August 13, 2020
The Sustainable Packaging Coalition’s Multi-Material Flexible Recovery (MMFR) Collaborative has a new and improved website summarizing their findings on recovery solutions for multi-material flexible packaging, with feedstock recycling identified as a key innovation.
The SPC’s Multi-Material Flexible Recovery (MMFR) Collaborative’s mission is to provide resources for companies who want to learn more about multi-material flexible packaging recovery and define key actions to increase multi-material flexible packaging recovery, keep it out of the environment, and enable it to be part of the circular economy. To that end, this group has been evaluating all recovery options for multi-material flexible packaging (MMFP) by reviewing global efforts to advance recovery options, developing knowledge, and creating new resources.
This new website serves as a resource for industry, policymakers, and other interested stakeholders who share the Collaborative’s mission to increase multi-material flexible packaging recovery and by extension, all flexible packaging.
The site includes several sections providing a robust overview of the challenge and emerging solutions: 1) An Overview of Multi-Material Flexible Packaging (MMFP) , 2) Mapping Challenges for MMFP Across the Recovery System, 3) Exploring Initiatives to Increase MMFP Recovery, 4) Our Projects, 5) Our Findings, and 6) Shaping the Future of Multi-material Flexible Packaging Recovery.
While flexible packaging has many performance and environmental benefits such as less energy and resource use compared to rigid packaging, multi-material flexible packaging encounters challenges at all levels of the recovery system from design, collection, sortation, processing, and end markets.
In general, end market pull is a critical driver in enabling materials to be recovered. This is especially important when there is a lack of policy that shapes recovery system dynamics. Once cost-effective processing solutions and viable end markets are established, materials will gain acceptance into public collection systems and other infrastructure investments will follow.
The group’s findings come from reviewing existing initiatives as well as their own projects mapping reprocessing technologies and the FlexPack Recovery Challenge and suggest that there is a possible future for the recovery of multi-material flexible packaging through some mechanical and chemical recycling processes, as well as composting and innovative new reuse models. However, all of these options require significantly more investment, research, and innovation to scale.
MMFP can fit into the circular economy through an inner loop of reuse of the package, a middle loop of polymer recycling, an outer-middle loop of feedstock recycling, and an outer loop of composting, which brings the materials back to the raw elements of nature, and feedstock recovery, which displaces virgin resources used as fuels (see website section on Processing and End Markets – “Clarifying Terms” to read more about these terms). All of these represent recovery opportunities for MMFP.
An important takeaway is that products and packaging do not need to be put back into exactly the same products they came from. In fact, a variety of diverse end markets is desirable from an economic perspective to scale up recovery incentives for these materials. Long term viability of these different recovery options will be dependent upon the development of viable end markets.
Feedstock recycling technologies are likely going to be necessary to address recovery/recycling of multilayer flexible packaging by expanding possibilities for end markets. The website provides an overview of the benefits and considerations for this emerging set of technologies. There is a hierarchy of preference for these technologies based on environmental footprint and end products. Feedstock-to-plastics (feedstock recycling) are preferred to fuel outputs; however, there is still a place for non-plastic feedstocks to bridge the gap for flexible packaging recovery. End market demand is needed to divert these products to higher uses.
This group will continue to track and explore ways to support the development of new recovery technologies, in addition to exploring design innovations and other recovery solutions for multi-material flexible packaging.