Sustainable Flexible Packaging Innovations Offer New Hope In Fight Against Plastic Waste

The world is being swamped by plastic waste. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, just 14% of all plastic packaging used is recycled, and vast quantities escape into the environment. If the current trend continues, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050!

Cheap, lightweight and versatile, plastic is an innovation that has, unfortunately, become a victim of its own success.

Nevertheless, it’s impossible to deny the benefits plastic has afforded in terms of flexibility, lightweight protection and significantly extending the shelf-life of products.

One segment that has experienced impressive success is flexible plastic packaging. In fact, it’s now the fastest-growing packaging segment, with global demand in Europe expected to grow by 2% per annum. In the Americas, global demand for flexible plastic packaging is expected to grow by 2%-4% per annum, while Asia is expected to witness a staggering 6%-8% growth.

However, the impact of plastic waste on the environment has prompted governments, producers and retailers alike to deal with plastics more responsibly.

A major driving force behind this rethink has been the European Commission’s January 2018 announcement that all plastic packaging must be reusable or recyclable by 2030 (that’s only 11 and a half years away – at time of writing).

Right now, around 30% of Europe’s plastic waste gets recycled, so there’s still a long way to go if the European Commission’s target is to be hit, which will inevitably require a complete transformation of how plastic products are designed, produced, used and recycled.

If it all sounds very ambitious and that’s because it is. Anything less and the impact on plastic waste wouldn’t be great enough.

50 Nations Pledge To Curb Plastic Pollution

Indeed, a recent UN report outlines how 50 nations are taking direct action to reduce plastic waste. Of the many initiatives detailed in the report, one of the most ambitious is India’s pledge to totally eliminate all single-use plastic in the country by 2022, with an immediate ban in urban Delhi.

The report also reveals how Sri Lanka will ban styrofoam and China will insist upon the use of biodegradable bags.

Meanwhile, 11 of the world’s largest food, beverage, clothing, personal care and household products companies have pledged to do more to reduce plastic waste. By 2025, these 11 companies will be using 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging.

This alone will have an enormously positive environmental impact as these 11 companies alone account for over six million tonnes of plastic packaging usage per year.

In addition to the environmental benefits, such initiatives make sense and reap rewards at every stage of the value chain. By recovering plastics for a second or third use, resin suppliers, packaging companies and retailers stand to benefit.

A Circular Flexible Plastic Packaging Economy

When it comes to making flexible plastic packaging circular, the Circular Economy for Flexible Packaging (CEFLEX) is playing a decisive role.

A collaborative initiative of a European consortium of companies and associations, CEFLEX’s mission is to make flexible packaging more relevant to the circular economy. In short, CEFLEX wants to see flexible packaging being recycled in an increasing number of European countries.

By 2025, the consortium hopes to have an established collection, sorting and reprocessing infrastructure in place across Europe for post-consumer flexible packaging. Getting such an infrastructure in place is a crucial piece of the overall flexible packaging recycling puzzle.

Mondi, a founding member of CEFLEX, has developed a fully recyclable plastic laminate that is being referred to as the ‘holy grail’ of flexible packaging and the manufacturer’s BarrierPack Recyclable were awarded for their technological innovation at the 2018 Plastics Recycling Europe Awards. BarrierPack Recyclable is a major breakthrough for flexible packaging and will help address the plastic waste issue, taking us one step closer to a more circular economy.