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Report: Sustainability Drives Shift To Flexible Packaging

flexible packaging sustainability
Waitrose began testing a new kind of environmentally friendly food packaging in October 2017. Credit: Waitrose.

A new report from Smithers Pira identifies sustainability as one of the main reasons brand owners are switching from traditional materials like glass and metal to flexible packaging types.

Called “The Future of Flexible Packaging to 2022,” the report says flexible packaging sales were valued at $219.5 billion in 2016. It predicts that the sales will grow at an annual rate of 4.3% to reach $282.6 billion by 2022.

“Consumer, retail and technology trends have contributed to a gradual replacement of rigid pack formats by flexible packaging during the last decade or so,” according to Smithers Pira. Besides consumer preference, an expanding market for packaged foods, and the development of new pouch production machinery, sustainability is identified as a major driver.

The report noted mounting pressure on brand owners and retailers to reduce the negative environmental effects of their packaging. As a result, Smithers Pira notes that brand owners are doing the following:

  • Reducing material usage without impairing pack performance
  • Using more recycled and recyclable polymers in packaging
  • Investigating the use of bioplastic packaging

“For the packaging converter and its logistics chain, flexible packaging uses fewer resources and less energy than other forms of packaging,” according to Smithers Pira. “It provides significant reductions in packaging costs, materials use and transport costs. Furthermore it can also be constructed on the spot from roll materials at the filling location, minimizing transportation of ready-formed empty packaging.”

As an example, Smithers Pira cites the John Lewis Partnership, which owns the British supermarket chain Waitrose. The company announced plans to divert 100% of its waste from landfill by 2020–2021. They are also working toward 100% closed-loop recycling of their cardboard, plastic, and glass by the same year. In October, Waitrose began testing a new kind of packaging made from recycled cardboard pulp and dried tomato leaves.

This month Michael Okoroafor, VP of global sustainability and packaging innovation for McCormick, told Environmental Leader that recyclability was one of the main reasons for the company’s switch from metal cans to PET plastic ones for black pepper and Old Bay. “They look the same, but the plastic pepper can has a 16% lower carbon footprint than the metal can,” he said.

The 3rd Annual Environmental Leader & Energy Manager Conference takes place May 15 – 17, 2018 in Denver. Learn more here.

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