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What is multi-material flexible packaging?

Multi-material flexible packaging is thin, lightweight packaging made of two or more inseparable layers of different materials, used to confer unique barrier and performance properties with minimal material. Multi-material flexible packaging is most commonly designed with layers of different plastics, and is used in a wide range of products including pet food bags, chip bags, and confectionary wrappers. It is anticipated to the fastest growing packaging format because of its cost and material savings.


Why isn’t multi-material flexible packaging recyclable?

Virtually all existing recycling solutions for plastic packaging are unable to accommodate the non-uniform and inconsistent makeup of multi-material flexible packaging.

The challenge is compounded by considerations surrounding collection, sorting, and aggregating multi-material flexible packaging. If multi-material flexible packaging is collected in a commingled system alongside other materials, then it must be sorted into its own stream. Sorting processes operate on a per-count basis and each individual piece of multi-material flexible packaging is of relatively low value compared to other types of packaging, since it takes an immense of individual pieces of multi-material flexible packaging to accumulate the volume needed for an effective marketplace. Finally, automated sorting facilities are generally unable to process any flexible packaging, as it can disrupt sorting equipment and contaminate paper recycling streams. There are existing robust initiatives aimed at solving the challenges around collection and sortation of flexible packaging, hence why the FlexPack Recovery Challenge focuses solely on the next step of the recovery sequence: reprocessing operations.


What’s the difference between multi-material flexible packaging and mono-material flexible packaging?

Mono-material flexible packaging is similar, but consists of one polymer only — most often polyethylene — and is common in applications including single-use plastic shopping bags, produce bags and zipper-top food storage bags. Most mono-material polyethylene flexible packaging is widely accepted across the U.S. in special recycling receptacles at grocery and retail stores, municipal recycling drop-off centers, and in a limited number of municipal curbside recycling programs. Unlike multi-material flexible packaging, there is an established, robust system of recycling for post-industrial, post-commercial, and post-consumer mono-material polyethylene flexible packaging.

Recovery solutions that solely address mono-material polyethylene flexible packaging should not be submitted as they are not included in the scope of the FlexPack Recovery Challenge. Recovery solutions that address a combined stream of both multi-material flexible packaging and mono-material flexible packaging, however, are in scope and should be submitted.


I have a packaging material and/or design innovation that increases the compatibility of multi-material flexible packaging with existing recovery processes. Should I enter?

Although upstream material and design innovations are of paramount importance, they are not included in the scope of the FlexPack Recovery Challenge. Challenge participants should only submit ideas related to new processes and technologies that can provide beneficial recovery for today’s stream of multi-material flexible packaging.


Who will see the information I submit?

All information provided in the initial round of submissions will be reviewed by Challenge Judges, Challenge Advisors, Sponsoring Partners and Innovation Partners. No submitted information will be made publicly visible or shared with other Challenge participants. Participants should exercise judgment when submitting confidential and/or sensitive intellectual property in their submission. Participants being considered as Finalists l might be requested to provide additional information related to specific technological, business, and/or financial considerations and may also request a non-disclosure agreement at this time and only Challenge Judges would see this information.


Can I request an NDA?

We ask that participants only submit information needed to evaluate their innovation. If confidential information is necessary to evaluate the innovation, either during the initial submission or after submission during the evaluation period, then participants may request to enter non-disclosure agreements (NDA).


Are my intellectual property rights safe? 

All information participants choose to submit to the Challenge remains their own IP and there are no requirements or conditions to transfer this knowledge to the SPC, Advisors, or other third parties. As stated in the Terms and Conditions, ‘each participant will retain intellectual property ownership—including rights, trademarks, service marks and/or logos—of all of his, her, or its Challenge submission ideas, including, but not limited to, methods, materials, technologies, and other know-how related to the Challenge criteria and technical overview.’ Any further steps between the participating entrepreneurs and companies involved would require a separate agreement between the companies individually.”


How will finalists be selected?

Finalists will be selected by Challenge Judges, with input from Challenge Advisors, Sponsoring Partners and Innovation Partners. Submissions will be assessed against:

  • Ability to process commingled multi-material flexible packaging with variable composition, including polyethylene, polyethylene terephthalate, aluminum, and other materials common to multi-material flexible packaging
  • Ability to create a beneficial output, assessed in terms of alignment with circular economy principles and sustainable materials management principles
  • Market scalability and economic viability, including the potential of the project’s business model and consideration of targeted or various end markets.

Maximum points will be awarded to innovations that perform well across multiple assessment categories. For more information, please see the Challenge scoring criteria on the main page of the website.

Before being selected, participants being considered as Finalists maybe asked to submit additional information to address technological, business, and/or financial considerations.


Who are the Sustainable Packaging Coalition and the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners?

The Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) is a membership-based collaborative led by an independent non-profit that believes in the power of industry to make packaging more sustainable. Using an objective, life-cycle based approach, the SPC works in a constructive atmosphere to provide thought leadership and bring SPC members together to strengthen and advance the business case for more sustainable packaging.

The Center for the Circular Economy brings together industry experts, brands, academic researchers, and entrepreneurs who are solving for today’s most pressing challenges in design and reuse, providing a collaboration center for innovators to commercialize products, services and technologies that are leading the transition from a linear take, make, waste economy to a restorative one in which materials are shared, re-used, and continuously cycled. The Center for the Circular Economy was launched by Closed Loop Partners, an organization investing in sustainable consumer goods, advanced recycling technologies and the development of the circular economy.


Who can I contact to learn more?

Email inquiries can be directed to spcinfo@greenblue.org. Please note that the Sustainable Packaging Coalition and the Center for the Circular Economy will not respond to participant phone inquiries due to the high volume of requests. Please thoroughly review the Challenge FAQ, Terms and Conditions, and other Challenge communications before submitting an inquiry to spcinfo@greenblue.org

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