Chicago — “Just being in a flexible package is already a more sustainable option than a rigid plastic, corrugated, glass or steel package,” Daniel Staker, executive vice-president of sales strategy at PPC Flexible Packaging told attendees at the Sweets & Snacks Expo.
At a session titled Sustainable Packaging – Trends, Drivers and Solutions, Staker pointed out the numerous drivers behind the push for sustainable packaging as the need for solutions increases.
“Since 2020, we’ve seen some key shifts in consumer sentiments towards quality, convenience and environmental impact,” he said. “Compostable and plant-based packaging is now viewed as the most sustainable substrate with appearance being less important.”
He added that consumers agree that sustainability is the responsibility of the company but many are still willing to pay more for more sustainable options.
Overall, consumers feel environmental impact is important when making purchasing decisions, with 73 percent willing to change their purchasing habits to improve the environment and 61 percent saying they are likely to switch to a brand that is more environmentally friendly, he noted.
According to Staker, 123 CPGs in total have now committed to making 100 percent of their plastic packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. Many CPGs and retailers have also committed to an average of 22 percent recycled content in plastic packaging by 2025.
In the U.S., California continues to lead the way in terms of sustainable packaging, according to Staker. By 2032, 100 percent of packaging in the state must be either recyclable or compostable and at least 65 percent of all packaging must be recyclable.
One pathway to building circularity for plastics that are not eliminated is compostable packaging.
Compostable packaging helps divert food waste out of landfills and into compost bins, reduces food scrap contamination of recyclable materials and acts as a replacement for non-recyclable packaging, Staker said.
However, while consumer interest is on the rise, infrastructure is not. Only 15.8 percent of verified composting facilities in the U.S. accept compostable packaging. The authorities in the sustainability efforts do not consider residential/at-home composting a viable or reliable alternative due to wide inconsistencies.
“One of the biggest problems surrounding compostable plastic is the problem of cross-contamination,” Staker said. “Products are recycled in material recovery facilities, which use optical technology to view and sort waste. If compostables enter the recycling stream, they can contaminate the batch and make it impossible to process.”
He added that only 10 percent of the top U.S. cities have municipal curbside composting programs and 16 percent of cities have food waste-only compostable programs.
“Consumers are more aware and concerned about sustainability issues but the regulatory environment is complex and industry mandates are unclear,” Staker said. “Brands are struggling to develop clear goals and find it challenging on how to get started.”
There are four widely recognized challenges in the development of sustainable packaging solutions, Staker pointed out. Price premiums, appearance differences, testing limitations and performance abilities should all be taken into consideration when developing sustainable packaging.
Only 9 percent of global plastics are being recycled and a full 20 percent of plastics are considered “leakage,” meaning they end up in unintended places outside of landfills.
Current challenges in the supply chain could also create complexities for program adoption, Staker revealed. The availability of certain components generates concern related to continuity of supply: post consumer recycled content could be strained and in short supply if every brand and retailer converted at once.
Some of the best practices to consider when developing sustainability goals outside of packaging include staying educated on technology developments, advocating for sustainability programs and facilities through local efforts and legislation, and supporting consumer education of what is and what is not recyclable. C&ST