Jeff Wooster, Dow Chemical senior value chain manager, highlights the crucial changes in the industry that are reshaping the use and optimization of resins used in film structures.

Q: What trends are you seeing from your view related to the flexible packaging market? 

A: It’s all about delivering exceptional value and performance to the consumer.  Flexible packaging continues to grow and find new uses as the result of the outstanding value it offers. It provides consumer convenience, delivers products safely from producer to consumer, and can promote sustainability by protecting package contents that are far more valuable than materials used to manufacture the packaging. Because flexible packaging is so material efficient, it often requires less energy and less raw material to make than other types of packaging.  Packaging innovation and product innovation go hand in hand-and flexible packaging facilitates the easy delivery of convenience foods that consumers increasingly demand.

Q: How much traction do you see in the sustainable-powered movement toward structure simplification and downgauging?  

A: Downgauging continues across many packaging segments and provides both economic and environmental sustainability benefits. Using higher performing materials can allow structures to be downgauged and use less material in the first place, which is exactly the point of flexible packaging. Less material used means less raw material consumed, less energy used, fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and less waste.  If you look at the Environmental Protection Agency’s waste-reduction hierarchy, you will see that "reduction" is at the top of the pyramid, meaning that reducing consumption is the first step to take to reduce overall waste. For cost reasons most packaging structures are already as "simple" as they can be while still maintaining performance. We don't see much driving force to simplify structures that could have the unintended consequence of increasing resource consumption and increasing waste. It wouldn't make sense to replace a 2-mil multilayer film made from a combination of barrier resins, sealants and toughness layers with a 20-mil single component film just to make it less complex. Even if the 20-mil film was recycled at a rate of 100%–highly unlikely-it would still be less resource-efficient than the 2-mil structure.

Q: What recent advances have had an impact in the market?

A: We see a continual evolution of materials that provide all kinds of performance enhancements. Sometimes that means tougher resins to resist flex cracking during distribution or resist punctures from product with sharp edges. Sometimes it means higher-performance sealant resins designed for a better combination of caulkability and hot tack.

Q: How have equipment advancements affected resin selection?  

A: Advancements in equipment technology and better understanding of optimal processing allow converters to use resins that a few years ago were much more difficult to process. This could mean the use of higher molecular weight polyethylene for improved physical properties or the use of a lower melting point polyolefin plastomer for increased elasticity.

The Dow Chemical Company