Despite flexible packaging’s inherently beneficial traits when it comes to sustainability and eco-friendliness (light weight, initial source reduction, lower energy costs and easy disposal compared to rigid containers), it suffers from a distinct lack of recycling options. But help is on the way in the form of the US Flexible Packaging Assn.’s “Identification and Assessment of Available Technologies for Materials and Energy Recovery from Flexible Packaging Waste Report.”
That 16-word title delves into new and emerging resource-recovery technologies and how flex-pack converters and their brand-owner customers can use them to develop more sustainable practices for dealing with flexible-packaging waste. Included are results of critical analysis conducted by Columbia University’s Earth Engineering Center for Sustainable Waste Management (EEC) on behalf of FPA, assessing the best “end-of-life” technologies for difficult-to-recycle flex packs.
Some highlights of the report: Flexible packaging makes up just over 2%, or approximately 6 million tons, of the municipal solid waste (MSW) generated in the US each year. Of this amount, about 10% is combusted in the form of MSW at waste-to-energy plants. The remaining 5.4 million tons of flex-pack trash are disposed of in landfills. (Not a happy statistics in these days of “eco activism.”)
Through the EEC study, viable resource-recovery processes were identified, and the economic benefits and costs of those technologies were examined. The report ID’d three tertiary recycling options: thermal pyrolysis, gasification and engineered solid fuel, working with Agilyx Corp., Envion, Inc., Climax Global Energy, Inc., and Dongara. Two pilot programs were conducted at each company, using pre- and post-consumer materials. End products successfully produced include synthetic crude oil, combustible gases, condensed wax and fuel pellets. Overall, the flex-pack resource-recovery pilot programs had output yields between 70 and 90%.
Among the program’s next steps: Devising a workable collection system for flex-pack waste, determining the economic benefits and costs of that system and forming collection-system partnerships. The completed study will be presented at the trade group’s 2012 annual meeting next spring, and The Converting Curmudgeon will be there to report.
The report is available in the Members-Only section of the FPA Website, but PDF copies can also be had by non-members for $3,500. Call 410-694-0800 or email@example.com
My Thoughts: Until someone figures out how to effectively (and economically) separate the tightly laminated layers of many of today’s high-tech flexible-packaging structures into their component materials, turning this post-consumer waste into fuel pellets or synthetic crude oil is perhaps the best solution. I’m figuring the former isn’t going to (seriously) happen anytime soon. On a side note, here’s to monolayer-plastic film and coated-paper bags as flexible packaging—maybe the simplest answer to the recycling question for this segment of the industry. Of course, they’re not applicable to every product but the more the better for solving this eco dilemma.