Flexible packaging continues to be an important and well-developed pack type in Western Europe, heavily used in the packaged food industry, and confectionery in particular. However, applications using plastic will have to cope with the ever increasing opprobrium heaped on this packaging material from many quarters, with regulations, including legislation being introduced in EU Member States to try and phase out the use of single-use plastics, expected to tighten over the forecast period.
Flexible packaging, holding a 35% share of overall retail packaging unit volumes, remains the number one pack type in Western Europe. Within flexible packaging itself, flexible plastic is the dominant pack type, accounting for more than two thirds of total units. The main industry for flexible packaging is food.
Flexible packaging’s 2020 performance in Western Europe was given added impetus by the pandemic. While on-the-go consumption was hit by the measures to control the spread of the virus, lockdowns and foodservice closures saw consumers preparing and eating a lot more food at home than usual, but also washing and cleaning more to help maintain high hygiene levels.
The recycling of flexible packaging continues to represent a challenge. Flexible pack types can come in hard-to-recycle formats, can be more difficult to process and recover due to their lightweight nature, and can end up contaminating other recyclable materials. Recycling infrastructure is not currently well adapted to the growing use of flexible packaging, especially multi-layer high-barrier films that require separation before recycling.
Nevertheless, flexible packaging producers argue that the environmental cost of flexible packaging is much lower compared to PET, glass and metal. A study conducted by the Flexible Packaging Association comparing the environmental footprint of different coffee packaging types found that the use of HDPE tubs and metal cans generated 5-8 times more greenhouse gas emissions in their production as well as higher transportation emissions in their transport. In addition, the volume of material required to produce individual units is also claimed to be significantly less than for materials such as glass and PET.
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