Need sustainable packaging? Have some flexibility.

Packaging continues to follow other industries in the quest to become more environmentally friendly. Consumers are much more aware of packaging, and many are choosing products packaged in a sustainable manner. This means the packaging is recyclable, or biodegradable, right?  Not always. Today’s consumer is concerned with ‘over-packaging’ to a much greater degree than even just a few years ago.  The more packaging that is in the way of the actual product, the more it is perceived by consumers as wasteful. This is expressed as ‘product-to-package ratio’, and the lower the ratio, the better for the environment. This is true for several reasons, including the following:

  1. A larger than necessary package consumes more raw material and energy to produce.
  2. Packaging with higher product-to-package ratio takes up more space than necessary in transport, requiring more trips (and the resulting higher emissions and energy use) to deliver the same quantity of product vs. right sized packaging.

Again, sustainably savvy consumers think about these issues, and the consensus is growing. They are seeking right sized packaging in the products they purchase, as well as attributes like recyclability.

Plastic to the rescue!

Plastics have been given a bad rap over the past few decades. Most are made from fossil fuels, which somehow has a bad connotation. And people understandably do not like the fact that improperly disposed of plastic is littering our oceans.

But let’s take a look at plastic’s positives.  Specifically, let’s create a scenario where a plastic flexible package replaces a more rigid plastic container.

Stand-up Recyclable Pouch
PE/PE Flexible Package

Right out of the gate, a flexible package has the advantage of using less material for each unit produced. At the very least, this means less plastic material entering the usage stream, and a proportionate decrease in material that could potentially enter the waste stream. Put a credit on the sustainability ledger.

Next, consider secondary packaging required to ship both units to product filling. The ability of flexible packaging to lay flat will significantly reduce the secondary packaging required as opposed to the rigid container (Read more about that here). Over the life cycle of the product line, the difference in the amount of secondary packaging required will be quite substantial. Another sustainability ‘win!’

Add it all up…

Now we come to the bigger payoff, sustainable benefits over time. Consider the gains we just talked about – less raw material required for each unit; less secondary packaging required; less space occupied in transit; less harmful emissions by transport vehicles; less material introduced to usage and waste streams. You can see where this is going. Over the life cycle of a product the gains will be substantial.  Even if this hypothetical flexible packaging construction is not recyclable, it does have many sustainable benefits. And it’s worth mentioning that sustainable flexible packaging structures ARE available, and more are being developed.

Is moving your product to flexible packaging the right move? This post is provided as food for thought, and every situation is different. But where it makes sense, the move to a flexible package can be a mover toward sustainability.  Ask one of our experts. We’d welcome your questions.

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