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Sustainable Packaging: Why Is It Important?

Whether you’re walking the floor at an industry trade show, or sitting face-to-face with a high-level decision maker from a large retailer, the topic of sustainable packaging will be discussed as the “go-green” initiative is gaining momentum.

With mounting pressure from consumers, and the fear of future government regulations or outright bans of certain packaging, large CPG companies are committing more than ever to sustainability, even going as far as to set specific compliance dates.  Many of these companies have ‘2025 initiatives’ with stated goals for sustainability by year 2025.

In the 2018 Sustainable Packaging Study conducted by Packaging Digest, 75% of respondents said they believe increasing recycling rates will alleviate environmental concerns around plastic packaging.  And they’re not alone.

Brands are pushing their supply chain partners to “go green” more than ever before.  Therefore it is important to understand how the market is changing.

Plastic Recycling Process
Plastic Recycling Process

One of the most common and perplexing questions heard is “Why can’t we recycle the packaging we have today?”  The answer is not as simple as it may seem.  The majority of flexible packaging is made with multi-material films and the ability to recycle these multi-material films comes down to a few factors:

  1. Can the plastic resins that make up the materials be recycled?
  2. If so, how can they be gathered and sorted in a cost effective manner?
  3. Are there second life uses and/or demand for the mixed recycled resins which are cost effective and widely used?

Unfortunately, today’s recycling climate is not equipped to effectively push multi-material packaging through the recycling stream.  Therefore, a large percentage of multi-material plastics are not being recycled and are instead ending up in landfills or the world’s oceans at an alarming rate.

Plastic litter in the ocean
Plastic ‘Islands’ in the world’s oceans

This brings us to the question: “What is the next best option?”

The endgame for packaging suppliers and their customers would be a fully recyclable or compost-friendly material.  However, the current offering of compost-friendly plastic films results in particles of micro-plastics, with no added nutrient value to a compost mound.  Additionally, the packaging industry simply isn’t there yet with respect to feasible options for shelf life barriers, printing and converting capabilities, and the ability to effectively collect and dispose of these materials on a state level, let alone a national one.

Plastic Types
Plastic Recycling Streams

The ultimate solution will be a single polymer, recycle-ready material.  There have been significant advancements in recent years to offer a single material option which not only satisfies shelf-life barrier requirements and print/package format requirements, but can also be effectively pushed through the recycling stream at a global level.

The flexible packaging market is in the midst of an important transformation that cannot be ignored without falling short of market needs and sustainability goals.  Brands must stay tuned in, or risk falling behind with their customers.  If you are interested in incorporating recycle-ready films into your packaging, contact the experts at AWT Labels & Packaging.

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