Over the next decade, many of the leading global brands will execute on their commitments to using 100 percent recyclable or reusable packaging. But the question remains: How does the industry come together to help make this a reality? Here is a brief guide on how to kick-off the journey.

Assess Your Current State

According to the EPA, approximately 15 percent of all plastic packaging in the U.S. is recycled today, and according to industry figures, that percentage is just slightly higher for flexible plastic packaging. However, what’s less apparent is that a much greater percentage of the flexible packaging found in the market today actually does meet guidelines for programs such as the How2Recycle program from the Sustainable Packaging Coalition.  

Thus, we suggest working with your current flexible packaging suppliers to do a full assessment of your current packaging to identify which ones would meet content requirements for recyclability in their current form. For others, categorize each one based on their degree of difficulty to convert into a recyclable format. A few things to consider when categorizing: 

  • Shelf Life Requirements 
  • Printing & Shelf Appeal Needs 
  • Converting & Filling Machinery

Typically, we’ve coached brand owners to segment packages by:

  • Easy: Packages which today use single-ply films made from a single type of material or could readily change to packaging made from a single type of material (e.g., all PE or PET).
  • Moderate: Packages which require some material redesigns and converting equpiment modifications.
  • Difficult: Packages which don’t have material solutions readily available today to convert into recyclable formats and/or require additional capital investment.

Convert the Low Hanging Fruit 

Next, submit the packages that you had identified as meeting the content requirements for Store Drop-Off recycling through the How2Recycle program. Corporate members of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) are able to submit packages through the program and can typically get feedback in a matter of a few weeks. If approved, the SPC will provide instructions on how to include the Store Drop-Off label onto the package.   

Pick a Project  

Since not all brands are created equal, pick a brand that consumers would reward this effort. Most brands that include a packaging sustainability claim have experienced a noticeable sales lift that can be directly attributed to the claim.  

Once you’ve selected your project, begin assembling your team. We’ve found that bringing together a breadth of experience across the value-chain from raw material and film suppliers, and converters has typically helped to accelerate projects and minimize the number of iterations.  

When meeting with the team, it pays dividends to start by vetting out the list of performance requirements that must be met to equate to successful project. This could include everything from the filling machinery that is planning to be used to graphic requirements to shelf-life testing needs. What’s also important is to showcase the success when the project is successful and use that as a template for the next project.  

Know What Tools Are Available

Like any good project, it always helps to know what tools are out there, especially as the rate of innovation in sustainable packaging remains high. Two exciting developments that have redefined the historical trade-off between performance and recyclability are in the barrier films and post-consumer recycled (PCR) material space. A few years ago, using polyethylene PCR in direct food contact packaging applications, or needing extended shelf-life and recyclability would have seemed like moonshots. Today, these solutions and more can be found within various portfolios of sustainable films.

The key to remember is that the road to sustainability is a journey. Companies, consumers and the environment will all benefit once we get there. 

Charter NEX Films, Inc.