A company working on reducing its carbon footprint should assess the sustainability of packaging materials. Flexible materials take up less room and weigh less than glass or rigid plastic containers, which can minimize the resources required for shipping and storage. Some materials are recyclable, while other types of plastic packaging feature post-consumer recycled materials. Here are a few considerations for producers seeking more sustainable materials for vitamin packaging or other consumables.
Wide or Limited Recycling
While polyethylene films are recyclable in many locations, other materials such as post-consumer recyclable PET reduce reliance on virgin plastics for packaging. Recycling plastics uses approximately 80% less energy than producing new materials. It is important to accurately label recyclable packaging. Wide and limited recycling streams may be available for PE, PET and high- or low-density polyethylene indicated by codes one and two.
The capacity of materials to be recycled in most locations is indicated by the How2Recycle label on flexible packaging products. Widely recycled materials are accepted by more than half of curbside programs or municipal drop-off locations. Materials with limited recyclability are accepted by only 20% to 60% of curbside and drop-off programs.
Store Drop-Off Recycling
Consumers who do not live in areas that accept plastic bags, films or wraps for curbside pickup may be willing to take packaging to a municipal or store drop-off location. Brands that offer this option on product packaging empower consumers to choose sustainable disposal. Consumers can also set the stage for successful recycling by taking measures to reduce the presence of food contamination, which can render packaging materials from certain contents more difficult to recycle and lead to disposal through pyrolysis or in a landfill.
Stores that participate in the How2Recycle program typically accept HDPE, LDPE and other materials. Store drop-off is particularly important for packaging that consists of more than one recyclable material. Recyclable mono-materials are more likely to be accepted by curbside programs. Multi-material packaging must be dismantled and sorted. Recyclable packaging is often processed into recyclate resin for further post-consumer applications.
Sustainable Packaging Materials
The development of biodegradable and compostable packaging materials is ongoing. These types of materials are expected to provide all of the benefits of flexible packaging while being more sustainable and having a smaller impact than other plastics. These innovative materials may not be able to provide the same degree of durability and barrier and sealant performance as PE or PET, particularly given the demands of frozen food packaging. Future innovations are likely to enhance the versatility of biodegradable packaging materials.
Consumables companies can choose from several types of recyclable, recycled or sustainable packaging materials. In addition to prioritizing sustainable packaging materials, producers should also factor in the shipping footprint. Brands that require a combination of barrier and sealant films to preserve contents and print web films to present products to customers should select a service that specializes in flexible packaging materials and digital printing with sustainable inks and options for solventless lamination. Making more aspects of product packaging sustainable or recyclable is a big step toward a smaller carbon footprint.