Out with the old, in with the new? Not so fast. As more consumers are opting for sustainable goods, repurposing is having a major moment. Clothing brands like H&M and Patagonia are revolutionizing the fashion industry by using recycled materials to create new, trendy products. Shows like Flea Market Flip are driving people to thrift shops in search of used goods that they can repurpose into their next coffee table or bedside lamp. And now, brands are seeing the value in using sustainable packaging, more specifically, flexible packaging made out of post-consumer recycled materials (PCR).
Flexible packaging already touts sustainability benefits. It takes fewer natural resources, such as water and energy, to create flexible packaging than to make heavier, bulkier materials. It’s easier to ship flexible packages, such as stand-up pouches, too, since they are lightweight and compact. And now, flexible packaging manufacturers are hoping to extend the environmental benefits by creating packaging using recycled materials, while still maintaining superb product protection, containment, and convenience.
PCR packaging is created by using recycled plastics, such as rigid plastic water, juice, and milk containers. Once gathered, these materials go through a multi-step process in which they’re sorted, washed, ground, melted, and pelletized.
You may already have an idea of what the final result looks like; after all, you’ve seen how paper towels or cardboard boxes made out of recycled materials look: grainy, drab, boring. But advancements in technology have made PCR flexible packaging nearly indistinguishable from packaging made with brand-new materials.
Take, for example, Justin’s Nut Butter Covered Nuts. In 2019, the company used 25% PCR materials to create stand-up pouches; each pouch contains three ounces of nuts. Like its other products, the result is beautiful, boasting a bright, shiny white exterior with no visible blemishes. What’s even more impressive is that the quality didn’t suffer at all; in fact, it offered the same quality product protection as the packages made with virgin polymers. It’s even FDA-approved.
But flexible packaging made with post-consumer recyclables doesn’t just look good; it performs well, too. Thanks to technological advancements, the material is high strength and offers superior oxygen and moisture barriers. It’s also excellent for large volume, gusseted zippered pouches, and provides top-notch seal strength, keeping products fresh. The material is also suitable for gas flush applications, giving brands a variety of options to serve their specific needs.
The words “previously used” might conjure up several images for you: secondhand clothing from a hippie thrift store that reeks of mothballs, scuffed soccer cleats from your childhood, or dog-eared pages in a tattered paperback. You wouldn’t want to eat off of these things, let alone store food or cosmetics in them. Rest assured, though, that recycled multi-layer flexible packages are FDA-approved and food-safe.
The FDA is careful in considering each material on a case by case basis, evaluating whether it is fit for contact with food or drink. If the materials are approved, the FDA then issues an informal notice, called a Letter of No Objection, to the company.
In addition to complying with the FDA direct food contact and OSHA Hazardous materials regulations, Fortis Solutions also ensures that each material is BPA-free. We also comply with California’s Toxics in Packaging Laws, and California’s Proposition 65 Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act.
Consumer attitudes are shifting in favor of more sustainable products and packaging as the threat of climate change becomes more urgent. A recent survey from Accenture, which surveyed 6,000 people from three continents, found that the majority of respondents (72%) said that they’re buying more sustainable goods now than they had five years prior. Even more respondents, 81%, said that they planned on shopping more sustainably in the next five years.
As consumers continue to gravitate toward sustainable items, brands will need to follow suit. Many already are. Nearly 70% of respondents to Packaging Digest’s 2017 Sustainable Packaging Study said that their packaging strategy involved using recycled materials. Clearly, they’ve recognized the value in meeting customer expectations.
Increasing demand from consumers is just one money-related benefit. Using recycled materials can ultimately be more cost-efficient for brands because it reduces the number of virgin materials. We can assume that existing plastics will become even more affordable and easier to come by as the demand from manufacturers increases over time.
Profits and savings aren’t the only benefits, of course. There’s also the health of the planet. In 2016, people purchased 480 billion plastic water bottles globally, yet not even half of those bottles are recycled, Eco Watch reports. The U.S. is a huge contributor, recycling only about 23% of the 50 billion bottles we purchased. By using post-consumer waste in new packaging materials, businesses are helping keep plastics out of landfills and reducing pollution. They’re also saving energy and resources since repurposing recycled materials requires fewer fossil fuels than brand-new materials.
Brands can maximize their environmental impacts by going beyond the plastics. Fortis Solutions Group uses renewable water-based inks and solvent-free adhesives in its sustainable packaging. Additionally, we use a process that doesn’t require the use of greenhouse gas emissions. Each of these steps plays a vital role in reducing our—and by extension, our clients’—carbon footprint.
The recycling chain is dependent on consumer demand. An increase in recycling creates a higher volume of available materials; an influx of recycled plastics provides materials recovery facilities (MRFs) with a reason to monetize recycled products; competitive pricing from MRFs encourages companies to use recycled materials in their packaging; consumers buy sustainably packaged products; the cycle continues.
It sounds like a simple solution, but the fact is, not every company has gotten onboard. Now is the perfect time for brands to set themselves apart as leaders in the sustainability movement by incorporating PCR flexible packaging into their product lines. The transition can be small, starting with just one product. But over time, the impact will be substantial for the planet, people, and businesses alike.