Implementing sustainable packaging is a journey, but it doesn’t have to be a difficult one. Flexible packaging has a great opportunity to expand its footprint by simplifying the packaging transformation into attainable steps and by offering leadership and direction throughout the process.
Brand owners of all sizes and product types are looking for partners to guide them toward more sustainable packaging. Let’s advocate for the environmental benefits of flexible packaging and present it as the solution the industry needs. Let’s make our pitch appealing, even fun.
Packaging suppliers should encourage brands to look at where the driving forces of media attention, consumer demand, and government regulation are focused. By surveying the current landscape of sustainable packaging, we can help customers zero in on the goals that are most relevant to their organization.
For example, at Liquibox, we learned that major consumer packaged goods (CPGs) companies aim for recyclable packaging and a reduction in total packaging use. This step helps us understand what customers are looking for and determine if our packaging company will be able to help them achieve their goals.
Once our customer has set objectives, we can walk through the available packaging types. This is where we can discuss the pros and cons of formats such as PET bottles, aluminum cans, composite cartons, multi-material flexible packaging, and mono-material flexible packaging. There are endless ways to compare packaging, but we typically break it into sustainability requirements such as CO₂ emissions, water consumption, the weight of packaging, and recyclability, as well as performance requirements including the strength to withstand supply chain impacts and barrier protection.
Presenting all the evidence, packaging professionals can advise customers on how flexible packaging—especially mono-material options—can benefit their business and serve as the vehicle to reach their goals. In fact, the Flexible Packaging Association has great case studies to support these conversations with customers and illustrate the full environ-mental impact of packaging.
The next stage involves partnering with customers to find the best solution and then completing the transition. Beginning with the incumbent packaging type used by the customer, packaging suppliers should set a path to shift to the chosen packaging design and reach the brand’s goal. Depending on the starting point, the technology available, and the desired level of investment, this may take several steps. For example, if the products are currently packaged in rigid containers, switching to standard multi-material flexible packaging will already bring a significant reduction in plastic consumption.
To continue moving forward, we can promote the shift to mono-material flexible packaging and ensure that all components are compatible with existing recycling streams. Further packaging optimization could include reducing unnecessary secondary and tertiary packaging for e-commerce applications. Each customer will have a unique journey. The key as their packaging partner is to streamline this transition.
Foundationally, we can offer information and resources for brands to educate consumers on how to handle the packaging at the end of use so that recyclable packaging reaches its full potential and can be reprocessed into new products. Additionally, we can affirm the value of flexible packaging by encouraging brands to promote their commitment to sustainability. We have seen numerous Liquibox customers who have gained positive publicity and strengthened their brand loyalty by using marketing campaigns and social media to tell their sustainability stories.
As leaders in the packaging industry, we should keep customers updated on the newest trends and innovations in flexible packaging and look for opportunities to continue improving their packaging. For instance, upcoming trends we are monitoring for customers include increased sustainability awareness from consumers, improved recycling infrastructure, and increased legislation.
The big takeaway is that the conversion from not-in-kind packaging to flexible packaging is accessible and beneficial for any brand or product application. With industry-wide effort, we can elevate flexible packaging to be the obvious, sustainable choice for customers.
Alexis Swanson is the global sustainability and communications manager at Richmond, Virginia-based Liquibox.