Use of flexible plastic packaging (FPP) has been increasing in response to environmental demands for lighter packaging that produces less waste. However, while all plastic is recyclable, FPP recycling can be more challenging because FPP products generally contain a number of types of plastic within just one piece of film. To ensure that food products like produce and meat stay fresh and protected, FPP requires numerous layers of different plastic materials. As demand for FPP rises within a variety of markets, industry is already working to ensure that no piece of plastic packaging ends up in the environment and that all plastics produced, are recycled.
The global flexible plastic packaging industry is expected to grow at a rate of 4.5% per year in the next five years, growing from $160.8 billion in 2020 to $200.5 billion by 2025. In Canada, flexible plastic packaging is the largest segment of packaging materials, valued at nearly $6 billion. Demand for FPP is growing, especially in North America, because plastic polymers produce stronger, lighter, more affordable, and more versatile materials compared to alternatives used in the food, beverage, and medical spaces.
Industry is innovating to ensure that changing market demands are met. For example, grocery stores around the country have installed drop-off recycling bins where consumers can bring flexible plastic packaging that will be recycled and reused.
Another innovation is Dow’s creation of a special additive for plastic packaging products called RETAIN™, which helps different plastic packaging layers break down evenly. This makes plastic pouches and packaging more easily recyclable, significantly supporting sustainable innovation in the food, beverage, and medical industries. Dow’s sustainable packaging solutions segment, Pack Studios, is also working to create a collaborative space for consumer brand companies to design new products that use less material and are more easily recycled and reused.
These advancements only further enhance plastics’ environmental value. Compared to alternative or replacement materials, plastics are more environmentally friendly and support climate change and emissions reduction goals. A study from Trucost found that using alternative packaging materials like glass, tin, aluminum and paper rather than plastics could increase environmental costs from $139 billion to a total of $533 billion.
With continued industry innovation, better packaging solutions that use fewer resources and are more easily recycled will help Canada reach environmental and sustainability goals. Governments should support these new technologies and partner with industry to create further collaborative opportunities that ensure that plastics remain in the economy and out of the environment.