Lightweight, compact and heat-resistant retort pouches are a smart choice for food products requiring retort sterilization to ensure extended shelf lives. This includes baby food, ready-to-eat meals and pet food.

Despite consumers’ growing concerns about the environmental impact of packaging waste, limited recyclable retort pouch options are available in the market as brands explore sustainable solutions.

Surdry North America (SNA) has summarized three essential points about recyclable retort pouches in the food industry:

  1. What is the material difference between regular and recyclable retort pouches? Traditional retort food pouches are typically multi-layered, made from a combination of polypropylene (PP), aluminum foil and polyethylene (PET). These materials are used for their durability to withstand high temperatures and pressures from the retort process, ensuring a longer shelf life.

    However, they raise an environmental concern: When laminated together, these materials cannot be separated during the recycling process nor sorted appropriately within the recycling stream. Brands have been testing different technologies to create recyclable options that are resistant to the retort process, while also maintaining product quality. Many have achieved positive results by utilizing a mono-material, commonly PP film, which can be melted and re-formed into new products.

  2. How sustainable are the recyclable options? Various factors can affect the environmental impact of recyclable, heat-resistant pouches. In general, pouches help reduce material usage and lower the carbon footprint in production and transportation compared to sustainable rigid packaging formats, like glass.

    Sustainable retort pouch materials are easier to recycle than those typically used in regular ones. However, consumers face challenges in recycling mono-material pouches properly, forcing them to use store drop-off recycling programs rather than curbside bins. The recycling infrastructures and processes in the cities must be prepared to handle these types of packages.

  3. Why aren’t these pouches widely used in North America? Recyclable retort pouches face obstacles in penetrating alternate markets due to their market novelty, high production costs, limited material availability and insufficient recycling infrastructure. And although more sustainable, their appearance may not match that of non-recyclable pouches, posing a challenge in attracting customers.