packaging that can be reprocessed back to its original form and returned into the manufacturing stream. Traditionally, flexible packaging is made from a blend of different plastic materials which are laminated together making them extremely hard to separate. For this reason, flexible packaging is notoriously difficult to recycle. As the saying goes, reduce, reuse and recycle. When translated into the world of packaging, this would look like the following scenario;

  • Reduce: switching from multi to mono layer materials and tweaking impression sizes for more efficient print accross a single web
  • Reuse: reusing waste material from the manufacturing process for waste-to-energy conversion
  • Recycle: correctly disposing of packaging at the end of its life to be recycled back into the packaging industry

As simple as the closed-loop theory sounds, some of these stages are more advanced than others when it comes to packaging. By its nature, packaging will always produce waste, however, plastic packaging is not necessarily the biggest culprit. This comes as no surprise as flexible packaging requires much less material for production than its traditional counterparts. Moving onto the reuse and recycle stages of the cycle, another set of terms that are commonly used interchangeably are recycled versus recyclable packaging. So, what is the difference between the two? Recycled packaging is packaging made using a percentage of raw material that has come from recycling old packaging. Recyclable packaging refers to packaging made from virgin materials that are easily recycled. The idea of sourcing packaging made from recycled content is great, however, With over 75% of global flexible packaging being used to pack food and limited infrastructure for recycling plastic laminates, especially those that are contaminated by food products, packaging converters and brands face the task of meeting food safety regulations.

Foxpak has developed a recyclable solution made from virgin materials in the same plastic polymer family making them much easier to recycle. Our recyclable laminate is classified by the resin identification code 4 made from Low-density Polyethylene meaning its widely recycled at collection points.

 

Paper-based Flexible Packaging

 

innovative packaging solutionsWithout sustainable packaging, it’s hard for a brand to maintain its reputation for environmental stewardship. One of the biggest contributing factors to this is the plastic-free movement which has become the forerunner of packaging discussions. But what does it mean? We have already discussed the importance of plastic for the food industry in terms of longevity and protection of the product, but what about packaging for non-food products, fast-moving consumer goods or single-serve portions? Without the requirement of barrier or preservation characteristics, brands are free to choose plastic free-paper packaging, arguably the most sustainable material option. Paper is the most obviously recyclable packaging material, it’s naturally sourced and can easily biodegrade back into nature. The paper recycling stream is one of the most widely available which means we can efficiently and effectively divert waste from landfill. However, paper has some environmental limitations. Paper used in packaging is technically down-cycled at the end of life, not recycled. After initial use, paper is disposed of through dry waste recycling streams, it is separated by type and grade, water and chemicals are added to return it to a pulp form and it’s then remade into recycled paper. This process inevitably weakens the papers natural fibres and results in a newly processed material which contains contaminated fibres that do not meet food-grade standards. This inhibits the new material from being used for the same purpose as the initial material. To overcome this, raw material manufacturers supply the packaging industry with either virgin paper or paper containing a percentage of recycled content that abides by the laws of food safety contact.

Foxpaks paper packaging is made from virgin paper which is ethically and sustainably sourced from FSC certified plantations. This material is not only recyclable but repulpable and biodegradable. Our fluorocarbon-free white paper material comes with an aqueous-based plastic-free coating which can be heat sealed to ensure packaging strength and product freshness without the contamination of traditional plastic laminates.

 

 

So what’s the best choice for your product?

Although the advancements of sustainable alternatives to traditional plastic are making waves in a range of different industries, each sustainable material has its benefits and drawbacks. For example, paper may be the most sustainable material option in terms of how we dispose of it after use, however, it provides the lowest barrier properties for food products and is limited in its applications. The table below outlines, in broad terms, the suitable applications for each of our generation green packaging material options.

Table outlining a range of suitable applications for compostable, recyclable and paper packaging

For more information on our Generation Green range and advise on which sustainable packaging option is best for your product, get in contact with us and a member of our team will be happy to talk you through your options in more detail.

 

Thanks for reading,

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