Biodegradable and compostable materials for flexible and sustainable packaging are the primary innovation foci of the industry
Climate change is a reality that allows each of us to contribute our “grain of sand” towards being more sustainable. In the following article, we have compiled the most recent trends of the packaging industry; together we can move towards a circular economy.
Circular Economy: The New Model
The circular economy has become a model worth following for all industries, as it stimulates economic growth without compromising the environment. Furthermore, it offers great challenges to suppress climate change, biodiversity loss, and waste increase.
As a global movement that has a diverse transition from country to country, it is dependent on the degree of industrialization, the level of technological development, and the availability of qualified human resources, among other factors.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030, a plan of the United Nations (UN), outlines the targets set by the organization: https://sdgs.un.org/goals
A Highly Environmentally Conscious Consumer
New generations are changing consumer buying behavior and attitudes towards sustainability, which certainly has an impact on the packaging industry. Currently, 52% of consumers (according to Innova Market Insights) are willing to pay more for an item with sustainable packaging, although they are increasingly demanding more transparency and honesty regarding the sustainability of products. Consumers want to know the environmental impact of a package, and in many cases, having the assurance of a reduced carbon footprint influences their purchasing decision.
Despite the abundant use of misleading advertising with expressions such as “green” and “plastic free”, there is an increase in regulations to provide transparency and genuine truthfulness with regard to the information being conveyed by companies to consumers.
Increasingly Sustainable Packaging
The trend of the past 10 years within the packaging sector has been to manufacture increasingly sustainable packaging. In this respect, the use of paper and bioplastics have been surpassing petrochemical plastics. According to “European Bioplastics”, the global production of bioplastics, 48% of which were used for packaging in 2022, will almost triple by 2027. The European Union is confronted with the following challenges, among others:
– Recycle 65% of packaging by 2025 and 75% of packaging by 2030.
– Use 100% reusable or recyclable packaging by 2030
Flexible packaging is a trend that is not only distinguishable as a result of its quality, but also for its cost effectiveness, practicality and sustainability. Customized flexible packaging with barrier properties offers a unique advantage over traditional packaging, such as double product protection; product life is extended and original properties are maintained.
This type of packaging was initially intended for the food and chemical-pharmaceutical industries. Presently, flexible packaging is considered “the new generation of packaging”, as it is experiencing huge growth and acquiring followers, which include producers of the textile and fertilizer industry, as well as those from promotional services.
The Change from Rigid to Flexible Packaging
Flexible packaging can reduce 70% of plastic, in comparison to rigid packaging. Furthermore, it optimizes the use of raw materials with continuous motion filling technology, eliminates headspace, saves sup to 15% of film, and utilizes laser cutting systems, hence saving up to 3% of materials. Sustainable flexible packaging offers multiple advantages over traditional packaging, which include:
– Substantial shelf impact: doypack or stand-up packaging is ideal for vertical shelf display in on of large supermarkets or on the shelves of sales areas.
– Ecological cost savings: environmentally friendly, as 75% less plastic is used compared to that used in rigid packaging. During the entire production process, it is extremely less polluting compared to bottling.
– Transportation costs savings: this format reduces up to 90% in weight and volume compared to others, such as glass or aluminum cans.
– Storage cost savings: due to the reduced volume of empty containers.
– Impressive marketing tool: highly visible packaging (360º image/text communication and full color printing).
Types of Sustainable Film Materials
The word sustainable is often generically used, but it is important to differentiate between recyclable, recycled, and biodegradable packaging.
- Recyclable (eco-friendly)
These are films that use non-recycled materials; there is a clear and growing trend towards mono-material films. The use of flexible LPDE packaging for F&B products grew 8.6% between 2018-2022, due to the demand from the prepared meals, meat, fish, and poultry categories. These materials include polyolefins, mono PE, and mono PP.
Although plastic made from recycled material remains an expensive option worldwide, its use is increasing. Furthermore, strict regulations, such as taxes on non-recyclable plastic packaging, among others, are being passed. To be considered a recycled film, the percentage of recycled material varies from country to country. In some countries, it can be considered recycled with 20-30% of recycled material (polyolefin), while in others, such as Germany, 90% of recycled monomaterial is required.
Biodegradable packaging is defined as packing that undergoes degradation reactions, in a short period of time (6 months), resulting from the action of microorganisms under conditions that naturally occur in the biosphere. The fact that packaging is biodegradable does not denote that it is compostable, since these, aside from being biodegradable, degrade in contact with the remaining organic waste, and become compost or fertilizer by microbiological action in a short period of time (6-12 months).
An example of biodegradable material include PHA (similar properties to PE), PHB, PLA, which are increasingly implemented into the food sector. This type of 100% biodegradable film is completely environmentally friendly and industrially compostable, as it complies with the EN13432 standard.
Water-soluble capsules are another type of biodegradable packaging, especially for the detergency industries. These are made with polyvinyl alcohol (PVOH), a new bio-based material, currently in the development stage, which dissolves and biodegrades in two steps:
- The pods are mixed with water and dissolve.
- The pods are biodegraded. According to American Cleaning Institute, at least 60% of the film biodegrades in 28 days, and 100% of the film biodegrades in 90 days or less.
New Challenges in Sustainable Materials
Every year, in contemplation of 2030, flexible packaging manufacturers have conducted reserach pertaining to the development of new materials, methodologies, and technical advances, in order to achieve maximum efficiency and quality for 100% sustainable packaging. Some of the challenges include:
– New packaging manufactured with biodegradable and compostable flexible mono materials, such as those made with BIO FVSOL 60.
– New reinforcing additives that improve the properties of the biopolymer.
– Active and intelligent packaging to extend the shelf life of the packaged product.
– Improvement of the sealing temperature and process window.
– Less rigidity and shrinkage.