Danis J. Roy of Davis-Standard, LLC, looks to the future and sees that the flexible packaging industry has a lot of work to do to overcome negative public perceptions, which primarily surround the difficult decisions involving circularity and recyclability.
“We, as an industry, need to continuously demonstrate progressive and cohesive stewardship,” says Roy, Davis-Standard’s vice president of sales, films and flexible packaging. “We must relentlessly pursue measurable positive results in achieving tangible source reduction and responsible end-of-life management of packaging materials.”
This year, Davis-Standard is among 28 Flexible Packaging Association (FPA) member companies that are celebrating anniversaries in the trade organization in increments of five years. In recent interviews, some company managers offered insights into the state of the industry and what needs to be done to ensure its vitality, with several of them offering tips on how FPA and the industry can do better.
For example, Roy also thinks that industry leaders and the FPA, through its diverse membership, can ensure a viable future through ongoing public relations efforts that spread the industry’s “proactive and positive message.”
“The FPA community is well-represented at many levels in the supply chain, from raw materials to finished products,” Roy adds. “This positions us well to reach a vast audience from several different market perspectives. We also need to influence the political arena through lobbying and education in order to pursue common-sense measures that benefit consumers, the industry, and the environment.”
Education and Advocacy
Kurt Hatella, executive vice president of the laser equipment division at Preco, Inc., agrees that education must continue while the industry faces long-term challenges with creating packaging that has more recyclable or biodegradable films.
“I think the FPA and the plastics industry as a whole should be involved in creating a system to reuse/recycle all plastics including flexible/rigid,” Hatella says. Preco, which is based in Lenexa, Kansas, has been a member of FPA for 15 years and was a pioneer in the use of industrial lasers to modify and enhance flexible packaging materials.
FPA efforts encouraging a circular economy have been underway for years, especially when calling for a national recycling plan that would include flexible packaging. Some of those efforts have started to culminate in 2021. FPA and industry observers have been keenly monitoring how federal elected officials handle the various infrastructure proposals being discussed in Congress. In her letter to members on page 4 of this edition, FPA President and CEO Alison Keane points out that the organization has supported the bipartisan infrastructure bill that focuses primarily on brick-and-mortar type projects.
“The overall package included funding for recycling through a former stand-alone bill, the RECYCLE Act,” Keane writes. “… FPA believes this can be the starting point for harmonization of the more than 10,000 residential recycling programs across the U.S.”
A lot of work still needs to be done to ensure recycling measures remain in the bill—and that the details solve long-term recyclability issues that include flexible packaging and input from industries, observ-ers note. As Keane points out, a comprehensive plan would eliminate the need for often-conflicting state-by-state regulations.
Roy suggests that a regionalized approach with federal guidance provides a good strategy to improve existing systems on the local, state, regional, and national levels. “As they say, ‘it takes an army,’” Roy adds. “And we all should bear the responsibility. We encourage all contributors to the efforts of building a sustainable recycling infrastructure.”
Consumer packaged goods (CPGs) companies and converters have been pushing sustainability further by committing to sustainability goals for 2025 and beyond, points out Alexandra Jaranilla, director of marketing for RKW North America, Inc., which has been a member of FPA for 10 years. But costs can be high for alternative materials and consumers might not be willing to pay a premium.
“Related to this, there are still huge investments in infrastructure required to ensure the availability of sustainable materials, as well as recycling streams,” Jaranilla says. “I think that the federal government would need to play an important role to revamp the recycling system in the United States.”
She and others point out that the federal role should involve further data collection to inform standardization decisions and developing standards and definitions nationwide that would provide clear guidance to states and municipalities, while also providing financial support through infrastructure investments, tax credits, and grants.
“Government agencies should at least be promoting awareness of resources for implementing a recycling system,” says Anoosheh Oskouian, CEO of Ship & Shore Environmental, Inc., which develops clean air solutions for clients. She also suggests that consumers increasingly will demand change.
“Each day we are being taught to ‘vote with our dollars,’” says Oskouian, whose company has been a FPA member for five years. “And spending your money on products and companies that are environmentally conscious is becoming the new norm.”
As far as other issues, Jaranilla says the industry has been seeing rising costs this year, not only for raw materials, but also in freight, as well as labor. And the diversity
of FPA’s membership keeps numerous matters front and center because of the varied interests of different companies. FPA has 180 members: 58 converters; 22 academic; eight in the trade press; six international; and 86 associate members. CleanPlanet Chemical, Inc., which is based in Austin, Texas, started around the premise that solvent recycling had not evolved in the last 30-plus years and that the current solutions were not meeting the needs of the market, says Alex Richert, CEO of the company.
“We joined FPA to connect more deeply with the flexible packaging industry—to meet the key players, learn about the needs and concerns, keep track of important trends, etc.,” Richert says about CleanPlanet, which has been an FPA member for five years.
Davis-Standard, which has been a member of FPA for 15 years, also joined the organization to become more involved in the flexible packaging community and to let others know about its products, Roy says. The company, which is based in Pawcatuck, Connecticut, is one of the largest equipment suppliers for flexible packaging applications.
Connections, such as networking, are one of four main pillars of FPA’s mission. (The other pillars are protection of the industry through advocacy and other efforts, promotion, and information, such as the reports that FPA produces on industry trends.)
“Being part of FPA has helped us better understand the needs and challenges of the industry while building relationships with other stakeholders,” Roy says. “Through R&D, we can play an active role in innovating and developing solutions for a continually evolving and vital flexible packaging marketplace.”
The networking capabilities have a similar appeal for other members, such as Preco and Bobst North America Inc. Because Preco can add value to flexible films with its laser technology, the company joined FPA 15 years ago to let other stakeholders know what it had to offer, Hatella says.
Bobst North America joined FPA 20 years ago to “collaborate and communicate” with industry colleagues, says Katie Graham, regional marketing and communications manager of the Parsippany, New Jersey-based firm. The company is a supplier of substrate processing, printing, and converting equipment and services the label, flexible packaging, folding carton, and corrugated board industries.
“Bobst believes in supporting and giving back to the industry through education, and FPA offers a wonderful outlet for that,” Graham says of the company founded in 1890 in Switzerland. “Our industry is thriving, and that is due in large part to organizations like FPA pulling all of us together.”
Others point out that the sharing of information remains critical. “It is great to continue to focus on presentations and data. Market information helps to benchmark, recognize trends and opportunities, and to get updated information about sustainability topics,” Jaranilla says. She suggests the FPA should consider creating an advisory council of FPA members, recyclers, and environmental leaders.
Richert suggests the regulatory environment and the consumer push for sustainability will remain the biggest challenges facing the industry. “Plastic packaging has an unwarranted bull’s-eye on its back,” Richert says. “It seems to be a matter of the narrative, as flexible packaging makes a tremendously positive contribution. It’s really unfortunate, however, that the train may have already left the station. FPA should continue to project its positive messaging to any and all. But again, it may be too late, so FPA and the industry at large need to make sure that it is seen as part of the solution. This needs to be proactive rather than reactive.”
Despite such challenges, leaders note, the industry overall has a great story to tell. “In reality, there are many benefits to flexible packaging that promote better health, greater convenience, and food safety,” Roy says. “We are also working as an industry to develop biodegradable plastics and promote recycling practices whenever possible. However, we need to do a better job educating the public about the benefits of our products to influence perception and change the dialogue.”
Thomas A. Barstow is senior editor for FlexPack VOICE®.
SIDEBAR: Celebrating Milestones
28 companies celebrate anniversaries with the Flexible Packaging Association in 2021.
5 YEARS: 2016
Advanced Web Technologies
– Illinois, Inc. (AWT)
CleanPlanet Chemical, Inc.
Hart Flex Pack
Kendall Packaging Corporation PolyExpert Inc.
Ship & Shore Environmental, Inc. Toppan USA, Inc.
Toyo Ink America, LLC
Zacros America, Inc.
10 YEARS: 2011
Chevron Phillips Chemical Company LP EFI
Emerald Packaging, Inc. LyondellBasell
Plastic Packaging Technologies, LLC
RKW North America, Inc.
15 YEARS: 2006
Siegwerk USA Inc.
20 YEARS: 2001
Bobst North America, Inc.
Hosokawa Alpine American, Inc. ISOFlex Packaging
25 YEARS: 1996
Plastic Suppliers, Inc.
Sealed Air Corporation
30 YEARS: 1991
AMGRAPH Packaging, Inc.