We accept that store shelves are full of bright colors and designs ready to grab our attention and whet our appetites. But when we’ve had our fill, we turn a blind eye to the fate of the wrapper or packaging. As corporate ESG and Sustainability strategy become more of a priority, it is a fate that needs addressing.
Developing sustainable flexible plastic packaging is a particularly difficult issue with no single solution. Currently, the mechanical recycling systems that recycle rigid plastics are not able to cope with flexible plastic film. It’s very lightweight with a low value per unit, often contaminated by food oils, and high volumes of high-quality materials are difficult to collect. It’s also often comprised of multiple layers of film, which takes recycling to another level of complexity. Innovation is required to identify either new materials (easy to recycle or ones that biodegrade), new disposal methods (chemical recycling or composting at scale), or a combination. However, all options require new business models and infrastructure to support them, as well as consumer education. All require extensive testing and significant investment, while being mindful of evolving local regulation.
With so many complexities to understand and manage in unison, it is not surprising that for too long, the problem has sat in the ‘too difficult box’. But now, with pressure mounting from all sides, decisions need to be made to develop a transition strategy.
Consumer product companies are all too aware of the issue and have made commitments to reducing plastic packaging a priority through a combination of reducing usage, increasing recyclability and developing biodegradable solutions. This is not an easy balance to strike as packaging is essential to preserving and maintaining product quality. It also plays an important role in reinforcing the brand’s identity, which means well-known brands have a particular imperative to lead the transition. For them, without proper sustainable disposal options, the packaging on the shelf that catches the eye can fast become an eyesore, as branded litter that presents a reputational risk.