Flexible packaging is very popular due to versatility and marketability of the structures. Flex packaging serves a variety of markets, with a large share found in the food sector, most likely due to the packaging’s ability to be resealed. It’s also lightweight, efficiently transported and provides a very visible brand billboard at retail. Along with these traits is the perception that flexible packaging can be recycled. This is true, but design and material selection must follow some guidelines to produce a recyclable package.
One of these things is not like the other…
In simple terms, most flexible packaging for the food sector is comprised of at least two layers of plastic material. This is because one type of material is excellent for printing and for heat sealing of the package once its filled with product, but not very good for protecting food contents from oxygen and water vapor. Thus, a second film layer, a ‘barrier’ layer, often a different material than the print layer is laminated to the print layer to provide protection from water and air. And that is when recycling becomes more difficult if not impossible. When two different plastic materials are formed into a flexible package, it prevents recycling by current processes and technology.
High and Low-Density Polyethylene
Designing a package utilizing a single plastic material for both the print and barrier labels is the key to enabling recycling. But how do we accomplish this when we need to have at least two different materials to meet the printing and product protection requirements of the package? The answer is to use one ‘base’ material with different density levels. Utilizing high-density polyethylene (HDPE) for the print layer, and low-density polyethylene (LDPE) for the barrier results in a package made of one base material (PE). HDPE has characteristics that make it very receptive to printing. It also has a high level of clarity, and it will not stick to heat-seal machinery components during the converting process. The sealant layer is an LDPE that has been coextruded with an internal barrier layer needed for dependable food packaging.
When the two layers are combined, you get a material that can be printed and converted into flexible packaging without causing issues with the pouch converting machinery. And again, since the entire package is PE based, it’s readily recyclable.
There’s more to sustainability than recycling…
So, we have a totally recyclable pouch that meets the requirements of product protection and looks great doing it. But that’s not the end of the sustainable story when it comes to flexible packaging. This packaging format has a lot more going for it. Life Cycle Assessment tools show that flexible packaging can result in less fossil fuel usage, greenhouse gas emissions, and water than other packaging because of its light weight. Flexible packaging materials are usually shipped flat or on a roll. This means a larger number of packages can be shipped in one truckload, reducing the number of truck trips needed when compared to a bulkier, heavier package. Flexible packaging also scores well on the ‘product-to-package’ ratio – a measure of how much of a packaged product consists of packaging compared to the actual product (by weight).
This is a blog post, and obviously a high-level explanation of what’s needed to create recyclable flexible packaging. For a more thorough explanation of the process, or to explore sustainable solutions for your brand’s package, talk to the experts at AWT.
Everyone knows what recycling means, right? It’s not a new concept, and nearly all of us have been participating in recycling efforts for some time now. We likely have some sort of sanitation receptacle at home where we put all those things we’re told to recycle, and the contents of this container are collected on a regular basis by our municipal service. Pretty basic stuff by now.
But how much do we really know about this process? Would it surprise you to learn that not everything you faithfully plunk into that trusty collection receptacle ends up being recycled? Let’s look at recycling as it applies to labels and packaging (since that’s what we do!) and break it down by some of the common terminology out there that may be confusing to people.
It’s plastic, and plastic is recyclable, so…
As mentioned before, most of us probably toss things into recycling collection containers and just assume the process takes care of the rest. A plastic stand-up pouch probably ‘looks’ like something that can be readily recycled but may not be. For example, if a plastic stand-up pouch package is composed of more than one primary resin, or if the package is made up of different layers or laminations, it probably cannot be recycled with current methods and technology. Which brings us to our first recycling term – Recycle Ready. A recycle-ready package or component (flexible packaging, labels, and/or rigid container) has been designed and manufactured to enable recycling. For example, a two-layer flexible package can be designed and manufactured with both layers composed of polyethylene (PE). How about a labeled rigid container? A recycle-ready version may have a recyclable polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottle and a recyclable label with wash-away adhesive, facilitating separation of the label and bottle for recycling.
Even properly designed, a recycle-ready package may need to be directed to a very specific recycling ‘stream’ to be recycled. Many of these specific stream collection points are appearing in supermarkets and other retail locations, and instructions for consumers are becoming more common on packaging requiring special handling. And a growing number of consumer-packaged goods companies (CPG’s) are utilizing recycle-ready packaging.
Consumers want to help
With the increasing emphasis on sustainability and protecting the environment, consumers are becoming more selective about brands they’ll support. They want to be ‘part of the solution’ as the saying goes, and one way to do that is buying products in packaging composed of Recycled Content. Recycled content refers to a package primarily composed of recycled material. The material will have come from one of two sources: Post-consumer or post-industrial. Without going into deep detail, post-consumer recycled material is derived from all those items tossed into the recycling bin at home which, after sorting, can be processed by current recycling methods. Post-industrial refers to those materials reclaimed in a manufacturing process. For instance, when making soda cans, aluminum is cut into a specific shape to accommodate the can molding process. Scraps from the cutting process are melted down and used again to make more cans.1 Both sources are beneficial and promote the efficient use of material in the packaging manufacturing process. Packaging created using recycled content is marked as such so consumers can make informed buying decisions. It is important to point out that not all packaging composed of recycled content is recyclable itself. The sustainable benefits were just realized at a different point. You can learn more about recycled content and recyclability by visiting this page on the Sustainable Packaging Coalition web site: Recycled Content vs. Recyclability. As a final note, recycling professionals recommend consumers rinse out and clean packaging prior to deposit in a collection bin.
The experts at AWT can help you understand all your options when it comes to sustainable packaging and labels and meet your organization’s sustainable goals.
1Sustainable Packaging Coalition
We’ve all heard the ‘tip of the iceberg’ analogy for explaining how there is more to a given subject than meets the eye. A Sustainability Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) can help reveal environmental impacts, both positive and negative, of a package or label beyond its primary sustainable traits. In fact, an LCA can be run for nearly any manufactured product, but we’ll stick to labels & packaging since that’s our business. In this first of posts on Life Cycle Assessment, we’ll explore the basics of an LCA and what information can be gleaned from the exercise.
LCA takes five primary elements or processes in the life of a label or package into account, and provides a framework for some questions you can ask:
Raw Materials considers raw components of a product. Are any of the materials renewable? Does the extraction of the material cause excessive emissions or endanger water tables or ecosystems?
Raw Material Transport examines the modes of transport for the materials. Is the raw material required located a great distance from the plant that will be using it? Does the material take up a great deal of space in shipping, requiring more trips over time than alternative materials?
Production looks at the manufacturing and fabrication. Does the production of the product use a lot of energy or water? Are there harmful byproducts in the production process?
Distribution considers how the finished product will get to the customer. It factors in many of the same variables as Raw Materials Transport.
Finally, End of Life looks at disposition of the product. Is it recyclable? Reusable?
To illustrate, let’s consider the example of a flexible package that is composed of 100% recyclable materials. That this package can be recycled and not end up in a landfill is the primary beneficial trait of the package. But an LCA can reveal benefits not so obvious. For example, flexible packaging generally takes less water to manufacture than rigid packaging designed for the same purpose (Production).
From a distribution perspective, finished flexible packaging takes up MUCH less space in transport than rigid packaging. Extrapolating out over a given time, the fuel savings of shipping flexible packages compared to the same quantity of rigid packages will be substantial. We’re using less fuel, which in and of itself is a good thing, but by doing so we’re also reducing the amount of carbon emissions into the atmosphere. Another ‘hidden’ benefit. See our post linked here. Save Green with Flexible Packaging.
All the above information has been presented in very general terms. A formal LCA will provide much more specific feedback and give detail to material and packaging comparisons so better decisions can be made.
We will explore the process of conducting a formal LCA in the next installment of the series.
Would you like to take a closer look at life cycle assessments for your own packaging and/or labeling strategy? AWT and our supplier partners can help you make more informed decisions regarding sustainable options for your program.
Summer is officially underway, and everything is ‘greening up’ outside. Some businesses experience a little slow down in summer, and that may be a great time to take stock of packaging strategies. A packaging audit can help identify areas of strengths and weakness in your strategy and reveal opportunities to improve performance. In this “season of green”, it may be beneficial to examine your packaging strategy from a sustainable perspective.
The Three R’s
An easy way to conduct a simple sustainable audit is to look at your packaging related to the three R’s of eco-friendly packaging: Reduce; Reuse; Recycle.
Some packaging processes can benefit from an audit by revealing older and possibly inefficient ways of doing things. You know – the organizational inertia that says, “we do it this way because that’s the way we’ve always done it!” Maybe there is room for improvement.
Look at all your packaging, including consumer-facing (retail), bulk shipping product to retail, etc.
If you begin looking at your packaging strategy through the filter of the three R’s, you may discover a lot of areas where improvements can be made. For example: You may have flexible packaging that is produced with older material specs that may be able to be replaced by a recyclable/recycle-ready material (recycle!).
Additional Green Stuff
Evaluating packaging with the three R’s in mind will get you thinking about efficiency, especially when regarding material reduction strategies. There are more non-material things you can do to gain efficiency and bolster a sustainable program. For example, did you know a supplier managed inventory (SMI) program is a sustainable production method? Think of it this way: Putting packaging production on an SMI track can prevent large inventories of packaging with obsolete messaging or graphics.
Other production methods can also reap sustainable benefits. Packaging with similar color attributes can run concurrently on one press in certain situations. Combining two press runs into one has obvious sustainable benefits.
AWT’s experts can help with a more detailed audit of your current packaging and put your strategy on a greener path. But this simple audit exercise can help get the gears in motion.
A few months ago, we introduced the concept of material reduction in the development of sustainable packaging and labeling (Material Reduction). It is the first element of the “Reduce – Reuse – Recycle” fundamentals we are all aware of. This month we talk about ‘reuse’ of packaging and packaging elements as a strategy to achieve a sustainable program. Nearly every consumer goods package produced today is a ‘single-use’ package. It will hold a product a consumer will purchase at retail, and then be discarded when the packaging is emptied. In a best-case scenario, all or some of the package components will be recycled.
But what if instead of being discarded, with no guarantee that it will not end up in a landfill, or worse, one of the world’s oceans, it provided additional function to the consumer? That is the main subject of an article published in 2019 by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation – Reuse: Rethinking Packaging1. There are four reuse models examined, and while these models do not apply to all consumer packaging, they do provide strategies to remove a large amount of packaging from single-use life cycles.
The Four Reuse Models
Refill at Home: Consumers will refill a reusable container at home. For example, the ‘primary’ first purchase package could be a more rigid construction with durable branding and labeling elements. The refill packages purchased later can consist of ‘lighter’ and more readily recycled material intended to get the product home for refilling the primary. Concentrated product can also be purchased in much smaller quantities (and smaller packaging) to mix with water in the primary package.
Return from Home: Consumers use the product, and then the packaging is picked up from home by a logistics firm or other designated service. This model would be comparable to services currently available for propane tanks for home grills. The ‘packaging’ would be different, but the concept would be the same. Imagine a service that would deliver economy-size detergents that would dispense product with a built-in tap. Consumers could leave the empty for a service to swap out a refilled dispensing container.
AWT utilizes a similar model in a business-to-business (B2B) setting. We deliver rolls of pressure-sensitive labels to various customers in a specialized reusable corrugated container. Once our customer uses the labels, the containers can be folded flat and returned to AWT on a pallet via parcel delivery service to be reused.
Refill On-the-Go: Consumers would bring their empty containers to a retail establishment to be refilled. We see examples of this already where spring water is made available at retail, and consumers can bring custom refill packaging of various sizes. The concept is also in practice for grains, flour, and other bulk cooking/baking staples.
Return On-the-Go: Consumers return the packaging at a designated store drop-off point such as a deposit return machine or receptacle. If you are old enough to remember returning pop bottles to a supermarket for a refund of your deposit, you understand this model. Reusable containers are cleaned, refilled, and sold again at retail until it is determined the package can no longer be reused.
All four reuse models have sustainable benefits:
There are some assumptions made in the above models, and as we have said in previous blogs, we are not quite there on an infrastructure basis for all these models to work perfectly. These are solutions that will become more available as consumer education and adoption continue to make progress. The experts at AWT are a great resource as you look for ways to make your packaging strategy more sustainable.
Look for the 3rd installment of our series “Reduce – Reuse – Recycle” focused on recycling later this year.
1For further reading, please see the document available on the Ellen MacArthur Foundation web site – Reuse: Rethinking Packaging linked here: Article Link
We are all in agreement about recycling everything we can for a healthier world and conservation of resources. Recycling is a key element of an overall circular economy strategy. This is as true for packaging as any other consumable. Yet despite our best efforts, not every package we target for recycling gets recycled. There are a couple things at work here:
We all hope new technology can develop a ‘universal’ recycling stream, capable of accepting a wide range of consumables, and recycling parts and components into new raw materials. We are obviously not there yet. But we can ensure more packaging does end up being recycled by making some smarter choices in the design phase.
Every package is going to be different, of course, due to the market application and what is required performance-wise. But in general, package design for recycling should take the following into consideration:
A major hinderance to recycling is the mix of components that make up a package. All these component materials may be recyclable on their own, but not when combined in a package unit. Again, depending on what the package is intended to do, combining components may be necessary. But when possible, these design guidelines can help ensure recycling takes place:
Doing the work at the front end of the process will yield more packaging capable of being recycled. There are more specific things that can be done depending upon your marketing and sustainability goals. Our experts can help – right from the start!
It’s highly likely you’ve heard these terms sometime in the past ten years as the U.S. and the world work toward more environmentally-friendly ways of living and doing business. It’s a simple way of looking at a complex issue. And it’s a great place to start when developing a sustainable packaging strategy:
Reduce, where possible, the amount of material used to create packaging
Reuse whatever you can – from finished products to process waste materials
Recycle those packaging materials that can be recycled
Generally, the focus has been on recycling. It’s a process most people are familiar with, and there’s a tangible metric that can be recognized; like XX tons of material recycled annually. But the first leg of this sustainable triad – Reduce – can often provide the biggest “bang-for-the-buck” when it comes to sustainable packaging. After all, material not involved in the production of packaging will never need to be reused or recycled. Pretty basic, right?
Life Cycle Assessment is a technique to assess environmental impacts associated with all the stages of the life cycle of a commercial product, process or service. In the case of a manufactured product – like a label or package – the LCA examines everything from raw material extraction, processing, product manufacture, distribution, and final use. You can learn more about LCA here.
Here’s a brief, high-level LCA to demonstrate the impacts made by a label material reduction strategy.
Consider a packaging label used to decorate a bottle of your favorite beverage. This label covers a specific area (Length x width) of the package. Now let’s say we were to make some minor adjustments to the label size, making it just a little bit smaller. There may be little change in the package visually as a result of this alteration, but the benefits could be many:
At the print stage, the label takes up less space on a press. In the case of a flexographic print scenario, this may allow for one more label to run across the width of the web, resulting in a reduction of the material needed to produce the same number of labels. The length of the entire press run will go down.
Let’s make an adjustment to further reduce the material used by employing a ‘thinner’ material for our label (called ‘down-gauging’). Again, the change will be hard to recognize on the finished package, but from a sustainability standpoint there’s a payoff. A thinner label stock requires less raw material to create, whether it’s synthetic film or paper. That’s a win right out of the gate. In the finishing process, the thinner material will allow more labels to be wound to the same roll diameter specification as a thicker label. Sustainability gains are realized right down the line.
Less material has been used – Reduction in materials consumed will result in a proportional reduction in waste generated. There less material that needs to be recycled at all, or that will end up in a landfill.
Less transport packaging is needed – With fewer rolls required to yield the same number of labels, fewer shipping cartons will be required. That many fewer cartons will need to be recycled or potentially end up in a landfill.
Shipments will weigh less – Since the number of cartons has been reduced, the amount weight transported will decrease is well. That means every truck shipment will be more efficient, and fewer trips will be needed to deliver the same number of labels.
Reduction in fuel used – Fewer deliver trips will result in less use of finite fossil fuels. Less fuel burned in combustion means a reduction of CO2 released into the atmosphere – a good thing indeed.
You can imagine the sustainable gains made when you extrapolate the above scenario out over a couple of years. Just think of the environmental benefits of doing this to an entire product line, or when more and more brands do the same thing.
Taken a step further; let’s assume the material we’re using is tree based – either paper fiber or a tree-based synthetic film. The trees left out of the equation (don’t get cut down!) in our reduction scenario are still doing their thing by soaking up CO2 in the atmosphere. Yay trees!
If you’re looking to move toward more sustainable packaging but not sure where to start, consider label material reduction options. The experts at AWT can help with this, and all the other sustainable options for your label and packaging needs.
Everybody is talking about sustainability lately. It’s certainly a buzzword in commerce, and companies are clamoring to communicate how ‘environmentally-friendly’ their processes and products are. But what does it really mean to be ‘sustainable?’ Let’s take a look at it from a packaging perspective, since that’s our business!
We at AWT have recently developed a flexible package which meets many sustainability requirements. Primarily, this package is capable of being recycled, allowing the plastic material to be used again as another package or something else. So you’d assume that once the “recycle ready” package has served its purpose and is ready to be discarded, you could plop it into a recycling receptacle and all would be right with the world. That would be wonderful, but we’re not quite there yet! Here’s why.
Recycling is a process handled largely at the municipal level in the U.S. by local material recycling facilities (MRFs). Without getting too deep into the complexities of single and multi-stream MRF processes, there are very specific materials that can be handled by each facility. Materials outside of the capabilities of a given facility will sometimes be sent to a secondary sort facility, where a broader range of recyclable materials can be handled. But just as often, the first facility is the last stop before remaining materials are sent to landfills, unless the package recycle status is clearly identified.
So our package needs to be ‘directed’ to the proper stream in order for it to live up to its recyclable claim. The end user, which in the case of our package will be a consumer, will need instructions as to how this package should be prepared, and where it should go in order for it to be recycled. Fortunately there are a good number of excellent resources providing this direction. One of these standards is How2Recycle (www.how2recycle.info). This organization has developed a standardized labeling system to clearly communicate recycling instructions to the public. Depending on the package type and the material composition, How2Recycle will provide the necessary instruction to get the package into the proper recycling stream. Take our plastic flexible pouch, for example. Ultimately one of our customers will employ this pouch as a package for one of their consumer products. After going through the process to have this package evaluated, and assuming they have gone through the necessary steps to become a How2Recycle member, they will be provided with a graphic similar to this to be printed on the package.*
As you can see, this graphic clearly indicates to the consumer that the package will need to be cleaned and dried prior to being introduced into the recycling stream. It also informs the consumer that ‘Store Drop-off’ is the preferred destination to ensure the package gets into its proper stream. Obviously this label only applies to bags made of plastic, but there are labels pertaining to metal cans; glass bottles and jars; paper packaging; and most other conventional packaging methods.
This seems like a lot to have to do in order to ensure a package gets recycled. But consider how far recycling technology has come, and the benefits of recycling to our environment. Most consumers have no problem doing what they can in order to ensure a healthier planet, and will gladly participate if they know what to do. It will be nice when the technology advances to the point that anything capable of being recycled can all be sent to one process, but until then we need to all pitch in.
AWT offers a variety of sustainable materials capable of being recycled, as well as compostable and bio-degradable materials. Our experts can help you decide which options are right for your packaging strategy, and make sure you are communicating the sustainable benefits of your package and/or label. Visit our web site for more information about sustainability options – www.awtlabelpack.com
*Only members of ‘how2recycle.info’ who have submitted package specifications can feature the label on their package.
Historically, companies selling implantable medical devices in Europe have not been required to provide patients with device-specific information. In the event of a medical emergency, not having immediate access to this critical information predisposes the patient to a variety of unnecessary operational risks.
That changed with the European Medical Devices Regulation (MDR) modifications approved by European Council and European Parliament in 2017. These modifications expose the risks to Europeans receiving implantable medical devices without traceability of device-specific information. To address this major concern, Article 18 states that over the next three years, any implantable device being sold into Europe will be required to print specific manufacturer and device information onto an “implant card”, which will then be given to the patient/recipient. This will allow the recipient to have immediate access to critical and potentially life-saving information.
Medical Device Resource Group member BSi, notes that this modified MDR, which replaces two previous directives 1, addresses concerns over the assessment of product safety and performance by placing stricter requirements on clinical evaluation and post-market clinical follow-up, and requiring better traceability of devices through the supply chain.
To aid understanding, we organized the requirements of Article 18 into three sections:
Patient information, such as contact information specific to the patient receiving the device is handwritten or printed on the implant card by one of the hospital’s medical professionals. It’s worth noting that the materials selected for the implant card’s production should be able to support smudge-free pen or printers.
In conclusion, the new European Union Medical Devices Regulations (MDR) requirements are critical to ensure the safety of the patient as well as the general traceability of the implantable device. Hopefully, this breakdown helped provide a baseline understanding of the new requirements as well as expectations of the information that will need to be provided.
Contact the experts at AWT Labels & Packaging to get started on your implantable device patient card projects. Please consult with your Regulatory Affairs department about how to comply with the regulation.
1 (Medical Devices Directive (93/42/EEC) and Active Implantable Medical Devices Directive (90/385/EEC)
Shrink continues to grow! Use of Shrink-sleeve labeling is poised to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.2% until 2025.* It’s a cost-effective way to decorate complex shaped packaging, and utilizes the full 360° of the container. Shrink-sleeves add a lot of shelf impact to brand packaging.
So what are the trends in the world of shrink-sleeves? Here are some things our experts have identified as potential drivers of shrink-sleeve appeal in the near future.
Take a closer look at some of the canned beers and premium sodas on the market. You’ll notice a good number that appear direct printed but are actually decorated with shrink-sleeves. Small to mid-size companies often cannot afford the cost of buying large stocks of pre-printed cans, given the high minimum quantity requirements. Because of this, many are opting to purchase smaller volumes of blank cans and decorate them with shrink-sleeves. In addition to being an economical packaging option, shrink-sleeves provide some versatility in decoration. Blank cans decorated with sleeves allow smaller companies to easily switch between brands or varieties. And the shelf-appeal of sleeved cans is turning heads.
As the technology advances, sustainable shrink materials like PLA will become more prevalent and cost-effective. PLA (Poly-lactic Acid) is a corn-based material, so it comes from a renewable resource and decreases dependence on petroleum-based raw materials. It is also compostable, so these labels don’t end life as solid waste in a landfill.
Shrink-sleeves are a great decoration option for those liquid products that’ve turned the package on its head – think Heinz Ketchup and all manner of shampoo and conditioner products. It’s not only a practical way to deliver liquid products, but also an eye-catching package presentation. More products will undoubtedly migrate to this top-down package configuration to take advantage of gravity, and shrink-sleeves will most-likely be the decoration of choice for many.
There are a LOT of healthy food and drink choices on the market, and new ones are appearing every day. These products need a good deal of space to make their nutritional claims and to list their dietary benefits. And let’s not forget the ingredient and other regulatory information required in this sector. Shrink-sleeves provide a lot of package real estate on which to print all of this, along with the branding and consumer appeals that marketing demands. If you need more room, think shrink!
Beverage companies struggle at times with pre-printed can and bottle inventory which has become obsolete for any number of reasons. A recent trend has seen these companies turn to shrink-sleeves to ‘cover-up’ the existing decoration and outdated verbiage. Rather than having to discard obsolete packaging and swallow the loss, the cans or bottles get new life with shrink-sleeve decoration.
Let the experts at AWT tell you more about shrink-sleeves and how you can add some pop to your packaging.
*Research and Markets (www.researchandmarkets.com)