As the second largest packaging segment in the US, flexible packaging account for 18% of the $145 billion American packaging market, according to the Flexible Packaging Association (FPA). This has been a pivotal movement for brands to adopt flexible packaging to save on energy costs and reduce capital spent on materials.
Flexible packaging is an obvious choice if compared to its rigid plastic bottle counterparts, having less of a negative impact on the environment: less material for production required, less generated CO2, less space required.
According to the FPA, the flexible standup pouch product to package ratio is 35 times greater than that of glass bottles and 21 times greater than the aluminum can: flexible packaging uses 50% less energy and 60% less plastic.
While this is great news, there’s still progress to be done. Completerecycling.com states that recycling plastics uses 80% less energy than new ones, but is recycling the only answer to environmental consciousness?
As now, there is no proper closed-loop system to handle the recycling of flexible packaging, especially multi-layer materials: mono-layered packaging is more easily recyclable because it hasn’t got the aluminum foil center. If you want to recycle multi-layered packaging you have to consider every single layer.
You also have to consider food contamination, that leads to a very small percentage of the packaging to be actually recyclable. An initiative to answer to this problem is Cradle-to-cradle design, which aims to keep packaging products within the reusable system without downgrading or becoming 100% waste. Enval has found a way to recycle fully the aluminum foil and keeping it clean, along with producing oils and gases form the plastic components.
Producers are also working on the cradle-to-cradle concept by using eco-friendly materials that biodegrade, bio-based plastics or material that can safely be recycled. Using plant-based materials in flexible packaging would mean economic growth fro agricultural industries, while pushing agricultural growth due to the demand for crop growth.
While we have solutions to recycle aluminum components, there is still no solution to adequately recycle the plastic components into other plastic materials: we need to research an effective way to turn the pyrolisis-obtained carbon liquid fuel into a more serviceable, high-integrity source.
With the innovations the flexible packaging sector has already made, like using bio-based material, or the waste-to-energy process of pyrolisis, the building blocks of further development have been set in place.