Flexible packaging

Flexible packaging – perception and reality

At present, plastic packaging is almost exclusively perceived as a worldwide waste problem hiding its core functionality. And in truth with regards to its end-of-life: the gaps should continue to be closed, including in Europe, but above all in the main polluter countries of Asia.

The much-discussed ‘recycling-friendly design’ as a single solution falls well short of reality, because without collection no recycling can take place. That’s why Flexible Packaging Europe (FPE) has initiated the ‘Collect All Packaging’ initiative in Europe, which has now gained widespread support in Brussels, as well as establishing ‘CEFLEX’.

In the latter, more than one hundred companies along the entire value chain – from the producer of raw materials to branded goods – have come together to further close the material cycles for flexible packaging and so expand, even more, their contribution to resource-efficient sustainable consumption.

Because it is all about minimizing material losses. Here is a comparison of recycling rates without considering the ‘lightness’ of the packaging, which is often too short-sighted: a 80% recycling rate of a heavy packaging material means 20% material loss – which can be more in absolute value than the overall quantity of material used for an alternative lightweight pack regardless of its recycling rate.

The basic concept of flexible packaging is to minimize use of different materials to achieve maximum performance in total. The resulting ‘lightweight packaging’ will also serve protect the important resources needed to produce food, with only very limited resource consumption (on average, flexible packaging representing less than 10% of the overall use of resources for a food product throughout its lifecycle).
Almost a third of the food produced worldwide spoils and never reaches the consumer’s plate, both in developing and industrialized countries, albeit for different reasons. This resource loss corresponds to the acreage of a country larger than China – and adds up to be the third-largest carbon producer worldwide, behind the USA and China.

The fact remains: a plastic film around a cucumber initially increases, for example, the carbon cost of producing the packaging. But in retail the loss of cucumbers is reduced by half, according to a study from Austria, which leads to significant overall carbon savings.

Perceptions often neglect that sustained population growth, combined with ever-increasing life expectancy and high hygiene standards in respect to the provision of food, beverages and medicines, cannot be represented without resource-efficient packaging solutions.

The overriding task remains the resource-efficient supply, to a growing world population with constantly increasing life expectancy, of safe and hygienic foodstuffs. This must be combined with the minimization of material losses – through the reduction of the materials used, as well as through collection and recycling. Lightweight and flexible packaging are all part of a resource-efficient solution.

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Senior Executive Advisor,
Flexible Packaging Europe (FPE)

Stefan Glimm is an economist with over 30 years of work experience in national, European and global organizations. He has worked at organisations on national, European, global level (UNEP). He is into market analysis, communication, sustainability (LCA, recycling, legislation,etc).

Currently, he is the Senior Executive Adviser of the European Aluminium Foil Association (EAFA), Advisory Board of Interpack Alliance, Director General, Alufoil; Co-initiator, Ceflex- Circular Economy for Flexible Packaging; On the Board and Co-founder of the Save Food Initiative and Chairman, Advisory Board of Action Medeor.

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