February 16, 2017 - Flexible Packaging

Improved Recyclability for Flexible Packaging

Flexible packaging provides several environmental advantages, such as:

  • Increased product to package ratio
  • Improved shelf life and prolonged freshness
  • Decreased energy usage and CO2 emissions

However, the issue of recyclability has been an ongoing struggle for the market. This is due to flexible packaging’s multi-layer designs. For example, stand up pouches in particular contain multiple types of plastics and a metal layer. As a result, they haven’t easily been recycled in traditional systems.

Yet a recent report from Recycling Today cites that flexible packaging is starting to be captured efficiently in single-stream material recovery facilities (MRF). Let’s take a closer look at what these are and how they work for flexible packaging:

What are MRFs?

MRFs are specialized facilities that separate and remove recyclable materials from collected waste. The majority of MRFs use mechanical methods for sorting household items, such as:

  • Aluminum cans
  • Glass bottles
  • Boxes and paper goods
  • Plastic items

However, manual sorting process are also used, especially when dealing with construction and demolition items.

How do MRFs handle flexible packaging?

According to Materials Recovery for the Future, approximately 90% of flexible packaging by weight is plastic resins. These materials have traditionally not been accepted at most North American curbside recycling facilities.

In order to improve flexible packaging’s recyclability, the Resource Recycling Systems (RRS) conducted research to examine whether flexible packaging that is predominantly plastic could be processed in the existing single stream recycling systems.

This research set out to determine:

  1. Where flexible plastic packaging ends up at MRFs
  2. Start to develop an understanding of what sort processes might need to be modified to allow good recovery of flexible plastic packaging at MRFs

After an extensive testing process, the RRS concluded:

  1. While at only the beginning stages, existing MRF equipment technology can be used to sort flexible plastic packaging after some targeted equipment adjustments.
  1. There is a need to focus on optical sorters and design of airflow control to optimize the separation of fiber from flexible plastic packaging.
  1. Greater understanding of the technical feasibility of flexible plastic packaging
    secondary processing to meet end market feedstock requirements is needed.

While more work needs to be done, the research did lay the groundwork for better recyclability of flexible plastic packaging going forward, especially in regards to plastic films.

Click here to view the full research report.


For information on how Bostik’s flexible packaging adhesives are sustainable, call 800-7-BOSTIK.

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