Living at the Intersection of Flexible Packaging and Sustainability

All types of packaging have experienced a significant shift toward sustainability in recent years, driven by increasing concerns among consumers and businesses about the environmental impact of packaging waste. Flexible packaging continues to be a promising solution for many brands in various industries. But perceptions around recyclability and concerns about improper disposal continue to be obstacles that need to be overcome. When examining the evolution of sustainable flexible packaging and its positive impact on many industries, we can see a future where perception and reality merge at the intersection of flexible packaging and sustainability.

Taking an initial look into the food and beverage industries—two of the largest segments in the packaging market—flexible packaging provides many benefits, including extended product shelf life, reduced transportation costs, and improved product protection from external factors such as air, moisture, and light. Stand-up pouches, resealable bags, and stick packs are just a few examples of popular flexible packaging options used in these industries. The adoption of sustainable flexible packaging in the food and beverage industries is projected to grow at a 5% compound annual growth rate in the coming years.

The appeal of flexible packaging also extends to the personal care industry, which has traditionally relied on rigid packaging and plastic bottles. Flexible pouches and tubes provide a beginning-to-end sustainable alternative by minimizing packaging structures, decreasing product waste, and reducing transportation costs. Brands are increasingly adopting flexible packaging for personal care products like body wash, hair care products, and lotions because of their advantageous sustainability characteristics. Refillable spouted pouches offer a solution that helps reduce the number of containers going into landfills. Not only do these spouted pouches use up to 80% less plastic than comparable rigid plastic bottles, but they can replace as many as two to three bottles for each spouted pouch, and they can be made with post-consumer recycled (PCR) content, promoting circularity in the circular economy. Several leading brands are already embracing refillable spouted pouches, including Harry’s, Kiehl’s, Ouai, and Oribe.

Formats Evolve

Two sustainable packaging formats have been gaining prominence in recent years: packaging with PCR content and store drop-off recyclable flexible packaging. Both packaging types play an important role in the success of the other within the circular economy. First, PCR plastics are gaining momentum for various products in the food and personal care industries. PCR material is made from recycled plastics, which are broken down into small pellets and then used to create new packaging. This process helps decrease the production of virgin plastic, reduces waste, and conserves resources. As efforts to increase recycling rates for rigid and flexible plastics become more successful, a larger pool of recycled content will be available to help promote an increase in packaging that contains PCR content.

Second, store drop-off recyclable pouches and film offer a sustainable option for flexible packaging. Pouches and film that qualify for the store drop-off recyclable program can be conveniently dropped off at participating stores for recycling. Store drop-off recycling programs play a crucial role in educating and motivating consumers to recycle their flexible plastics, thus reducing the amount of plastic waste in our environment. As more flexible packaging types become recyclable, programs like store drop-off will help consumers adopt the mindset that flexible packaging is recyclable, with curbside recyclability as the ultimate goal.

Recyclable Tubes

Another emerging sustainable packaging format is recyclable tubes. Brands and suppliers such as Colgate, Tom’s of Maine, and Glenroy, Inc. have made significant commitments to sustainability by introducing recyclable tubes into their product portfolios. To achieve lasting success in the world of recyclable tubes, it is crucial to ensure their widespread availability and compliance with all recycling regulations set by the Association of Plastic Recyclers. This will result in increased industry engagement with waste management facilities. By actively supporting brands offering alternative flexible packaging options, such as Glenroy’s recyclable STANDCAP tube—a sustainable replacement for glass and plastic containers primarily used for condiments, dips, shampoos, creams, and gel products—consumers can make a difference. Glenroy estimates that if just one leading condiment manufacturer replaced only 10% of its ketchup bottles with recyclable STANDCAP, it would prevent 2.6 million pounds of plastic from being produced and landfilled each year, equivalent to the weight of approximately 28 Boeing 737-800 airliners.


Despite the numerous advantages of sustainable flexible packaging, challenges persist. The recycling infrastructure must be enhanced and expanded to accommodate the growing adoption of these materials. Educating consumers about the proper disposal and recycling of flexible packaging is also critical to ensure its long-term success. Many people are not aware of the different types of packaging materials and how to dispose of them properly. By educating consumers, they can be empowered to choose products that are packaged sustainably, creating a demand for eco-friendly packaging and driving innovation in the industry. Recycling practices differ by municipalities, and not all materials are accepted in all regions. It’s important for consumers to check with their local community programs and see what options are available.

Consumers can further participate in waste reduction efforts by utilizing initiatives like TerraCycle® to recycle items that are not yet accepted by their local recycling facilities. One of TerraCycle’s most popular programs is its Zero Waste Box program, which offers a recycling solution for many different types of waste, including flexible plastic packaging. Once the box is filled, it can be shipped back to TerraCycle for recycling.

We now find ourselves at the intersection of flexible packaging and sustainability. The adoption of sustainable flexible packaging is transforming the packaging industry. With ongoing research, development, and collaboration among stakeholders, flexible packaging will continue to evolve as a sustainable solution for a diverse range of industries. It is crucial for governments, packaging manufacturers, brand owners, and consumers to work together at this intersection and embrace the path to a greener future by developing, implementing, and refining sustainable flexible packaging solutions.

Ken Brunnbauer is marketing manager at Glenroy, Inc.