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Steps to Flexible Packaging Recycling

Recycling flexible packaging is a relatively simple process but well worth the effort considering the alternative end result. The impact of preventing these materials from ending up in a landfill and prolonging their life cycle is substantial and helps contribute to reducing global waste. One caveat is that flexible packaging cannot be combined with other recyclables in a curbside bin used for other household papers and plastics. The current recycling program operating in the United States stipulates that these materials be dropped off at specific locations where they can be collected to then be reused.

Step 1: Know what flexible packaging is and is not recyclable 

Approximately 50% of flexible packaging in the U.S. is recyclable, so it is crucial to be able to differentiate between which items are and are not admissible for store drop-off. Flexible plastics made of polyethylene are recyclable, including grocery and produce bags, bread bags, and more. Some packaging that should not be included are biodegradable or compostable bags, pre-washed salad mix bags, and candy wrappers. 

The easiest way to tell if a product is eligible for recycling is by checking the label, which will be detailed further in step 2. Additionally, the infographic below provides some examples of common items that are included in the store drop-off program and which ones are not. For further information, a helpful resource to learn what is recyclable can be found here.

Step 2: Locate the How2Recycle label on your flexible packaging with recycling instructions

The How2Recycle label is a standardized labeling system that clearly communicates recycling instructions to the public. They are easily found on packaging items and provide consistent and transparent on-package recycling information to consumers. 

These labels contain multiple sections to provide the most complete recycling information. The top box gives instructions on how to prepare the material to ensure the proper steps are taken to effectively recycle the item. Flexible packaging will have “Store Drop-off” written in the center of the recycling symbol. The following sections describe the type of recyclable material and list the recyclable parts of the packaging. 

Step 3: Visit http://how2recycle.info/sdo for a Store Drop-Off location near you

Simply visit the website above, and you will be asked to enter your zip code. Once entered, you will be provided with a list of available drop-off locations sorted by closest distance with their associated addresses. Fortunately, over 18,000 locations across the U.S. and Canada collect flexible packaging for recycling, so there is a high chance there is a drop-off location convenient to you. Many of these locations are places you already regularly visit, like grocery stores, pharmacies, big box stores, and home improvement chains. 

Step 4: Look for the plastic film recycling bin at your local store

Once at your local grocery or retail store, you will see a specified disposal bin labeled for bags, films, and wraps. These recycling bins are typically located at the front of the store for your convenience. A handy trick is to have a reusable shopping tote at home to collect all of your flexible packaging materials, and then when you head to the store, simply grab the tote, deposit the flexible packaging, shop for your groceries, and then use the tote to bring your groceries home. This strategy ensures that all flexible packaging is collected in one place and prevents you from forgetting them at home. 

Up next: What happens to your flexible packaging after you drop it off at the store? Check back for our next post, in which we will discuss how these recycled materials benefit consumers, businesses, and the environment after you drop them off!

Innovative and Sustainable Flexible Packaging: July Spotlights

We are so excited to continue sharing the 2021 Flexible Packaging Achievement Awards Competition winners! Check out our July spotlights listed below to learn about the benefits of each package, the manufacturers behind the creation, and brands that are using these packages for their products.

Infused Face Mask 

Not all masks are created equal. The copper-infused face mask from Nufabrx is infused with Shea Butter moisturizer to help doctors, first responders, and millions of people who are experiencing redness, irritation, or “maskne” caused by masks. The pouch is digitally printed, thermally laminated, and pouched all within 24 hours. To give a moisture barrier, the brand owner chose a matte BOPP (1.1 mil)/EVA/ink /EVOH/PE (3.5 mil). The stylish packaging earned Karlville and The Packaging Lab a Gold Achievement Award in Shelf Impact. To learn more about the manufacturers, visit their websites here: Karlville and The Packaging Lab

Numi Tea

Timed with a brand refresh, Numi Tea introduced a new plant-based package for their individually wrapped tea. This new pouch incorporates renewable, bio-based plastic, including EarthFirst® PLA sealant film, instead of fossil fuel-based plastic. Every layer of packaging is now plant-based. The tea packages passed ASTM D6868 biodegradation testing for disintegration and ecotoxicity, making the tea wraps compostable in commercial facilities. Now, Numi Tea packages naturally lowers the carbon footprint of the packaging and received a Silver Achievement Award in Sustainability. To learn more about the manufacturers, visit their websites here: Plastic Suppliers, Inc. and Elk Packaging 

Nutra Dates 3D Pouch

The Nutra Dates 3D Pouch compliments the contrast between the matte look with a patterned golden metallic design. The date imagery is designed to create a superior impact on the shelf and comes with a reclosable zipper to maintain product freshness and laser scoring for consumer convenience. Emirates Printing Press, L.L.C. received a Gold Achievement Award in Printing for the design. To learn more about the manufacturer, visit their website here: Emirates Printing Press, L.L.C.

Smithfield Prime Fresh Delicatessen 

The Smithfield Prime Fresh Delicatessen package is a proprietary dual-forming web engineered to mirror packaging typical to cold cuts just sliced at the deli counter. The Prime Fresh package is the only deli meat package of its kind. It is a surface-printed coextruded film with high-barrier properties, enabling it to replace laminated structures that are typical to processed deli meat. Through an innovative extrusion process and careful material selection, this package offers improved shelf life and enhanced consumer experience, while eliminating the PET web typical to laminations. The Prime Fresh bag also uses 31% less material than the conventional tubs that hold competing pre-sliced deli meat, resulting in other sustainability benefits like fewer transportation miles and less product waste. Berry Global received a Silver Achievement Award for Expanding the Use of Flexible Packaging. To learn more about the manufacturer, visit their website here: Berry Global

Shield Pack® Clear High Barrier Aseptic IBC Liner

Shield Pack® clear high barrier aseptic IBC liner provides clarity and durability that the distribution process demands. This technology replaces laminated oriented metallized structures in applications where manufacturers are packaging up to 300 gallons of product for intermittent storage and transportation. The multi-layer structure safeguards against moisture, oxygen and environmental contamination, while extending distribution range, reducing transit failures, improving product quality, and maintaining product color and vitamin retention.

Amcor Flexibles earned a Gold Achievement Award in Technical Innovation for the packaging. To learn more about the manufacturer, visit their website here: Amcor Flexibles

Check out past winners of the 2021 Flexible Packaging Achievement Awards here and for more on sustainable flexible packaging here.

How COVID-19 Affected the Flexible Packaging Industry

COVID-19 impacted virtually every aspect of our lives, forcing us to change the way we handle our daily activities and develop new norms. Packaging, specifically the flexible packaging industry, played a huge role in this change, from manufacturing across many industries, including food and healthcare resources, to consumers at home. 

The widespread panic-buying of everything from packaged food to hand sanitizer to toilet paper caused immediate challenges throughout the flexible packaging industry, forcing manufacturers to become more efficient and creative with their packaging and shipping methods to overcome those challenges. 

What set COVID-19 apart from other historical supply chain disruptions was its worldwide scope and prolonged duration. Supply chain interruption led to lead time delays, widespread unavailability, and price increases. Presumably, there was a tremendous spike in e-commerce which accounted for 21% of total retail sales, up from 15.8% in 20191. Manufacturing was directly impacted by families opting for online shopping and delivery of groceries, retail needs, and miscellaneous goods. 

In the height of the pandemic, many consumers wavered between prioritizing hygiene, safety, and sustainability and oftentimes were forced to trade-off one for the other. Large retailers temporarily limited the use of reusable goods like bags for groceries and cups for coffee. Additionally, the concern of the virus surviving on packaging for anywhere from 24 to 72 hours resulted in a greater use of single-use packaging while reusable packaging declined in order to mitigate hygienic concerns. 

During a time of scarcity, it is worth highlighting the contribution flexible packaging had on reducing food waste. Maintaining product freshness and limiting the amount of spoiled food, allowed consumers to keep their fridges and pantries stocked longer, and collectively benefited consumers. In fact, retail demand for packaged food surged by 10.5% according to Euromonitor International. Furthermore, since flexible packaging requires less energy and uses fewer resources to produce and transport, the spike in e-commerce led to a greater demand for space-saving, lighter-weight packaging in an effort to capitalize on delivery capacity. 

The residual consequences of COVID-19 will collectively affect everyone who lived through it, and while we may be eager to forget, it is important that we take the challenges and lessons we learned to further educate consumers. Alison Keane, CEO of the Flexible Packaging Association remarks that looking forward, “COVID-19 will create a lasting change in how we shop, our buying habits, and the overall retail experience. Post-pandemic, consumers will choose food items, packaging types, and brands that, above all else, help them feel safe. Advantages like the sterility and technological integration of flexible packaging will certainly come to the forefront.” 

To learn more about the advantages of flexible packaging, visit our resource page here.

Innovative and Sustainable Flexible Packaging: June Spotlights

We are so excited to continue sharing the 2021 Flexible Packaging Achievement Awards Competition winners! Check out our June spotlights listed below to learn about sustainable flexible packaging, its benefits, the manufacturers behind the creation, and the brands that are using these packages for their products.

Industrial Compostable Coffee Pod Lidding & Mother Bag

Both the pod lidding and mother bag are certified by the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI), meaning that it is certified to break down in industrial composting. These features earned TC Transcontinental Packaging a gold award in sustainability for the packaging. The entire solution has a circular design with renewable inputs into the materials and a no-separation pod design to ensure easy consumer disposal into the organics collection to be processed as industrial compost. The mother bag protects the pods and provides a barrier, all to help mitigate contamination in the end stream. To learn more about the manufacturer, visit their website here.

Reset360 Large Format Protein Pouch

When Reset360 came to Nosco seeking a large format digital flexible packaging pouch with metallic color, Nosco’s team of engineers and graphics experts went to work on a solution. The team paired metPET material with the appropriate screen values to allow for the desired metallic effect to show through—matching the metallic PMS color originally requested by the customer. Premium white ink was then printed in the areas where Reset360 did not want a metallic effect, which provided the clean look desired. This pouch features 5 HP Indigo ElectroInk colors. Combined, these show-stopping features earned Nosco a silver award in printing. To learn more about the manufacturer, visit their website here.

Ruffles® Lime and Jalapeño Anthony Davis Bags

Ruffles® collaborated with basketball star, Anthony Davis, for the new Lime and Jalapeño chip flavor. The collaboration was inspired by Davis’ multidimensional personality and Ruffles®’ spirit of individuality. Three package designs reference Anthony Davis’ #3 jersey. Each package features one of two images of Davis placed on one of three different backgrounds of bold waves. The wavy lines of the package represent both Ruffles®’ iconic texture and Davis’ trademark unibrow. Just like the three designs, Printpack earned three gold awards in printing, shelf impact and packaging excellence for the design. To learn more about the manufacturer, visit their website here.

Amazon Tea Stand-up Pouch

The Amazon Tea Stand-up pouch is designed to create a superior shelf impact. The key features include rich vibrant colors and appealing visual effects achieved with 8 color gravure printing which earned Emirates Printing Press, LLC a silver award for printing. This pouch, both functional and elegant, is designed with a resealable zipper that keeps the product fresh for a longer time. To learn more about the manufacturer, visit their website here.

Check out past winners of the 2021 Flexible Packaging Achievement Awards here and for more on sustainable flexible packaging here.

Celebrating Earth Day and Sustainable Packaging

This month, sustainability is a key priority as we celebrate Earth Day. Recognized each April, Earth Day was adopted by the response to a series of environmental disasters and public concerns about single-use packaging, litter, and pollution. 

Now we celebrate Earth Day each year to honor the progress that has been made since its first adoption in 1970 and to raise awareness on the importance of protecting our planet. And, to celebrate, it’s a great time to recognize the progress that has been made to recycle and recover plastics, along with the development of more sustainable packaging options. 

So, let’s look at where we started, and how far we’ve come in recycling and recovery efforts for plastics and the development of more sustainable packaging options. 

  • 1980s: Cities in the U.S adopt curbside collection programs for plastics and other recyclables. Four years later, plastics recycling topped 100 million pounds.
  • 1991: Coca-Cola introduces the first-ever plastic bottle made with recycled content after blending recycled plastics into its beverage bottles.  
  • Mid 90s: Major grocery and retail stores began the in-store collection of plastic bags for recycling, and many later add flexible plastic wraps from items such as paper towels, diapers, cases of water, dry-cleaning, etc., to the list of plastics collected in-store.
  • 2011: Recycling of plastic bags and flexible product wraps topped one billion pounds in the U.S., reaching a 55% growth since 2005.
  • 2013: The Wrap Recycling Action Program (WRAP) initiative launched to educate consumers about what types of plastic films are recyclable, and how and where to recycle them. Visit their website to see the progress they’ve continued to make. 
  • 2013: The number of drop-off locations at major retail and grocery stores for plastic bags and wraps reached over 17,500. Americans’ access to plastic bottle recycling reached 94%. 
  • 2014: The Hefty® EnergyBag® Program launched a three-month pilot project in Citrus Heights, CA, that converted the collected plastics into synthetic oil. The pilot project collected 8,000 EnergyBags®, diverted 6,000 pounds of plastics from landfills, and created 512 gallons of synthetic crude oil.
  • 2016: The Hefty® EnergyBag® Program launched in Omaha, Nebraska, allowing non-recycled plastics to be collected curbside and converted into energy to produce cement. In mid-January 2016, the program had collected more than 3,200 Hefty® EnergyBags® and diverted over 3,500 pounds of non-recycled plastics from landfills. Visit their website here to see how they’ve expanded the program.
  • 2018: Fully compostable flexible packaging that breaks down entirely into compost in the same biodegradation process as organic waste is developed and introduced to the market. 
  • 2020: The first BPI Certified compostable adhesive label for packaging is released. Visit our recent blog post to learn more about compostable flexible packaging. 

As you can see, the improved recycling and recovery options for plastics and the development of sustainable packaging options have both allowed us to make a ton of progress. Earth Day serves as a reminder to appreciate the environment and to make better choices to help protect it, you can do your part by recycling and by choosing sustainable packaging. 

For additional recycling resources, visit the recycling partnership’s website here. To learn more about the sustainable benefits of flexible packaging, visit our resources page here

Find Your Local Flexible Packaging Recycling Location