The Closed Loop Foundation, which is the independent 501(c)(3) affiliate of Closed Loop Partners, has released a study that it says offers insights on how investors can advance film and flexible packaging recycling. The study, “Recycling of Plastic Film Packaging,” was conducted with support from SC Johnson, Racine, Wisconsin.
Rob Kaplan of Closed Loop Foundation says, “Investors and supply chain leaders are looking for opportunities to catalyze recycling of flexible packaging, but there is a lack of real investable opportunities at the stage of commercialization. We identified a critical need to support the industry and investors by creating a roadmap for investing in flexible packaging.”
The study characterizes the categories of flexible packaging and offers insights on challenges and trends to determine how investors can best affect this sector. Flexible packaging includes materials such as snack bags and pouches, which are growing in the market.
“Even though more film and flexible packaging are produced than plastic bottles, recycling of those products far lags that of bottles—it is important that we capitalize on emerging technologies and develop markets for this under-recovered stream of materials,” says Tim Buwalda, senior consultant at Orlando, Florida-based RSE USA, strategic partner and author of the study.
According to the study, investors’ key opportunity involves investing in end market development to increase the value of these materials.
“IntegriCo Composites, an investment of the Closed Loop Fund, is a great example of a United States-based manufacturer that is building the market by sourcing more multilaminate flexible packaging and LDPE (low-density polyethylene) films into the feedstock of its railroad ties,” Kaplan says.
Additionally, emerging investment opportunities exist in the sorting and processing of flexible packaging, but philanthropic or research funding remains critical to test the most effective solutions and motivate the industry to consider how to incorporate flexible packaging into a thriving recycling system, the Closed Loop Foundation says.
While retail collection remains a viable way to collect clean polyethylene film bags and wraps for recycling, it will struggle to reach scale, according to the study. Plus, recycling opportunities are needed for other flexible packaging materials. The study recognizes the crucial work of groups like Materials Recovery for the Future (MRFF), Dow Energy Bag and material recovery facility (MRF) equipment manufacturers that are testing ways to collect this material through the curbside residential recycling programs to ensure greater quantities of plastic film get recycled. “That is why this study was important—to identify where the investment community could make the most significant impact while avoiding duplication of efforts,” the Closed Loop Foundation says.
“Research such as this shines the light on the current industry and the struggle with getting more flexible film to the curb,” says Kelly M. Semrau, senior vice president of global corporate affairs, communication and sustainability, for SC Johnson. “SC Johnson is committed to finding a solution that brings Ziploc brand bags and other flexible films into the curbside recycling stream. While we know this is a long-term endeavor, there is a way to accomplish this goal.”