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Recycling, Packaging, and the Environment

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  • Recycling, Packaging, and the Environment
16 Jun 2021

Consumer brands are interested in raising awareness about good recycling habits. Many brands tout their products as being “Eco-Friendly.” To that end, brands are looking for environmentally friendly packaging. But what exactly is an environmentally friendly package? To better understand recycling, packaging, and the environment, let’s look at a local area recycling program. 

Here in Orange County, Florida, recycling is required. At our homes, like in many cities and counties across the country, we have designated roll carts in which we place our recyclable materials. The goal is to reduce the amount of trash in landfills. The county also wants to help raise awareness about good recycling habits. The Orange County Utilities Solid Waste Division encourages residents to “Think 5” by focusing on the top five recyclable items—plastic, metal, and glass containers, as well as cardboard and paper.


What Can and Cannot Be Recycled?

The first items listed as recyclable by the Orange County Utilities Solid Waste Division are plastics. These include plastic bottles, jugs, and tubs. For individuals in the packaging industry, we know these as PET (Polyethylene terephthalate) or HDPE (High-density polyethylene) containers. These are identified by the “chasing arrows” symbol we see on plastic materials. PET is identified as a #1 plastic, and HDPE is a #2 plastic. These plastic containers can be placed in the recycle roll cart. Does this mean all #1 and #2 plastics are recyclable?

Just because a piece of plastic has a #1 or #2 imprint does not mean it can be placed in the cart. Shrink wrap can be made from PET, and plastic shopping bags can be made from HDPE, yet these cannot be placed in the recycling cart. The same holds for other recyclable materials.

Metal containers, like food and beverage cans, can be recycled, but metal cooking pots cannot. Glass bottles can be recycled, but a drinking glass cannot. Cardboard boxes can be recycled, but a soiled cardboard pizza box cannot. You can put office paper, cereal boxes, and shoeboxes in the recycle bin, but not paper cups or shredded paper. And never put your recyclable materials into a plastic bag. Plastic bags get clogged in the recycling machines and render the entire lot unusable.


Environmentally Friendly Packaging

When creating environmentally friendly packaging, recyclability is just the beginning. Brands must also consider source reduction, water conservation, and greenhouse gas emissions, along with fossil fuel consumption. It must be understood that during the manufacturing process, some packaging can be more energy-efficient than others. And, when a package has served its purpose, some packaging can be recycled while others can take less room in a landfill. Thus, when it comes to the environment, brands must decide what they mean when they ask for environmentally responsible packaging for use with their products. A Life Cycle Assessment can help in understanding the impact of various packaging materials on the environment.


Flexible Packaging and the Environment

When it comes to packaging, brands should have the ability to choose the product that best meets their needs. While ridged packaging materials like plastic canisters, metal cans, and glass containers can all be recycled, how does their environmental impact rank overall compared to newer packaging options like flexible packaging?

Flexible packages are available in stand-up pouches and bags, stick packs, and sachets and packets. Some flexible packages have convenient features such as handles, resealable zippers and sliders, and pour spouts, improving the consumer’s experience. Flexible packaging pouches are ideal for packaging products in various markets such as food and beverage, pharmaceutical and medical, personal care, and household products.

Flexible packaging has a less negative impact on the environment because it generally uses less material for production, generates less CO2 during transportation and takes up less space in the landfill. Depending on the product, there are additional benefits from using flexible packaging. A review of a Life Cycle Assessment study for coffee packaging will demonstrate these benefits.

For this coffee packaging study, researchers compared a flexible stand-up pouch, an HDPE canister, and a steel can. They looked at water consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and fossil fuel consumption for each product.

  • Water Consumption

The HDPE plastic canister consumed 2x as much water as the flexible stand-up pouch due to water usage during the injection molding process.

The steel can used 16x as much water as the flexible stand-up pouch, mainly during the material development stage, as large amounts of water are used during the cooling process.

  • Greenhouse Gas Emissions

HDPE canisters and steel cans require much more energy and have higher carbon emissions in the manufacturing or conversion stage. The carbon impact is lower for a lighter stand-up flexible pouch that holds more of the product and uses less material. 

The HDPE plastic canister emitted 4x more greenhouse gas emissions than the flexible pouch.

The steel can emitted 7x more greenhouse gas emissions than the flexible pouch.

  • Fossil Fuel Consumption

The HDPE plastic canister uses 518% more fossil fuel than the flexible pouch.

The steel can uses 453% more fossil fuel than the flexible pouch.



Results from a Life Cycle Assessment on Flexible Packaging

A brand owner looking for the best environmental packaging choice for their coffee may consider a plastic canister or steel can because they are recyclable, yet, as we’ve seen, when considering the life cycle of these packaging options, the best choice in this situation is flexible packaging.


Flexible Packaging Options

In addition to considering the life cycle of a product, environmentally conscious brands need to be aware of the options available with flexible packaging. Depending on the product, there are flexible packaging options that are recyclable or compostable. To evaluate these options, brands need to understand what is meant by Recyclable, Biodegradable, Compostable, Non-Toxic, and other “Eco-friendly” terms. We will discuss these terms and their relationship to flexible packaging in our next blog.

Contact us today to request a quote or call us 407-734-7444 to learn more about our environmentally friendly packaging!


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