How Brands Can Incorporate Sustainable Flexible Packaging

In our latest Viewpoints guest blog, Sarah Stieby, Fresh-Lock Marketing Manager, describes how retailers can better incorporate sustainable packaging, including for own brand products.

The world of packaging is transforming as brands and consumers continue to look for ways to reduce their environmental impact. With preference given to products that align with consumers’ values, buying behavior is signaling to brand managers that sustainable packaging solutions remain a top priority.

As the packaging industry embraces this shift toward a circular economy, it is evident that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Since every product has different packaging needs, industry leaders are responding with innovative solutions that meet consumer demand and benefit the brand’s sustainability scorecard.

When Recyclability Is Not an Option

Recyclability continues to be the main priority for many sustainability initiatives—Coca-Cola, for example, aspires to make their packaging fully recyclable by 2025—but what is optimal for one application is not necessarily ideal for all. While recyclability is a key goal of sustainable packaging, it may not be an option for certain product types.

When product residues cannot be easily removed from the packaging, like with cheese or coffee products, brands should consider an alternative waste management strategy. Some recent advancements include refillable and reusable packaging, as well as renewable/bio-based packaging that is compostable or biodegradable.

recyclable paper

Reusability Takes on Many Forms

While sustainable flexible packaging is a driving factor in buying behavior, product protection and consumer experience are just as influential. Brands that strike a balance between convenient packaging and sustainable packaging will have a greater opportunity to stand out from competitors.

One way in which brands can achieve this balance is through reusable packaging. Reuse is a crucial component of the circular economy, and it has long been overlooked.

Reusable packaging can take on different forms, including ‘refill’ and ‘return’ models. Reuse often involves putting the package—or its reusable parts—directly back into the production cycle. This differs from recycling because it focuses on continuing to use the package for its intended purpose instead of breaking it down and transforming it into something new.

For this to be viable, consumers need a standardized method to return the reusable parts. Shipping flexible packages to a special location can be burdensome for consumers. Instead, brands can make reuse more convenient with store drop-offs—a solution already being used for recycling flexible packages that can’t go in curbside recycling bins. This solution permits consumers to bring flexible packages back to their frequented retail stores to be left in a front-of-store collection bin.

The contents can then be retrieved or shipped to the brand’s designated location to reenter the production cycle. As packaging technology advances, more brands are considering how they can create reusable solutions and bring further awareness to opportunities that promote circularity.

Loop, a global platform for zero-waste packaging products, is partnering with brands like The Clorox Co. and PepsiCo to make reuse as convenient and accessible as single-use packaging. High-profile brands know their size and scale can drive change that ensures a better future for all.

By focusing on reusable solutions in place of single use, brands can help reduce the environmental impact of packaging manufacturing.

A Step Towards Compostable Solutions

Like reusable packaging applications, compostability presents a unique opportunity for the packaging industry. Derived from renewable materials, certified compostable plastics can break down under the right conditions and eventually return to soil.

To design a flexible package that is successfully compostable, the package’s entire lifecycle needs to be considered and all the elements of your package need to be compatible. When it comes to flexible packaging, this means ensuring closures, films, barriers, ink, finishes, and any other potential add-ons are all made from materials that will break down under the presence of heat, oxygen, humidity, and/or microorganisms yet still work together to make a package that meets the product’s protection needs.

Renewable and bio-based packaging solutions may be better suited for products that are amicable to the environment and won’t cause harm to plants or soil, like food and confectioneries. Retail giants like Target and Walmart also realize the benefits of compostability and plan to adopt compostable packaging solutions as they design their owned brand products for a circular future.

Source Reduction

Source reduction is also an effective strategy for brands to lessen their impact on the environment, and it has the potential to be more fiscally responsible. Minimizing materials used in the production of product packaging means brands will likely see less waste end up in landfills, conserve resources, and more.

Oftentimes switching from rigid packaging to flexible packaging can be the first step for brands that want to prioritize source reduction. Opting to use reclosable flexible packaging over the bulky, rigid alternatives can mean maximizing valuable space for easier inventory management. This allows for greater product-to-package ratio. Additionally, because flexible packaging reduces the amount of space needed for storage and can come at a much lighter weight, it consumes less energy during transportation—resulting in a smaller carbon footprint.

reclosable plastic bag

For brands that have already capitalized on reclosable flexible packaging, there are still ways in which source reduction can advance. Making a switch to mono-material packaging helps make recycling more feasible, closing the loop for a circular economy.

Complicated packaging designs that require consumers to separate various elements of the package at the time of disposal can lessen the chance that the materials get recycled. With many elements making up a reclosable flexible package —including various film layers, closures, etc. creating packaging that is composed of a single material can be extremely beneficial for consumers and brands.

With rising innovations in polyethylene closures, various types of packaging needs can be met while adhering to a mono-material structure. Whether child-resistance is necessary, or a track and slider is preferred, solutions are available for brands that are ready to make the switch.

A Continued Emphasis on Sustainability


Sustainable packaging is no longer a nicety, but an essential measure for a variety of industries. From compostable materials to reusable packaging models, CPGs continue to seek emerging technologies that lessen the brand’s environmental impact while maintaining a positive consumer experience. With many angles for sustainable flexible packaging to consider, the first step is understanding what sustainability means for your brand and embracing a solution that aligns with your goals.

As consumers’ expectations rise, connecting with your packaging partners can provide helpful insight as you make these essential packaging decisions.


Sarah Stieby

Sarah Stieby is the Fresh-Lock Marketing Manager. The Fresh-Lock brand is the market leader in press-to-close zipper and track & slider reclosable solutions for flexible packaging. Fresh-Lock products are designed and produced by Presto Products, a business of Reynolds Consumer Products. 

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