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New ENVi Pouches Bring Recyclability to Flexible Packaging


Lightweight and less costly to ship than other materials, flexible packaging’s structural and graphic design can be customized endlessly. It keeps products fresh, crisp and protected, reducing waste and losses due to spoilage throughout the supply chain. Custom convenience features such as re-closable zippers to keep freshness in or degassing valves to prevent oxidation, provide similar sustainability benefits and add value and convenience for the consumer. The only major weakness of flexible packaging comes at the end of its life cycle, where its multi-layer laminate construction makes recycling a significant challenge.

The Environmental Case for Flexible Packaging

Overall, the environmental case for flexible packaging is quite compelling. Compared to traditional cans and bottles, pouches use less material, take up less space, and substantially reduce the packaged weight of your products, yielding cost savings and reducing resource use throughout your supply chain. For example, products in flexible packaging are smaller in size and weight and therefore require less warehouse space and fewer trucks, resulting in a reduction of emissions generated while transporting any given quantity of product.

It’s a Complicated Problem

The versatility of flexible packaging is due to its multi-layer structure, which allows manufacturers to meet a client’s specific needs by changing the materials that make up each layer. That composite nature of the packaging is its major strength. Unfortunately, the same multi-layer structure that makes flexible packaging so versatile also makes these packages difficult to recycle. Packaging composed of single materials, such as glass or aluminum, are relatively simple to sort, process, and melt down to recycle into new products. In contrast, multi-layer flexible packaging is composed of two or more different materials that consumers must separate before recycling.

Recycling in America is Widespread but Inconsistent

A 2016 study by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition found that 94 percent of the U.S. population had access to some type of recycling program. Unfortunately, recycling isn’t regulated at the federal level, as it is in some European countries, but at the state level. That leads to a wide variation, not just in the regulatory environment, but in the collection and disposal infrastructures in place from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. This poses a major challenge for global and national brands. It’s also a challenge for consumers, who often struggle to understand what, where and how they should recycle.

Dated RIC Codes are Another Challenge

Part of the challenge of recycling flexible material is the industry’s continued use of Resin Identification Codes (RIC), the decades-old set of recycling symbols. Although the symbols are easily recognizable, consumers can be confused or unclear on what they actually mean. Worse, the symbols are meant to identify single substances and therefore can’t easily be adapted to the multi-material composition of modern flexible packaging. RICs may even do more harm than good, because if a recognizable recycling symbol is absent, consumers may simply assume that the package is not recyclable. If you’re trying to make a case for your product’s sustainability, that can leave you open to accusations of greenwashing.

The Perception of Greenwashing

The concept of “greenwashing” isn’t hard to understand. If you try to benefit from a perception of being sustainable or environmentally friendly while not actually doing what’s needed to back up those claims, you’re greenwashing. Unfortunately, a failure to effectively communicate your message of sustainability can allow a perception of greenwashing to take root — even when your efforts are legitimate. Consumers are becoming wary of single-use, non-recyclable packaging, but you’ll need to get your advertising right in order to gain any leverage from this shift in attitude. The Federal Trade Commission published a set of “Green Guides” in 2012 to help businesses understand how environmental claims should and should not be used.

Take Direction from the FTC’s Green Guides

Much of the direction in the Green Guides boils down to this: make environmental claims detailed, specific and verifiable. If switching from a glass jar to flexible packaging cuts your shipping weight by nearly 95 percent, for example, you need to explain that properly. It’s not enough to say “95 percent less packaging.” You must make clear that it’s less than your previous packaging. If you call your packaging recyclable, you need to verify that at least 60 percent of your customer base has access to facilities where they can recycle it. Otherwise, you’ll need to include a strong, detailed “where facilities exist” statement to avoid misleading your customers.

Sustainability Is Increasingly Important in the Marketplace

In a major 2018 report, consumer research firm The Nielsen Corporation found that more than 80 percent of consumers worldwide considered it important for companies to have sustainability initiatives. The numbers were lower but still significant for Americans: 68 percent said environmental initiatives were important, and 48 percent expressed a willingness to reduce environmental impact by changing their purchasing choices. Those numbers were consistently high across all age groups, but millennials are especially likely to vote with their wallets.

Consumers Respond to Solid Environmental Claims

What do environmentally conscious consumers support most? The same Nielsen study identified “free from” considerations — antibiotic-free, hormone-free, non-GMO — as the top drivers of consumer spending, followed by superior functionality and organic/all-natural ingredients. While those three factors focus primarily on the contents of a package, the next three apply to the packaging itself. Consumers respond positively to packaging that’s environmentally friendly or contains sustainable materials, offers an environmental edge that no other product on the market does and demonstrably delivers on its social responsibility claims.

Sustainability Can Boost Your Bottom Line

In the United States, Nielsen’s figures show that products making sustainability claims substantially outperform the overall market for fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG). While the market as a whole was down 0.3 percent for the period under review (April 2016 - April 2017), products with a verifiable sustainability claim were up more than 7 percent. If you want to tap into that market, you need to communicate your environmental message clearly and accurately. Consumers who feel duped can damage your marketing plan, or even your brand, at the full speed of social media.

ENVi™ Brings Recyclability to Flair's Flexible Packaging Line-Up

The ideal product adds recyclability to the other advantages of flexible packaging, providing an opportunity to make your case for sustainability as part of the package art. Flair’s new ENVi™ line of recyclable pouches offers exactly that combination of features. It is approved by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition’s Store Drop-Off program with an easy end-of-life option for consumers. Further, like Flair’s other products, ENVi™ packaging uses crisp, colorful rotogravure printing to create a high-impact graphic message for your brand.

Gain Brand Visibility and Consumer Mindshare

Adopting ENVi™ packaging for your products can help you leverage the growing consumer interest in sustainability. It can help promote your brand’s visibility and differentiate you in the marketplace. The drivers of purchasing decisions that Nielsen’s research identified — sustainability, uniqueness and verifiable environmental claims — are all present, represented by ENVi’s™’ unique design and the accountability that comes with Flair’s membership in the SPC.

How2Recycle® Labeling

The final piece of the puzzle is improved labeling for these next-generation recyclables. That comes by way of the SPC’s How2Recycle®, a more modern and comprehensive labeling system for recyclables. Instead of the number codes used in the antiquated RIC system, How2Recycle® labels provide clear, explicit recycling instructions alongside the traditional three-arrow recycling symbol. This doesn’t just notify consumers that your packaging is recyclable, but tells them how to recycle it. Flair’s in-house artwork management team can help you incorporate these symbols with your existing branding to create a compelling sustainability narrative for your customers.

References

1. http://www.flairpackaging.com/pages/home/resources/packaging_101/Flexible%20vs.%20Rigid%20Packaging/1

2. BreakFreeFromPlastic.org: Global Movement Demands Elimination of Single-use, Disposable Plastics https://www.breakfreefromplastic.org/2018/04/20/global-movement-demands-elimination-of-single-use-disposable-plastics-calls-on-corporations-and-governments-to-break-free-from-plastic/

3. Sustainable Packaging Coalition: Multi-Material Flexible Packaging Recovery https://sustainablepackaging.org/committees/multi-material-flexible-packaging-recovery/

4. Sustainable Packaging Coalition: 2015-21016 Centralized Study on Availability of Recycling http://sustainablepackaging.org/wp-content/uploads/woocommerce_uploads/2017/04/SPCs-Centralized-Availability-of-Recycling-Study-2.pdf

5. Business for Social Responsibility: Understanding and Preventing Greenwash - A Business Guide https://www.bsr.org/reports/Understanding%20_Preventing_Greenwash.pdf

6. U.S. Federal Trade Commission: Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims; Final Rule https://www.ftc.gov/sites/default/files/documents/federal_register_notices/guides-use-environmental-marketing-claims-green-guides/greenguidesfrn.pdf

7. U.S. Federal Trade Commission: Environmental Claims - Summary of the Green Guides https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/guidance/environmental-claims-summary-green-guides

8. The Nielsen Company: Sustainable Shoppers Buy the Change They Want to See In the World https://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/reports/2018/unpacking-the-sustainability-landscape.html

9. University of Virginia Darden School of Business: Greenwashing - In the Eye of the Beholder https://ideas.darden.virginia.edu/2017/04/greenwashing-in-the-eye-of-the-beholder/

10. http://flairpackaging.com/category/services/Print%20Management%20at%20Flair%20Flexible%20Packaging

11. Sustainable Packaging Coalition: How2Recycle® https://sustainablepackaging.org/projects/how2recycle/

12. http://flairpackaging.com/category/services/Artwork%20Management%20at%20Flair%20Flexible%20Packaging