Executive Director, Flexible Packaging Europe (FPE)
Evidence exists that flexible packaging can help the circular economy challenge and contribute to a more resource efficient Europe.
Often seen as the villain of circularity, flexible packaging is demonstrating its efficacy in achieving a more circular and resource efficient economy.
The sustainability vision
Flexible Packaging Europe (FPE) has gone beyond scientific research by uniting its members behind a vision on sustainability. This reinforces the industry’s commitment to a common position on circular economy and the need to play a positive role in mitigating climate change.
The Sustainability Vision is targeted at both the industry itself, to offer guidance, as well as other stakeholders, including customers, retailers, legislators, and NGOs. It explains the intrinsic environmental and social benefits of flexible packaging plus industry efforts to further contribute to a sustainable Europe by setting goals:
• Designing flexible packaging for full effectiveness and minimum environmental footprint.
• Circularity for flexible packaging.
• Zero tolerance of leakage and littering into the environment.
• Speeding up progress with cooperation.
By using a life cycle assessment approach, the study shows that such a theoretical substitution would decrease total global warming potential of the same FMCG primary packaging by 33%.
Researching flexible packaging
The vision is backed up by some solid research. FPE commissioned a study by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IFEU), which was updated and extended in 2019. They showed clearly that flexible packaging is a more effective route to resource efficiency and reducing carbon footprint as opposed to using rigid packaging formats or focusing entirely on recycling.
The study uses a scenario in which all non-flexible packaging (so, rigid packaging) for non-beverage fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) are substituted by flexible packaging. At the EU28 level, results show the amount of primary packaging waste could be reduced by 21 million tonnes per year, a 70% reduction, highlighting the huge packaging waste prevention potential of flexible packaging.
Even more striking are the consequences on the environment. By using a life cycle assessment approach the study shows that such a theoretical substitution would decrease total global warming potential of the same FMCG primary packaging by 33%, even if it is assumed for the purpose of the exercise that zero recycling of flexible packaging would occur.
Enormous strides are being made in the ability to recycle flexible packaging into high grade reusable stock, including the ability to separate and recycle laminate materials. There is every reason to believe that flexible packaging is part of the solution, not the problem.