Frankly let’s talk about circularity for flexible packaging

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Despite all the attention paid to creating a circular economy, the reality is that plastics recycling rates are on average less than 10% in the United States and around 15% in Europe. Regional legislation, possible fees and fines, and negative public sentiment are prompting the packaging industry, among other sectors, to take a more circular approach to plastic use.

Air sealed presented on the subject “Designing for circularity” and what that means for flexible packaging during a webinar in mid-October. We caught up with one of the presenters, Myra Foster, Global Director, Sustainable Development Strategy and Advocacy, to provide additional information on several key points.

What’s the best way to move the needle to increase recycling rates?

To favor: Basically, recycling requires collection, sorting and reprocessing. Increasing recycling rates requires increased access to collection, infrastructure improvements to include innovations in collection, sorting and reprocessing technologies to manage a larger portfolio of material substrates, and continuing education for consumers and industry.

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One of the more surprising slides from the webinar was this (above): “Today, fewer US residents have access to recycling. How did it go and what can be done?

To favor: These data were taken from Centralized study 2020-2021 on the availability of recycling, a study commissioned by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) and conducted by RRS. It is entirely possible that the data reflects changes due to COVID that have impacted the workforce (collection and processing) and the change in the composition of housing types across the country. For example, single-family homes had better access to recycling programs than multi-family homes.

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What is Sealed Air’s position on Extended Producer Responsibility?

To favor: REP fees, if they are sustainable (meet current and future needs and are agile enough to adapt to change); managed equitably (eco-modulation, parity in funding, applies to multiple substrates); and with advice and input from across the value chain (meets key stakeholder objectives – demonstrable physical recovery); can be an effective means of financing the infrastructure necessary to cope with the end of life of products. Many industries, including paint, batteries, and mattresses, have successfully incorporated REP fees for some time. EPR packaging fees have been used in Europe and Canada for at least two decades.

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In addition to [email protected] label, what else to do to clarify recycling for consumers?

To favor: Opportunity to leverage digital technology to not only increase consumer understanding of how to recycle properly, but also to improve collection, sorting and reprocessing.

Too many consumers do not understand how effective flexible packaging is, even if it is not recycled, from a data driven perspective like a life cycle assessment (LCA) … how to fix this disconnect ?

To favor: Collaborate with brand owners, trade associations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), regulators and government officials to articulate and educate consumers on the value of plastic packaging and the benefits it offers as a ‘one of the most resource-efficient substrates for reducing food waste and preventing product damage, which helps to minimize the environmental impacts of product loss and waste.

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In short, what do you think of mechanical recycling versus advanced recycling?

To favor: A number of reports have been written on the carbon footprint of various recycling technologies – data depends on the type of technology and the scope / limitations of the data – refer to the new white paper closed loop partners. We believe there is a place for mechanical and advanced recycling.

What has Sealed Air done to tackle circularity in flexible packaging?

To favor: Sealed Air’s 2025 Sustainability and Materials Commitment shows the company is committed to designing or advancing 100% of its packaging solutions to be recyclable or reusable by 2025, eliminating waste by incorporating an average of 50% recycled or renewable content into our solutions, and working with partners around the world to increase recycling and reuse rates. We do this by deploying cutting-edge technologies in materials science, automation and digital services to deliver solutions that drive growth and create value.

One example was the development of an ultra-thin barrier display film that was made from plastic created using advanced recycling technology. Cryovac brand rBDF S10 barrier film has been manufactured with 30% recycled content without compromising its abuse resistance and barrier protection. We will continue to invest in innovation with key partners to bring new solutions to market as we work to accelerate the circular economy.

Ed Note: In partnership with Tesco, Plastic energy, SABIC, and Bradbury cheese, Sealed Air has initiated a flexible and flexible plastic recycling process that can be used for safe, food-grade packaging. This closed loop recycling occurs when flexible packaging is collected from consumers and implemented into existing packaging designs for Bradburys Cheese. More information can be found here.


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