The GlueTalk Blog

Sustainability in flexible packaging.

Beyond the Bin: Innovating End-of-Life Options for Packaging

Posted 09/06/2018 by Justine Hanlon, Market Manager

The world of flexible packaging is constantly evolving, bringing together materials with a wide array of properties and practical issues. Brand owners have recently expressed a greater interest in bio-based, or post-consumer, recycled plastics than traditional plastics, according to Packaging Digest’s 2017 Sustainable Packaging Study.

While flexible packaging has dramatically reduced material waste through the elimination of rigid containers like cans and glass, only recently have sustainability and end-of-life considerations been made by consumers, consumer product companies and packaging developers. Waste-to-energy facilities benefit from an influx of materials, but global raw material shortages and growing consumer demand for recyclable packaging have reframed the conversation. 

Sustainability and End-of-Life Considerations for Packaging

Discussions about sustainable packaging tend to focus on material consumption and use, such as increased bio-based materials and the energy consumption required to produce a package, while the interest and concern for end-of-life disposal focuses on recyclability, compostability and reusability. Packaging developers must take each into consideration in order to meet the needs of product manufacturers and consumers.

As part of its waste management strategy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has developed a Waste Management Hierarchy to show source reduction and reuse of materials as the most preferred waste management tool, followed by recycling and composting. Combustion with energy recovery is the next preferred waste management tool. Treatment and disposal, or landfilling, is the least preferred method.

The efficient and conscientious use of resources has become a significant consideration for companies throughout the packaging supply chain. Ignoring sustainability issues can have a negative impact on the way consumers perceive a brand, which can result in a loss at the bottom line.

Using existing materials more efficiently reduces processing costs and allows converters and manufacturers to use fewer resources while producing the same materials. This process utilization and optimization is where H.B. Fuller excels. Our application specialists and process engineers can optimize existing resources for the most efficient flexible packaging type and recommend adhesives with a high bio-renewable content that is compatible with existing equipment and substrates. 

Defining Bio-based, Biodegradable, Bioplastics and Compostable

New biodegradable, compostable and bio-based packaging material technologies have garnered a great deal of attention in flexible packaging. Unfortunately, the four key terms used to describe the materials – bio-based, biodegradable, bioplastics and compostable – are often interchanged, which causes confusion.

Below is the definition of each term for clarification. With the exception of bioplastics, there are ASTM tests and standards associated with each term.

Bio-based: organic material(s) in which the carbon comes from contemporary (non-fossil) biological sources (biomass). Claims focus on the percentage of an overall structure made from bio-based sources. H.B. Fuller is developing adhesives with significant bio-based content such as SF6400/XR1400, which uses nearly 40 percent bio-renewable content.

Biodegradable: a measurement of the capacity of microorganisms present in the disposal environment (composting, soil, anaerobic digesters, marine and landfill) to utilize the carbon product. Generic claims of biodegradability cannot be made unless substantiated by scientific data demonstrating 90 percent or more biodegradation within one year.

Bioplastics: a broad range of materials and products that are bio-based, biodegradable/compostable or both.

Compostable: a material capable of being broken down via an aerobic biological process. Materials that are compostable also are biodegradable, but biodegradable materials may not be compostable. Compostability depends on time defined, disintegration, regulated metal content and ability to pass phyto and eco toxicity requirements.


Making Strides in Sustainable Packaging

Kraft Heinz recently announced their plans to make 100 percent of their packaging recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025. This is part of the company’s broader aim to improve the sustainability of its supply chain. Kraft Heinz is not alone in its sustainability efforts. To further the end goal of global recyclable, reusable or compostable packaging, many companies are aggressively pursuing technical solutions and innovative collaboration. is raising public awareness in the United States to make plastic film packaging a commonly recycled material with a strong and ever-growing recycling rate through Wrap Recycling Action Program (WRAP).

Communities also are working together to make a positive impact. As more communities require food waste collection, the desire for certified compostable flexible packaging continues to grow. Composters accept compostable packaging, which allow consumers to place food waste and compostable packaging together. H.B. Fuller is developing an adhesive that will meet these compostability requirements.

At H.B. Fuller, we have seen positive results with compostable film-based products, as well as with all plastic packaging more amenable to traditional recycling. TC Transcontinental recently won the FPA Gold for Sustainability Award. The package was designed using certified compostable materials to support next level landfill waste diversion.

We also are mindful of the needs of end users, and are able to provide safe and reliable products to the market – enabling our customers to embrace the recycling of the future without sacrificing performance or safety.

We believe understanding, measuring and building upon our success in the social aspects of sustainability commitments, such as safety, ethics and philanthropy is just as important as maintaining a sustainable environmental impact.

Click here to learn more about our flexible packaging solutions.


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