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Value chain targets circular flexible packaging

Guidelines to support a circular approach to flexible packaging have been launched by a partnership of more than 160 European companies, associations and organisations. Collectively, they are known as CEFLEX.

Designing for a Circular Economy (D4ACE) is aimed at the entire value chain with the goal of producing higher quality recycled materials that are retained in the economy and used in a wider range of sustainable end-markets. CEFLEX says this will drive investment in sorting and recycling infrastructure for flexible packaging.

The guidelines concentrate on polyolefin-based structures which represent over 80% of consumer flexible packaging on the European market. They offer advice on key elements including materials, barrier layers, coatings, size, shape, inks and adhesives, building on Project Barrier, a project from the New Plastics Economy Initiative.

Wide collaboration needed

Graham Houlder, CEFLEX project coordinator, argues that D4ACE shows it is possible to define a collective set of circular economy design principles for all consumer flexible packaging.

‘Achieving a circular economy is a significant challenge and it will only be accomplished through wide collaboration, innovation and investment,’ he says. ‘Only by working together like this can we all move forward and meet the flexible packaging value chain’s own ambitious sustainability goals and prevent waste and pollution.’

Keep it simple

The document advises brand owners and retailers on making informed design choices so that all flexible packaging is suitable for sorting and recycling – while retaining the functionality needed for its primary purpose of protecting a product. In most cases, this will mean favouring mono-material over multi-material flexible packaging formats as these are the most efficient to sort and recycle.

CEFLEX says brand owners and retailers will need to work with their packaging converters, material producers and others in the value chain to develop mono-material solutions. It has also commissioned independent testing of flexible packaging to help develop additional guidance.

Holistic approach  

Houlder says businesses should review their current packaging portfolios against the guidelines to identify possible design changes before engaging with suppliers and customers and get the whole value chain working towards the same goals.

‘The result will be a greater percentage of flexible packaging in the waste stream that when collected, can be readily sorted and recycled and returned to the economy to replace virgin plastic.’

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