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Sustainability - Food Packaging

Sustainable Means More Than Just Recyclable

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22 March 2021

There are four paths a package can take after serving its useful purpose: landfill/litter/incineration, composting, energy recovery or recycling. And, while a term like recycling or recyclability is so commonly associated with what makes a package sustainable, it also creates a point of contention: there is no set definition of recyclable.

Recyclability means the likelihood that a material will be collected, recycled, and then made into a new, commercially viable product. Recycling is part of a complex ecosystem that depends on variety of factors including geography,
consumer behaviour, collection processes, sorting processes, equipment and profitability.

With so much variation possible in the definition of recyclability, Sealed Air takes the approach that for us to label a packaging material or solution as recyclable, it must meet three key criteria:

1. Can be collected – at roadside or at designated drop-off locations

2. Can be sorted – by the material recovery facility (mrf) to which it is sent

3. Can be recycled at rates relevant to local guidelines – typically 60% or more depending on location

If a Sealed Air packaging material or solution meets only one or two of these criteria but not all three, we designate the packaging material recycle-ready, including a disclaimer that states: degree of recyclability will vary depending on scope and availability of collection, sortation and recycling programmes. 

Recycle-ready is a good way for Sealed Air to acknowledge that some element or component of the package is designed or even certified to meet certain recycling requirements as they exist today – but at this particular moment in time not all of our standard has been met.

Flexible plastics with complex structures like those made by Sealed Air, are not easily identified and sorted in existing recycling systems. What’s important to remember however, is that regulations, material science and recycling processes evolve, and that recycling is not now – not will it ever be – the only path to sustainable packaging.

At Sealed Air we believe the right approach is a balanced approach, and one that relies on science and data as the way to support our claims. When you think about sustainable packaging are you considering:

Does the packaging material substitute fossil-based, virgin resin for recycled resin or plant-based materials to lessen resource extraction?

Does the package perform a critical function like food waste prevention or shelf life extension that saves an abundance of resources like land use, labour, water or energy?

Is the package material lighter, thinner, or more flexible than alternatives so that shipping is more efficient, using smaller corrugated cases or putting fewer vehicles on the road?

Can the package design be optimised with a smaller product-to-package ratio while maintaining performance and protection?

Does your packaging manufacturer use clean energy technology in their operations like solar or wind power to help lower their carbon footprint?

Are you or your packaging supplier helping to improve the recycling infrastructure by investing in new recycling technologies, following the FTC Green Guides or by educating consumers so they can make more informed choices when they dispose of packaging?

When we think beyond “end of life” the concept of sustainable packaging becomes much less complicated. That’s why working with a practical, experienced partner like Sealed Air can make all the difference. How can we help you?

Sustainability Benefits from All Types of Plastic Food Packaging