We said it, and it’s true. For specific applications, flexible packaging beats alternative packaging for sustainability hands down. Now you might think that since most flexible packaging is plastic that it doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to environmental friendliness. But we need to look at the sustainable attributes of flexible packaging over the entire lifecycle of the format.
Here are some benefits:
Let’s explore this product-to-packaging ratio a little further (and well refer to it as P2P ratio for brevity’s sake!). According to the U.S. EPA Waste Hierarchy, the most preferred method of waste management is reducing the amount of ‘potential’ waste on the front end. A format with a relatively higher P2P ratio is more efficient than a format with a lower P2P score. Here’s an illustration of the concept:
You can see the flexible packaging format is much more efficient that the HDPE and steel can formats. Let’s see how this translates to materials that wind up in a landfill:
The P2P ratio is just one comparison where flexible packaging beats other packaging formats for end-of-life sustainability benefits. And again, the comparisons above are assuming all three formats are destined for landfills, which would be the worst case. Many recyclable flexible packaging materials are coming online, and these will help make flexible packaging even more of a sustainable champion going forward.
AWT is continually engaging our flexible packaging material suppliers to learn about the latest in recyclable stocks and total material reduction options. If you’d like to learn more about the sustainable benefits of flexible packaging, or if you have any other labeling or packaging questions, we’d welcome an opportunity to help.
It’s summer. it’s hot. So what better time to catch up on what’s hot in labels and packaging? Normally these catalogs of what’s trending are compiled and reported near the beginning of the year, but we thought we’d be a little different. Here are FIVE trends we’ve identified that are getting traction here in the middle of summer 2021. So let’s jump into the pool, as they say, and find out what’s hot.
If you look at any retail shelf, you’re likely to notice there are more options within brand product lines. In some cases, a LOT more. It used to be that you would go into a store looking for your brand of shampoo. You’d find it, most likely in the same package shape, size and color scheme you had used for years. Go looking for that same brand now and it’s just as likely you’ll be presented with a dizzying selection of package and label variations based on hair type, gender, age, scalp conditions, and scent. Brands are offering targeted products for a couple of reasons: More variety translates to more shelf space occupied and thus more consumer exposure. The increased volume of brand packaging is a larger billboard, increasing the chances consumers will notice and take a closer look. Another reason is the attempt to ‘personalize’ the product. If I am a 30 something with a dry scalp condition, a shampoo proclaiming to be formulated for middle-aged consumers with dry skin seems like it was made just for me. It’s subtle, but the affect is tangible.
What’s a brand to do these days with ever increasing competition for consumer attention in retail? As indicated in the previous trend, shelf space is at a premium, and there are many, MANY options for consumers to choose from. Increasingly, brands are making changes to stand out and “visually shout” for attention. Remember as a kid how alluring the candy aisle was in a store? No doubt much of the appeal was the seemingly endless display of sugary goodness, but that’s not all. The packaging was candy in itself – eye candy. The bright reds, oranges, greens, and purples drew you in just as much as the promise of confectionary delights. Now go down that previously mentioned hair care aisle and you’ll be confronted by a rainbow of bright colors and shimmering foil enhancements competing for your eye’s attention. Many brands are retooling their color sets to incorporate these vibrant hues into their packaging.
Increasingly, brands are attempting to forge closer relationships with their customers. Where brands used to measure success in terms of quarterly and annual sales growth, they now strive to ‘engage’ their customers beyond the sale. Labels are becoming a medium for storytelling, using devices like augmented reality imaging and QR codes to convey company values and other information that might help customers relate to them in a meaningful way. Much of the label content is used to direct customers to social media channels and other online forums where brands provide even more information as to what they are all about. This trend seems to cut along a distinct age demographic, with younger customers who are more internet savvy much more likely to engage with brands beyond the sale. But since younger consumers will eventually become older consumers, it’s likely this trend will gain momentum.
Let’s face it: People are generally curious, and they don’t usually like surprises. So it shouldn’t be any surprise that our next trend is all about the big reveal. Transparency in packaging is gaining steam, particularly in the Food and Beverage sector. Flexible packaging is on the forefront of this trend, aimed at allaying any consumer concerns that the product inside the package might not be as advertised. You’ll notice this demonstrated a lot (at least I have) within the chips and other snack foods market. A bag of tortilla chips will be completely decorated save for a round transparent area in the middle of the front panel. It’s saying “Hey, look at us! We’re all intact, not smashed into hodgepodge of pieces too small to accommodate your extra chunky salsa. Buy us!” Well, they’re probably not saying that, but you get the idea. Consumers like to know what they’re getting, and a window to the product gives them peace-of-mind. Again, this is often at a subconscious level, but a real reaction non-the-less. On the pressure-sensitive label side, clear substrates are being used to simulate a ‘no label’ appearance on glass packaging. This mimics direct print, and when it’s done well the effect is striking.
It is here to stay, and that’s a good thing. Sustainability in labels and packaging is now a prime consideration as consumer-packaged goods companies develop their packaging strategies. Not too long ago when the movement first started, many brands were sort of paying lip service to the concept of sustainable packaging. Not to say they didn’t care, but sustainability was not an urgent concern, given all the other market force issues they had to contend with. Also, there were not too many options available for sustainable constructions, and those that were available carried a price tag too high to be feasible. Material technology and pressure from socially conscious consumers changed all that. Today you’d be hard pressed to find any major CPG company without a thorough and detailed plan for reducing their carbon footprint and increasing sustainable packaging options by a specific date. A continuously growing number of common package and label combinations are now recyclable as a unit, or when separated by the consumer. And the future will see an increase in materials that can be composted and degrade naturally and rapidly if improperly discarded. This could result in a significant decrease in the amount of plastic in our oceans, and wouldn’t that be a welcome development?
The experts at AWT have their fingers on the pulse of what’s happening in label and flexible package construction, and they’re always happy to share that expertise to help your brand stand tall at retail. Find out how to add a little heat to your next project.
We have all been there: When taking on a project or goal, we often have an idea of what we would like to do but we are not sure where to begin. And sometimes the task is just a vague sense of what we hope to accomplish, without really knowing for sure what the end game looks like. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we may think we know exactly what we want, but our scope may be too narrow due to limited exposure or experience. There may be better options, but we don’t know where to turn to next.
At AWT, we hear this type of thing frequently from customers and potential customers who are looking to achieve more sustainability in their packaging and labeling. Often, the inquiry will go something like this:
Customer: “We need labels that are recyclable.”
AWT: “OK, we have options for that, but are you sure recyclable labels are the way to go for your purposes?”
Customer: “Well I guess I’m not sure. I just know I’ve been tasked with making our labels and packaging more sustainable, and I thought that meant recyclable labels.”
AWT: “Let’s take a look at your current packaging and see if we can make some recommendations. A recyclable label may be a good solution, but maybe we can identify other sustainable options as well.”
Back in the ancient past, when we wanted to drive somewhere we pulled out a well-worn map or atlas that showed us the route to take to get to our destination. Now we have GPS systems in our cars and phones that physically tell us how to get from point A to B, even recommending options that steer clear of construction or heavy traffic.
Wouldn’t it be great if there were a “road map” of how go from a general idea of more sustainable packaging to a custom solution that works for your specific needs? Well, such a guide does exist, and the sustainable experts here at AWT put it together.
We know there is some confusion when it comes to sustainability in packaging and labeling. For example, did you know there are significant sustainability gains you can achieve by implementing a material reduction strategy for your packaging? There are some materials or material combinations that impede or completely rule out recycling at end of life. However, you can make some minor changes to the gauge (thickness) of materials or overall size that will translate to sustainable ‘wins’ over the lifecycle of the label and/or package. The guide even includes a sample ‘life cycle assessment’ which provides a sense of the sustainable gains resulting from this kind of modification.
The Sustainability Design Guide presents information about this and other strategies to reach your sustainable goals in a straightforward and easy-to-read format. We invite you to download the guide and see if there are ideas that might apply to your project. We are confident it can help you understand sustainable options for packaging and labels. Follow this link to get your copy. AWT Sustainability Design Guide
If the guide provokes thoughts or questions about a specific project you have, please contact one of our experts. We are ready to help.
As a packaging professional, can you relate to this scenario? You have a great looking flexible package for your new snack product. The graphic design is outstanding; the material composition will keep the product fresh and tasty; and the reseal structure is easy to use and airtight. All that’s left to do is get the product into retail and in front of consumers (with some marketing help, of course!). On to the truck it goes, from a Midwest-based production and packaging facility and bound for a west coast big box retailer.
Upon arrival at the store, the packages are slated to be put on shelves and floor displays. But opening the cartons containing the product reveals a big problem; Many the packages have burst at the seams, spilling the contents, and rendering the product inedible and unsaleable. What happened?
What goes up often expands!
It’s an age-old problem, but one that some people are not aware of. The packages failed when the transport vehicle reached an altitude in the Rocky Mountains where the outside air pressure was relatively low and the air pressure inside the sealed packaging was high enough to cause a burst seam. It happens enough that there is a name for the issue – Over-the-Mountain (OTM). It can be even more insidious when it only damages the seams and seals; a problem that may not be readily visible to the retailer stocking shelves. It may only be discovered by consumers who get stale product. Almost any degree of package damage will lead to food freshness degradation or spoiling.
And it’s not just food products that are affected. Premoistened wipes packaging is another prime candidate for problems associated with pressure imbalance. Damaged wipes packaging will result in product that dries out rapidly, greatly reducing the longevity of the product.
You might think it’s a simple problem to solve: Just use stronger materials and adhesives when designing the package! Not so fast. In large measure, packaging needs to conform to the product it contains. This is especially true when the product is food for human consumption. You can’t use just any material / adhesive / seal combination without consideration for food safety. There are certain film materials which cannot be used for food packaging, or which can be used provided they are not ‘next to’ food. This can make it difficult to design packaging that is both strong enough to endure drastic pressure changes but also conforms to food safety regulations.
That said, there are designs and structures that can prevent OTM damage. These materials are making it easier to balance high burst strength, superior sealing, and product safety considerations. It used to be that three-ply structures would be employed to ensure package integrity for OTM applications. Advances in film technology have resulted in stronger materials, enabling two-ply constructions. This makes the packaging lighter while maintaining or increasing burst strength and simplifies the production process. Incorporating high-performance seals and advanced seaming techniques not only help prevent OTM damage, but also act as effective barriers to water vapor and oxygen which can degrade product freshness. Ink formulations have also been developed which can in some scenarios eliminate the need for laminating over the printed material. In short, designers have a lot more options for creating over-the-mountain ready packaging.
AWT actively collaborates with our material suppliers regarding the latest in packaging materials to address OTM scenarios as well as other stuff you might not think about when designing your package. We would welcome an opportunity to help you with your project – over-the-mountain related or not.
Packaging continues to follow other industries in the quest to become more environmentally friendly. Consumers are much more aware of packaging, and many are choosing products packaged in a sustainable manner. This means the packaging is recyclable, or biodegradable, right? Not always. Today’s consumer is concerned with ‘over-packaging’ to a much greater degree than even just a few years ago. The more packaging that is in the way of the actual product, the more it is perceived by consumers as wasteful. This is expressed as ‘product-to-package ratio’, and the lower the ratio, the better for the environment. This is true for several reasons, including the following:
Again, sustainably savvy consumers think about these issues, and the consensus is growing. They are seeking right sized packaging in the products they purchase, as well as attributes like recyclability.
Plastic to the rescue!
Plastics have been given a bad rap over the past few decades. Most are made from fossil fuels, which somehow has a bad connotation. And people understandably do not like the fact that improperly disposed of plastic is littering our oceans.
But let’s take a look at plastic’s positives. Specifically, let’s create a scenario where a plastic flexible package replaces a more rigid plastic container.
Right out of the gate, a flexible package has the advantage of using less material for each unit produced. At the very least, this means less plastic material entering the usage stream, and a proportionate decrease in material that could potentially enter the waste stream. Put a credit on the sustainability ledger.
Next, consider secondary packaging required to ship both units to product filling. The ability of flexible packaging to lay flat will significantly reduce the secondary packaging required as opposed to the rigid container (Read more about that here). Over the life cycle of the product line, the difference in the amount of secondary packaging required will be quite substantial. Another sustainability ‘win!’
Add it all up…
Now we come to the bigger payoff, sustainable benefits over time. Consider the gains we just talked about – less raw material required for each unit; less secondary packaging required; less space occupied in transit; less harmful emissions by transport vehicles; less material introduced to usage and waste streams. You can see where this is going. Over the life cycle of a product the gains will be substantial. Even if this hypothetical flexible packaging construction is not recyclable, it does have many sustainable benefits. And it’s worth mentioning that sustainable flexible packaging structures ARE available, and more are being developed.
Is moving your product to flexible packaging the right move? This post is provided as food for thought, and every situation is different. But where it makes sense, the move to a flexible package can be a mover toward sustainability. Ask one of our experts. We’d welcome your questions.
2020… good riddance to you! There is probably a good chance you understand that sentiment. Most peoples’ business and/or personal lives were affected to some degree by the tumultuous happenings of the last year. The packaging and label sector was no exception, and we in the business bid farewell to 2020 and warily raise the curtain on 2021. A traditional aspect of the advent of a new year is the determination of what trends will prevail over the next 365 days. So, we offer this glimpse at what we think will be six leading trends in packaging, labeling and the markets which utilize them. These trends are derived from observations we at AWT have made as well as those of our industry gurus, given credit* at the end of this post.
And away we go!
People have a literal connection with things they touch. But there is also a subconscious emotional connection created when a person touches something, whether that is another person or a retail product. Marketers have long known this, and they go to great lengths to create visually appealing packaging to increase the odds that a consumer will physically interact with their package by touching it. More recently, consumers have experienced a new sensation when strolling the retail arena – packaging with ‘feeling.’ Marketers have added physical texture to packaging with specialized coatings like “soft-touch” coating on labels and roll print film to connect consumers more deeply to products through touch. It’s not a new technique, but it is one which is ready to break out as ink, coating and film formulations for rendering texture become more available.
Most of us are aware of brand counterfeiting; the unauthorized use of a brand’s mark to falsely represent an inauthentic, inferior product. It is a big problem, particularly among high-end and legacy brands. Brands obviously have a stake in this battle, as counterfeiting can significantly impact sales and brand reputation. Consumers also want to make sure the product they are getting is authentic and genuine… the ‘real thing.’ As counterfeiters become both more prevalent and more sophisticated, 2021 will see an increase in measures brands can take to fight back. These include 2D barcodes; Holograms (think NFL gear and wearables); and other options for label or packaged-based authenticity confirmation. Tamper-evident labels can be an inexpensive method of providing authenticity and provide proof of a compromised package. Technology to aid counterfeiters is increasing, but thankfully, so is anti-counterfeiting technology.
The information revolution has made it possible for marketers to find consumers’ sweet spots, and to more easily create targeted messaging that has a better chance of making an impression. For better or worse, you as a consumer can probably be categorized or segmented in any number of ways based on internet browsing habits, responses to random surveys, and even social media likes and sharing history. This information is generally used to create more personalized ads which reach consumers via email or text, but packaging and labels are also carrying these personalized messages. A high-level example of this was Coca-Cola’s famous ‘Name Cans’ campaign a few years ago, linked here. The company used information readily available to find out the most common first names in various regional markets, and within target demographics like age group and other factors. They then produced printed cans and bottle labels with proportionate numbers of the top names and distributed them to the targeted regions. Expect more marketers to follow suit in 2021 and look for more labels and packaging aimed right at you.
Our current national health emergency has changed consumer habits. Many people have taken the online route to shopping, even for groceries and other essentials. Those consumers going inside stores are spending less time browsing and are generally trying to get in and out as quickly as possible. Marketers are aware of this and are responding with bolder and more concise messaging on packaging. In a retail environment where the first brand noticed might win the race, labels and packaging are also sporting vivid colors and designs that say, “here’s what you’re looking for!” As the trend of shopping for utility vs. shopping for relaxation persists into 2021, so will the trend toward packaging that gets right to the point.
Not so much a trend as a responsible way of operating, sustainable label and packaging constructions will continue to proliferate in 2021. What is trendy within sustainable packaging is the ‘less is more’ movement. Lighter packaging and labels use less raw materials to create and have residual benefits throughout their lifecycle. The continued development of thinner label and flexible packaging stocks will drive down the cost of these materials, eliminating a barrier to expanded adoption of lighter options. When these same constructions are also recyclable, or made from recycled content, there is an even greater positive impact on the environment. See how on our website.
Package-based promotion will make a comeback in 2021. Brands are looking for ways to extend the time consumers interact with their products when many of them are avoiding retail brick and mortar in favor of online shopping. Labels and packaging will include future purchase incentives in the form of coupons. QR codes will be printed to lead consumers to websites, recipe suggestions and augmented reality experiences. Kid-friendly brands and products will include labels with fun stuff like temporary tattoos and stickers. In the new retail playing field, brands will be cultivating and rewarding loyalty to a greater degree than in recent years.
It’s a new year, and we’re excited to see what it brings. If you’re looking to leverage any of these trends to increase your brand’s visibility, give us a call and talk to one of our experts.
When it comes to pressure-sensitive (PS) labels, there are multiple ways to design for sustainability. In developing an earth-friendly package, any of these approaches can be used by themselves, or in combination with others. Let us look at these options:
Recyclability is probably the first thing one thinks of when designing a sustainable label. Creating a label which is capable of being recycled involves choosing recycle-ready face stock and adhesive. As with any label, these material choices will largely depend on the final application for the package. Typical materials capable of being recycled are paper, polypropylene (PP; BOPP), and polyethylene (PE). But if you were to pair these recyclable stocks with a conventional adhesive, you would prevent the label from being recycled. Most traditional adhesives will contaminate the recycle ‘stream’ and render the processed material unusable. A ‘wash-away’ adhesive is capable of being removed at the front end of the recycling stream, leaving only the recyclable base label material. This is a more complex operation than described here, but you can learn more at this website. An increasing number of PS label stocks are being developed with wash-away adhesives.
Post-Consumer Recycled Content
Another approach to increasing the sustainability factor of a PS label is to utilize stock materials composed of post-consumer recycled (PCR) content. As the name implies, PCR stock is composed of a certain percentage of recycled content. The benefit to the environment is the decreased amount of original source material required to ‘build’ the material. Paper stocks commonly have some degree of PCR content, as do some PET film materials. Some of these stocks are recyclable themselves, providing an additional sustainable benefit. Recycling technology has advanced substantially over the past few decades, and the quality of plastics derived from PCR processes has improved to the point that some of these materials can meet strict food safety regulations. Read more…
Less Material to Start
The material reduction approach is gaining momentum since it is an easy way to realize sustainable benefits without changing the nature of the label stock. As application equipment has improved, thinner label stocks have been developed, and widely used, in the PS realm. The benefits are many, but primarily, thinner materials reduce the amount of raw materials required to create the same number of labels as a thicker stock. Designing a thinner label out of a recyclable PCR material would check a lot of boxes on the credit side of a sustainability ledger! If you’d like to take a deeper dive into the environmental benefits of going to a thinner material, take a look at this life cycle assessment which illustrates the results of moving from a 2.6 MIL material to a 2.4 MIL: Thinner Substrate LCA. These same benefits can be realized by decreasing the area of a label.
Renewable content is derived from raw materials which can be replenished naturally. Creating labels from a renewable resource has multiple sustainability pay-offs. At the top of the list is decreased reliance upon finite raw materials like petroleum. Renewable materials include paper and bioplastics like polylactic acid (PLA), derived from corn. These original sources are managed under stewardship entities like the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and are certified as such. Renewable raw materials have an additional benefit in that they generally require less energy to extract, providing a proportionate positive impact on emissions and production waste.
As stated previously, the final composition of a sustainable PS label will depend on the market application, the package, and environment in which it will reside. But the options for getting to a sustainable solution are expanding. Talk to the experts at AWT to find out how your next PS label project can benefit the environment.
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.