Recycling Needs a New Game Plan” is one of the first columns that I wrote as Chief Editor of Packaging Strategies. The recyclability of flexible packaging — and communicating flexible packaging’s sustainability street cred to consumers — was a key focus of speakers at the Flexible Packaging Association’s Annual Meeting in Tucson in March.

Alison Keane, FPA President and CEO, touched on the complexities of labeling flexible packaging as recyclable, especially with individual states adopting their own guidelines on this issue.

“Labeling is becoming a headwind to commerce. We’re going to need national legislation,” Keane said.

While not at the FPA Annual Meeting, AMERIPEN’s Dan Felton made a similar case in a column he contributed to Packaging Strategies in late March.

Keane also touched on the National Strategy for Reducing Food Loss and Waste, which is being pulled together by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Keane said FPA has communicated that it wants mention of packaging’s role in reducing food waste, especially since that role received scant to zero attention in the draft national strategy.

Also with regard to the state-level patchwork nature of recycling legislation, Keane noted that “California came out and said film is not recyclable” and that the state does not like the concept of a store drop-off program. Meanwhile, Oregon says that film is recyclable, and FPA is in favor of a store drop-off system.

Another speaker at the FPA Annual Meeting was Rob Cotton, R&D Director, Packaging Sustainable Materials, at PepsiCo. Cotton agreed with Keane that the fragmented regulatory environment in the United States is a barrier to scaled end-of-life solutions for packaging.

Like other speakers, Cotton touched on the negative press that plastic packaging has received as of late, a negative image not helped by widely circulated photos showing sea turtles and other marine life and their encounters with plastic packaging.

“We run the risk of being banned because we’re not addressing the fundamental problem of plastic in the environment,” Cotton said.

Cotton noted that any technology that PepsiCo develops to make films recyclable or biodegradable is not going to be proprietary. “We’re going to license this technology to anybody,” he said.

Cotton also noted that Western Europe has put a lot of bans on compostable packaging. “We’ll have to change a lot of that legislation in Europe and get ahead of the legislation in the United States,” Cotton said.

Suzanne Shelton, Founder and CEO, Shelton Group, spoke about “Communicating the Value of Flexible Packaging.”

Shelton cited survey results indicating that 45% of people want to be seen as buying eco-friendly products. On the other hand, when asked the reasons they considered a firm a “good company” or a “bad company,” only 6% of respondents specified “cares about the environment” as something that defines a good company, and only 6% of respondents specified “harmful to the environment” as something that defines a bad company.

In the end, Shelton said, consumers want a solution that allows them to throw used packaging into their recycling bin and know with certainty that the packaging will ultimately get recycled (a “Get Out of Guilt Free” card). She cited survey results indicating that 59% of consumers believe corporations should take responsibility for end-of-life solutions for packaging.

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Brad Addington
Chief Editor, Packaging Strategies
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