Plastic packaging still confronting sustainability challenges

Multiple approaches being pursued

Such firms are exploring and advancing multiple strategies to address these issues, including increased plastics recycling, more reusable packaging, greater use of biomaterials, reduced material use, and design for circularity. Package designers also need to take into account the different priorities for on-shelf vs. e-commerce products. Eye-catching package design is less vital for products sold online than in the store, but ensuring the shipped product arrives at its destination undamaged is vital.

Advances in these areas take diverse forms, but consider the efforts being by CPGs to redesign the e-commerce-friendly and highly popular –– but largely unrecyclable –– flexible pouches to make them more eco-friendly. This mostly involves finding a way to convert those pouches’ multilayer, multimaterial constructions, which till now have been needed to protect the contents from such unwelcome factors such as moisture, oxygen, and ultraviolet light, into recyclable, mono-material structures.

For example: mono-material pouches

Several advances are happening in this area. Austria’s Mondi Group, for just one example, worked with several partners for four years to develop an all-polyethyelene, stand-up pouch for Germany’s Werner & Mertz GmbH to use with its Frosch-brand detergent. This patented pouch features detachable decorative panels on both sides, to help enable easier recycling.

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Another new technology, called AeroFlexx and developed by Procter & Gamble Co., enables liquid packaging in a flexible yet rigid package. Made with coextruded flexible film, the product leverages compressed air to inflate specific portions of the pouch, specifically along the edges, to bring a degree of rigidity not otherwise possible in a flexible package.

An AeroFlexx package uses half the plastic needed to blow mold a traditional bottle and can be delivered as roll stock to a filling facility, meaning it is easier to ship throughout the supply chain. In addition to significantly reducing plastic at the source, the Chicago-based company’s vision is to be 100% recycle ready by 2025. While enabling seamless, edge-to-edge artwork, AeroFlexx also features a no-leak, self-sealing valve that offers easy, one-handed operation by the consumer.

Loop platform touts reusability

New Jersey recycler TerraCycle Inc., meanwhile, is taking a completely different approach with its Loop circular shopping platform. Loop has gained support from many of the world’s best-known brands, ranging from Unilever, PepsiCo, and Nestlé to Danone, Procter & Gamble, and UPS.

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The Loop system uses UPS to ship a variety of food, household cleaning, and personal-care products in a reusable and collapsible, padded container called the Loop tote. The products are dispensed from reusable containers, which are returned in the same reusable tote when empty. Some have dubbed it “the milkman model,” in a nod to the old days when milk was delivered to your doorstep in glass bottles, which were later collected, cleaned, and reused.

“Loop,” maintains TerraCycle founder and CEO Tom Szaky, “is an engine for CPGs to shift from disposable products that consumers own to durable ones they borrow.” The brand owners, meanwhile, actually own the package, which is meant to be reused at least 100 times. The impact on packaging is obvious – instead of trying to make the cheapest possible disposable package or container, the brands are incented instead to design handsome, reusable containers out of durable materials.

Numerous companies are also investing in initiatives and technologies to advance both mechanical and chemical recycling, and to develop biocompatible and compostable materials.


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