When it comes to selling and marketing flexible packaging, the efforts must include showing end consumers and policymakers the benefits, as well, several experts point out.
To that end, Alana Carr, inside sales and marketing manager at Hosokawa Alpine American, produced an infographic-packed slideshow on the economic, ecological, and environmental life cycle advantages of flexible packaging that is posted on the Alpine American homepage.
“It’s so important to tell that story, and no one else is going to do it for us, especially from a legislative perspective,” Carr says. Education, she believes, starts with children because getting them excited and knowledgeable about all the benefits of flexible packaging and how easy it is to recycle turns into a family effort.
The Flexible Packaging Association (FPA) has implemented numerous social media and other educational efforts that target the various stakeholders, including children in schools and policymakers in statehouses and on Capitol Hill.
Fredy Steng, director of sales, strategic accounts, at Berry Global Group, agrees that people need to be reminded of the advantages of flexible packaging, including basic instructions on how to handle their everyday items. “The real answer is educating the public to return plastic bags to the supermarket so they can be recycled,” he says as an example.
Education also means staying engaged in organizations such as FPA and AMERIPEN, says Dan Felton, executive director of AMERIPEN—the American Institute for Packaging and the Environment. Such groups help packaging manufacturers maintain a voice in legislative and regulatory developments while fostering industry dialogue and awareness.
“It’s a good time for people who want to protect their sales and marketing efforts to get involved at whatever level they are able, even if it’s just monitoring and being aware of what’s going on,” Felton says. “There’s still plenty of opportunity to influence outcomes. We thought we had a busy year in 2022 in terms of proposals, but I’m pretty sure 2023 is going to be even busier.”
A new AMERIPEN-PMMI study on recycling trends in packaging is designed to build connections and spark dialogue among front-end manufacturers and brand owners with those handling materials at the end of life. The report also addresses policy and funding considerations for practical steps to bridge the gaps, Felton says.
Constructive conversations, he adds, are helping sales and marketing departments develop clear messaging that justifies and promotes sustainability investments.
While plastics packaging is living through an age of pushback, the clear benefits are driven in part by its life cycle benefits when compared with other packaging materials, observers say. A science-based life cycle analysis will routinely show the advantage of flexible packaging based on the fewer resources it uses during its life cycle. “Look at life cycle analysis and the value of that packaging,” Felton says. “What we’re seeing is that plastics are going to continue to be strongly desired.”
One clear issue is that policymakers increasingly are making decisions about what directions to go, Felton adds. “Policymakers are making these decisions for you,” Felton says. “Whether or not packaging has recycled content, or it might be reusable, those are all trends we’re paying attention to because others are paying attention to it, too.”
AMERIPEN sees strong interest in compostable packaging, but “the devil is in the details in terms of understanding what’s behind a commitment to continue to use plastics,” Felton says.
When converters and brand owners make their purchasing decisions, they are weighing what goes into their packaging, how they advertise it, and how that packaging gets collected and processed at the end of life.
Reuse is also in the exploration stage, driven in part by the advent of a California law requiring that single-use packaging be reusable, compostable, or recyclable, Felton says. Walmart is pilot testing refills, but once again, infrastructure needs to catch up with policy proposals, he notes.
“Reuse is not really scalable yet in the U.S.,” Felton says. “I’d say stay tuned on that one, but a lot of companies are looking at it.”
M. Diane McCormick is a freelance writer and editor based in York, Pennsylvania.