In the eyes of consumers, flexible packaging often gets a bad rap. The industry is seen as a source of single-use plastic and a landfill mainstay, causing flexible packaging’s sustainability benefits to be often overshadowed by public perception. This is why it should be the industry’s top priority to not only talk about sustainability—but also to live it.
At Henkel, our sustainability strategy is inspired by our purpose: pioneers at heart for the good of generations. With our pioneering spirit, our knowledge, our products, and our technologies, we want to enrich and improve the lives of billions of people every day—and shape a viable future for the next generation. This makes sustainability a central element in our vision of the future. We want to actively drive the transformation to a sustainable economy and society, help protect and regenerate nature, contribute to strong communities, and strengthen the trust of our stakeholders.
Sustainability Along the Value Chain
But what does this mean specifically for Henkel Adhesive Technologies and our packaging adhesives business? Our vision is to contribute to solving global challenges by enabling sustainability through material science and scientific know-how in bonding, sealing, and coating.
The key to designing sustainable packaging is making sure each part positively contributes to the whole. The choice of adhesives and coatings while creating the design opens up a whole new world of possibilities for brands and packaging designers. This is why we work with partners across the entire value chain, innovating sustainable solutions that will ensure packaging can be easily and efficiently recycled, so valuable materials can be used again and again. We are convinced that a circular economy requires a holistic approach and is best achieved if companies from all stages in the value chain consider multifaceted sustainability solutions.
Functionality and Sustainability Are Not Mutually Exclusive
The stakes and expectations for packaging are high, and to fulfill them, we must embrace the fact that their design can be complex, making flexible packaging a challenge for recycling. That’s why it is vital to think of the end at the very beginning; successfully creating sustainable and recyclable packaging starts during the design phase. The right choice of adhesive significantly influences what can be done with the package at the end of its primary use. This is what inspired us to develop our range of adhesives and coatings designed for recycling, which enables packaging to go beyond current functionalities—to create flexible packaging that has recyclability built-in. Products in this range must fulfill stringent external testing requirements for sustainability.
The use of certified adhesives according to recognized test protocols is extremely important, as there are differences in recycled materials in terms of their processability and their physical properties. Ensuring our customers can reach their sustainability goals is one of our top priorities, which is why we work together with independent testing institutions to certify our solutions, such as the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR) in North America and RecyClass in Europe.
Material Science Meets Packaging Design
As a brand owner, Henkel has both the breadth of technical know-how and the knowledge of where needs exist. Involving material science experts in packaging design delivers huge benefits, especially when it comes to sustainability and recyclability. Henkel is known for protecting consumers and brands with food-safe packaging solutions and continues to build specific know-how when it comes to testing and certification of recyclability.
Henkel meets its goals to achieve sustainability and a circular economy by working together across the entire packaging value chain. Henkel is committed to actively supporting a circular economy by making it possible to return high-quality materials into the loop after use—turning waste back into valuable resources. While the adhesives used in packages typically make up no more than 5% of the total weight, their properties can actually be a decisive factor when it comes to the overall recyclability of the material.
Brandi Schuster is head of market and customer activation at Henkel Packaging Adhesives.