How To Design Flexible Packaging For A Circular Economy

Blog Post Feature Image - Designing for a circular economy

We can all agree that waste prevention and the ability to reuse packaging are driving factors of creating a circular economy. However, there is an immediate urgency in the flexible packaging industry to stop waste products polluting the environment. The most effective way to do this right now is to increase the rate and efficiency at which we recycle waste packaging.


Flexible packaging represents half of the primary food packaging in Europe. It is a resource-efficient packaging choice that plays a key role in protecting the products it holds, preventing food waste and providing important packaging functionality. The wide-ranging benefits of flexible packaging, such as its low weight and minimal use of materials, lead to it being an increasingly popular packaging choice. However, the properties that make flexible packaging so desirable also contribute to its reputation of being notoriously difficult to collect, sort and recycle in an economically viable way.


The concept of a circular economy is recognised as a solution to the issues resulting from a “take-make-dispose” approach to consumption. For flexible packaging, the transition to circular starts with design. As well as meeting core design requirements such as product protection, brand messaging and regulatory requirements, companies must choose packaging that also meets the end of life design requirements. This means packaging that is easily collected and sorted, suitable for efficient and high-quality recycling and can be reused in new market applications.


CEFLEX, The Circular Economy for Flexible Packaging initiative, launched a comprehensive set of guidelines to help the flexible packaging value chain design recyclable consumer packaging solutions and accelerate a circular economy. The Designing for a Circular Economy (D4ACE) guidelines focus initially on polyolefin-based structures such as PE, PP and PE/PP mixes as these represent over 80% of consumer flexible packaging in the European market and the ability to sort and mechanically recycle these materials is already proven at industrial scale.


Below is a brief overview of what CEFLEX believe is the optimal guidelines for designing packaging solutions that will work with and contribute to the circular economy model.


Designing For A Circular Economy Infographic (1)

Source: CEFLEX Report “Designing For a Circular Economy 2020”


Foxpak offers a wide range of recyclable packaging in line with CEFLEX’s guidance. Our recyclable range includes PE/PE and PP/PP laminates and mono-material structures available in matt and gloss finishes and with high barrier protection. We continue to encourage the use of recyclable plastics, helping our clients create a more sustainable supply chain in line with our vision of a circular economy.

If your brand is looking to invest in quality packaging, our team will guide you through the entire process, providing recommendations on increased sustainability, helping to improve efficiencies and adding expert and award-winning value to your end product.



Flexible Packaging and the Environment: Part III

Blog Post Feature - life after packaging

Although sustainability is so much more than what happens to your packaging when you throw it away, it is still essential that we have a good understanding of life after packaging. In 2018, 40 per cent of global plastic produced was used for packaging, this equates 161 million tonnes. Less than one-fifth of this figure is recycled globally – so what happens to the rest?


Landfill is the most notorious of all ending points for plastic waste. Its estimated that 78% of global plastic that has been produced is accumulating in landfill or discarded in the natural environment as litter. Of the 161 million tonnes of plastic packaging produced each year, approximately 10% ends up in our oceans. This is a knock-on effect of landfill waste as, during transportation, plastic packaging is often swept into our waterways by the wind. The final 12% of packaging waste is brought to incineration and used to produce energy.

By increasing the rate by which we recycle plastic packaging, we could offset the problem of landfill waste and ocean litter, however, this alone is not enough to reverse the effects of environmental pollution. By adopting sustainable packaging in conjunction with changing our waste disposal habits, the global packaging waste crisis can be averted at a much faster pace. But what happens to our new and improved sustainable packaging at the end of its life?


Compostable Packaging

Compostable packaging is made with the intention of breaking down into natural elements in a compost environment. Today, not only do we have conventional home composting that is suitable for the disposal of household waste, there are also industrial composting facilities designed to effectively process large volumes of public and commercial waste. There are three types of industrial composting techniques; windrow, in-vessel and aerated static pile composting. All three will produce the same results however, In-vessel composting is the most versatile with the ability to accommodate virtually any type of organic waste — meat, animal manure, bio-solids and food scraps etc. during the industrial composting process, waste material is placed in an enclosed environment where temperature, moisture and airflow levels can be efficiently controlled. The waste material is mechanically turned to create aeration that encourages bacterial activity and material breakdown. The entire process can take between 21 and 84 days to complete. The end product is a high-quality compost that is rich in nutrients. This can be used in gardens, landscaping, horticulture, urban agriculture and organic farming to name just a few.


Recyclable Packaging

Recyclable packaging is packaging made from the same plastic or plastics within the same polymer family. This allows it to be successfully melted down during the recycling process without contamination. Today, the majority of plastic packaging can be recycled and remade into new products. Plastic waste recycling reduces our use of fossil fuels, saves energy, landfill space, and emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Plastic recycling is broken up into a few distinct steps however these may vary depending on the packaging. packaging waste is disposed of in the home and collected by the waste management companies. Once the waste has been transported to the recycling facility it is then sorted by type of plastic, colour and even by the way the plastic was manufactured in the first place. Once sorted the plastic is then washed to erase any traces of contamination from food, labels or adhesive that may be present. The washed plastic is then shredded into small particles, making it easier to process. The shredded plastic is identified and separated into like categories, this is done by testing characteristics such as density, thickness, melting point and colour. Once the plastic is sorted it is compounded into small pellets that can then be reused to make alternative products such as rope, plastic toys, piping, beer mats, plastic pallets and even recycling bins.


Paper Packaging

Paper is one of the most easily recycled packaging materials. Each metric tonne of recycled paper can save approximately 19 trees, 2.68 meters of landfill space and 127 kilos of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year. Much like plastic packaging, recycling paper packaging will result in a product that can be used in the same or similar capacity than the original. Whether you recycle your paper at home or on an industrial scale, the process is essentially the same. Paper packaging can be disposed of in our recycle bin at home and will end up in the dry recycling waste streams. Once collected, waste management companies sort the paper into grades which essentially measure the quality of the fibres. Each grade is then transported to a paper mill recycling facility where it is further sorted based on its surface treatment and structure. After sorting, the paper is then shredded and added to a mixture of water and chemicals such as hydrogen peroxide, sodium hydroxide, and sodium silicate to facilitate the breakdown and separation the paper fibres into a solution referred to as pulp. The pulp is then passed through a number of screens to remove larger contaminants such as staples, tape, plastic film etc that would be included in the recycled paper. Once the larger contaminants are removed the pulp is added to a flotation tank where chemicals and air bubbles remove any inks or dyes present. At this stage, hydrogen peroxide and other whitening agents may be added to further enhance the whiteness of the pulp. Once the desired brightness is achieved, the pulp is passed over heated rollers to press out any excess water and form continuous sheets of flattened paper ready to be reused for applications such as newspaper printing, wrapping paper, printing paper, and blown-in cellulose insulation.


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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Flexible Packaging and the Environment: Part II

Blog Post Feature - the benefits of plastic without the waste

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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