Can the flexible packaging industry achieve a circular economy? Mica weighs in.

11/14/2019

Mica team members attended Pack Expo, the AIMCAL R2R Conference, and the K Trade Fair recently to learn more about current trends and technological advances in our industry. The common thread that seemed to be tightly woven into all three of these events was the idea of creating a circular economy.  The fascinating fact of the matter, though, is that there seem to be varying perspectives and ideas for how to actually achieve that goal.  Below are our team members' opinions about three of the most common approaches and tactics observed at these events that are meant to help minimize and eventually eliminate post-consumer waste.

Recyclability vs. Reusability
Ambitious sustainability initiatives put in place by leading brand owners, retailers, and packaging companies have promised to achieve 100% compostable, recyclable, or reusable packaging by the year 2025. Discussions at the AIMCAL R2R Conference in Myrtle Beach, SC October 6-9, revealed that recyclability goals for flexible packaging are harder to attain than originally anticipated. Instead of focusing solely on recyclability, brand owners are beginning to shift their focus to how they can recover and repurpose post-consumer packaging waste. Some of the potential repurposing applications mentioned at the conference were using packaging waste to produce plastic pallets and to resurface roads. 

Our take on this trend: "Consumers have grown accustomed to individually portioned and convenience packaging, so going back to creating bulk packaging and packaging with shorter shelf-lives that can be recycled is not likely to happen, therefore finding ways to repurpose packaging waste makes the most sense.  I can imagine flexible packaging waste being used to rebuild our infrastructure in roads and bridges, and possibly even for building new homes." -Darrell Landry, Technical Sales Representative

The Rise of Mono-materials  
Multi-layer packages are becoming a concern to consumers because, in most areas of the world, they cannot be easily recycled. It is becoming a common thought that packages made with only one material will be able to be recycled, and will, therefore, reduce environmental impact. 

Our take on this trend: "While mono-material packages may seem to be a good solution for minimizing waste, they are by no means a one-size-fits-all solution. Using only one material will likely provide fewer barrier properties than a multi-layer structure, which jeopardizes the overall integrity of the package and the contents inside. In order to keep the contents of a mono-material package safe and fresh, there will need to be several layers of the material, which means a heavier or bulkier finished package. So, yes, the package will be 100% recyclable, but because of its mass, it could end up causing an equal or worse overall impact on the environment." -Jessica Spadaccino, Communications Manager 

Packages Made from Bio-based Materials  
Many industry professionals are looking to replace traditional substrates and extrudates in packaging with bio-based materials to solve the waste management problem. Polylactic Acid (PLA), Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA), and Polybutylene Succinate (PBS) are among the common bio-based materials converters are experimenting with to create compostable structures. 

Our take on this trend: "The challenge most converters are having with creating bio-based packages is that while the bio-based films are compostable, some of the other components used to make the packages, such as inks and coatings, are not. That means that even though the structure appears to completely degrade to the naked eye, there are actually microplastics left behind that are negatively impacting our ecosystem. Once the industry can figure out how to create fully compostable structures, we believe this is not only a viable solution to tackle the waste management dilemma, but one that could actually help achieve a circular economy." - Jeff Siegel, President

What are your thoughts about the idea of a circular economy? Is it attainable? How is your company approaching sustainability initiatives? We would love to hear your thoughts. Send us an email to continue the conversation.  

About Mica Corporation:

Mica Corporation manufactures and supplies water-based, environmentally responsible products that offer adhesion or other properties to plastic, metal, and paper surfaces in continuous web applications.

Media Contact:

Jessica Spadaccino

Communications Manager

Mica Corporation

203-922-8888

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