As is tradition each year the Flexible Packaging Association presents its Annual FPA Flexible Packaging Achievement Awards and Innovation Showcase, which is supposed to feature flexible packaging solutions that meet expectations and needs through advancements in materials, graphics, structure, new uses, extended shelf life, and sustainability.
For this year’s 60th annual presentation, seventy-eight packages were submitted for competition in the FPA Packaging Achievement Awards, and nineteen packages were honoured with twenty Achievement Awards.
I’m a bit disappointed by the results as the FPA Awards this year don’t have really a range of outstanding flexible packaging. I could only select 4 which in my opinion earn an award. The other winners and entries didn’t reach an award winning level as they are either old, well-known designs/developments or not spectacular.
Due to this shortcoming in the FPA Awards and to complete an overview of the newest developments, I selected another four flexible packaging designs, which saw the market recently.
But before we go to the overview, let’s for the umpteenth time, discuss flexible packaging and its problems with recycling.
Flexible Packaging and Recycling
Multi-layer flexible packaging (and that’s almost all flexible packaging) is a contradictory in terms of sustainability. Lighter in weight, using less material, and resulting in fewer greenhouse gas emissions than alternative packaging formats such as glass, aluminium, and rigid plastic, flexibles seem like the most eco-friendly packaging choice. But, unlike glass, aluminium, and rigid plastic, multi-layer flexibles can, but aren’t recovered at end of life.
It’s almost the perfect packaging format, except it isn’t recyclable in a cradle-to-cradle loop. However it is up-cyclable, although the industry doesn’t show any interest to implement the necessary facilities.
And why should they? The power of the consumer is non-existent in the light of the convenient packaging. EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility) doesn’t exist in the USA and of ethical and sustainable behaviour the industry has only heard of, when it’s profitable.
That leaves the landfill as the only place for post-consumer multi-layer flexible packaging at the end of its use. The disinterest of the consumer goods industry for recycling is enforced by the claim of the Flexible Packaging Association that multi-layer flexible packaging accounted for just 1.6% of the total municipal waste stream in 2012, although being the second largest packaging segment in the U.S., representing 19% of the total USD164 billion packaging market, according to a PMMI 2015 Flexible Packaging Market Assessment Report.
My critical view of the intention of the consumer goods industry to look into the recycling problem of post-consumer multi-layer flexible packaging is counteracted by Anne Marie Mohan, Editor of Greener Package in an excellent article titled: “Can we solve the flexible film recovery puzzle?”
She argues that a range of industry forces are seriously involved in solving the recycling problem. Most of these initiatives are by the way outside the USA. I’m a bit more critical as most initiatives are indefinitely destroying the valuable primary resources, but whatever the case, the article is a must-read.
Now the novelties in flexible packaging. There isn’t a lot of real sustainability/recyclability in the FPA Awards, so that we have to start with a stand-up pouch outside this competition.
Seventh Generation recyclable stand-up pouch
Through a partnership with The Dow Chemical Co., Accredo Packaging, Inc., and the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, Seventh Generation, a plant-based household cleaning products company, developed a multi-layer all-polyethylene stand-up pouch that is 100% recyclable.
Well, recyclable stand-up pouches aren’t new, as long as they are made from PE. They might be rarely seen on the supermarket shelves, but they are there for simple products that can be packaged in mono-layer PE-pouches. But in the Seven Generation development we talk about a multi-layer PE stand-up pouch, as the film for the pouches comprises multiple layers of polyethylene, being a combination of high-density (HDPE), low-density (LDPE) and linear low (LLDPE).
The base to this structure is Dow’s RecycleReady technology, using either all-PE structures or PE plus specialty compatibilisers with non-PE materials that allow the pouches to be incorporated into recycling streams designed for PE recovery.
The combination of Dow’s resin expertise and the manufacturing technology of Accredo, a film converter that had been researching potential recyclable materials that could replace PET as the outer web of a two-ply film structure, resulted in a structure made from PE/ink/solventless adhesive/PE that provides all the required functional and aesthetic properties, such as sealability, toughness, stiffness, while being recyclable.
The AccredoFlex RP (Recyclable Pouch) for Seventh Generation’s Dishwash Detergent Packs features a press-to-close PE flange zipper and is reverse-printed using expanded-gamut process printing. A clear window on the front panel of the package gives the consumer a clear view of the product inside.
While consumers may not recognize a change in the structure of the package, Seventh Generation hopes they will notice the SPC How2Recycle Label, a standardized labelling system that communicates recycling instructions, on the back of the pouch.
We aren’t finished yet with recyclable stand-up pouch. Let’s look at the Spotless Tea Bag. Not exactly your standard stand-up pouch, but a perfect example of how it could be.
Spotless Compostable Tea Bag
Every year, tea enthusiasts all over the world are searching over 220 billion times for a place to discard their used tea bags. A dripping tea bag creates a mess and is unsightly.
The answer is the so called SteaBag, an invention of the Finnish company Spotless Tea Bag Ltd, and offering the consumer a solution to the problem: “where to put the wet and used tea bag without leaving a mess on the table”.
The Steabag is the paper based single portion stand up pouch with good barrier properties against oxygen and moisture. It has an aroma barrier, which guarantees keeping the product in good condition till it is used. Additionally it is watertight, so you can place a used tea bag back in the pouch avoiding mess or use of additional dishes. The soaked tea bag is hidden out of sight in the fully watertight stand-up pouch. After use, the biodegradable Steabag can be disposed of in an environmentally friendly way.
Using Mondi’s unique biodegradable high barrier material Sustainex, allowing it to be disposed in an environmentally friendly way (both paper and coating are biodegradable according to EN 13432).
Spotless Tea Bag Ltd is a company founded in order to commercialise the invention Steabag. The company does not manufacture the packaging nor practise tea manufacturing. It licenses the Steabag concept to tea manufacturers and tea packagers.
That leaves us with the results of the FPA Awards for the next edition of this series.