Sustainable solutions continue to be a top priority for consumer packaging goods (CPG) companies. They are one of the drivers pushing brand owners to switch from traditional materials to flexible packaging types, according to the Flexible Packaging Market Assessment from PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies.
When looking at the total lifecycle of a package, flexible packaging offers many sustainability benefits compared to other packaging formats. These benefits include greater material/resource efficiency; improved lightweighting and waste prevention; shelf-life extension; reduction in materials sent to landfill; and high product-to-package ratio.
While flexible packaging is more sustainable and uses less energy, these same qualities that make it desirable become a challenge when looking at end-of-life recycling. There is currently a lack of recycling options for multi-material laminate films — such as snack bags and foil pouches — which are difficult to separate into their various substrates. Although many packaging material companies across the globe are scrambling to develop sustainable packaging materials to reduce environmental impact, it is a time-consuming and expensive process, and companies need to build flexibility into their supply chain.
One way the industry is responding to the need to improve the sustainability profile of flexible packaging is through plant-based materials. According to PMMI’s Packaging Sustainability: A Changing Landscape white paper, more than half of survey respondents (53%) are evaluating or implementing new materials to be more sustainable, including plant-based material that is renewable.
Based on the white paper findings, food manufacturers are more often retrofitting existing machines compared to other product segments, due to the desire to use plant-based materials that can require machine tweaking. The challenge with these materials is withstanding the rigors of the packaging process — for example, plant-based materials can’t survive the retort process.
When considering the shift to these new, plant-based materials, PMMI’s sustainability white paper suggests a few key questions to answer during the testing phase:
- Does the new material run fast?
- Will the new material limit machine flexibility?
- What machine modifications might be needed to accommodate new materials?
Some of the sustainable packaging solutions that CPGs are exploring include plant-able packages, which is a package made from 100% compostable materials and has embedded seeds. Consumers can plant these packages in their garden after use. Some other alternatives are fully compostable flexible films made of potato starch; mushroom-based packaging as an alternative to polystyrene for protective shipping packers made from fungus; and renewable, plant-based resin material ideal for modified atmosphere packaging (MAP). Additionally, plant-based inks improve the overall sustainability profile of a product, especially when combined with other strategies like a recyclable package.