After more than 18 months of research and design, the San Diego-based Bear Naked granola brand by Kellogg's, a food manufacturing company headquartered in Battle Creek, Michigan, is now the first fully recyclable stand-up pouch on the market nationwide.
The recyclable pouch made with a food-grade packaging barrier means that consumers can recycle their granola bar bags at about 18,000 retail stores across the nation that collect plastic bags and other types of plastics for recycling.
For the past 10 years, Kellogg's has partnered with Trenton, New Jersey-based TerraCycle to recycle its multilayer packaging through the company’s mail-in program. The brand recycled more than a half-million pouches through the program. For Kellogg's to recycle its packaging through the store drop-off program and reach more consumers, it had to design a recyclable film. Working with Dow of Midland, Michigan, Berry Global of Evansville, Indiana, and several other packaging suppliers, Kellogg;s developed a new a monolayer polyethylene (PE) pouch, says Shannon Moore, Kellogg’s lead packaging engineer.
“When the brand had decided they wanted to go a bit further with their sustainability story, we spent some time working with our existing packaging suppliers and film converters,” Moore says.
Kellogg's makes the PE pouch using Dow’s Retain polymer modifier technology, which allows converters to combine other PE resins to fabricate recycled films without sacrificing physical or optical properties. The PE films made with Retain are approved to use the How2Recycle label by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC), according to Dow.
“I’m really excited about this technology and I’m sure other consumer goods companies are going to start similar projects,” Moore says. “The technology allows for a higher barrier material to go through the store drop-off process and to be used by Trex and other end markets. That’s really important.”
Making sure the material, including the recyclable zipper developed by Fresh-Lock, was compatible with Kellogg’s existing bagging equipment was a big challenge in the development process, Moore says.
“PE has a much lower melt temperature than a traditional multilayer pouch, so working around the film properties for that was a challenge,” she says. “The bag itself has a window, so maintaining clarity of the window that we had previously was a challenge. Then on top of that, we have a matte finish, so we had to do several trials to get that printing process correct.”
Regarding Fresh-Lock’s recyclable zipper, Moore says, “We brought them in to make sure that the zipper didn’t melt through the film while we were sealing it on the bagger. The material they were using had to be fully recyclable, so we had to make sure they were getting the correct certifications to make it fully recyclable with the bag so we didn’t have any challenges when we went to the store drop-off program.”
Kellogg's began working on the Bear Naked recyclable pouch when the brand joined United Kingdom-based Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s (EMF's) New Plastics Economy initiative.
“Having the EMF commitment and being a signatory allowed us to come together and start working on sustainability more broadly,” Moore says. “This project is nice because it allows us to start looking at how we can incorporate this technology into other Kellogg brands that use similar packaging formats and what would it take for us to do this in a different brand.”
Currently, no recycled material is used in the Bear Naked packaging. Moore says there’s more work that needs to be done in developing food-grade postconsumer resins (PCR). The pouches also aren’t recycled into new pouches, yet, but closing the loop is something Kellogg's is trying to figure out, Moore says.
“We’re looking at how can we incorporate food-grade postconsumer resin, so we can have recyclable content in our material,” she says.
Many flexible plastic packages, including plastic bags, can’t be recycled through curbside recycling programs. Last year, Kellogg's joined the Film and Flexibles Task Force led by The Recycling Partnership, Falls Church, Virginia. The task force is working to define, pilot and scale recycling solutions for the more than $31 billion dollar packaging industry, including plastic film, bags and pouches, according to the nonprofit.
“We became a partner at the end of last year,” Moore says. “It’s really helped us get more involved in what does the infrastructure look like and what are the challenges that are going on with infrastructure. It’s allowed us to get our hands dirty and work alongside other consumer goods companies that have similar aspirations as Kellogg's.”
While more recycling solutions are in the works, flexible plastics made of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and low-density polyethylene (LDPE) can be recycled through the store drop-off locations.
In addition to the How2Recycle store drop-off label that Kellogg's has placed on the back of its Bear Naked bags, the brand designed a separate Recycle Ready logo to educate consumers. Kellogg's also revamped its Bear Naked website, which has a link to the store drop-off program and locations.
The brand also kicked off a social media campaign on Instagram, where followers are most interactive. Moore took the campaign a step further by posting a video on her personal LinkedIn page of her collecting different types of plastics and showing people how the store drop-offs work, she says.
“We were having people taking pictures of themselves dropping off the bag and showing people they’re at Target and you can drop this off here now,” Moore says. “It’s really simple. We get a lot of comments from people saying, ‘Hey, I didn’t know this. When did you guys start doing this? This is great.’”