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The Sustainability Case for Pouches

By: Matt Zoeller
Posted: May 31, 2013, from the June 2013 issue of GCI Magazine.

Consumer product packaging has undergone scrutiny since the very beginning of the green movement. Concerns over landfill space, energy use and the human carbon footprint have led to an increased demand for reduced packaging consumption, using fewer raw materials, and lowering hydrocarbon and energy demands through sustainability initiatives.

A challenge with these concerns in mind has been to present effective marketing appeal through packaging while continuing to satisfy needs for production efficiency and stable costs—and all without compromising the goals of sustainability and total carbon reduction at the same time. However, one option to meet these demands is the form/fill/seal pouch, which can address these concerns and offer beauty consumers the convenience and value they expect.

Sustainability Today

The current approach to dealing with the environmental fate of packaging components bears scrutiny, because it may be somewhat naïve. Most plastics wind up in landfills if they are not recycled, and even biodegradable resins such as PLA and those with pro-degradants wind up in a landfill, where most carbon sequestering is currently achieved. A well-designed landfill entombs waste rather than degrading it. This is why you can dig around old landfills to see what people disposed of 30 years ago, often finding compostable byproducts such as still-legible newspapers and household food waste.

When degradation does occur, the byproduct is mainly methane, not carbon dioxide. If the methane is not captured or burned, it is vented to the atmosphere, where it is about 92 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. It is therefore waste reduction and recycling that must be forefront in sustainability efforts. To achieve the acceptable reduction of waste and greenhouse gas, we must strive for two goals. The first is to increase the recycling rate for post-consumer plastic waste. The second is to reduce landfill waste mass. And this latter goal is something that flexible packaging achieves well.

Other Options

The much lower relative mass of pouches compared to other packaging forms is significant. And this even holds true with the small sizes demanded by the hospitality amenities industry. Indeed, there is less polyester resin used for four 15 mL pouches of body wash than there is in many of the closures being applied to single two-ounce bottles.

Looking at the relative mass of flexible form/fill/seal pouches as a package form compared to bottles, jars and even tubes bears this out. The lower relative mass of pouches compared to bottles and jars is significant. As the package size gets larger, the mass difference expands even more. See Table 1 (Page 84) for a further explanation of this.

For a resealable pouch using multilayer laminate extrusion, the net mass for a 16 oz. package is 6.8 grams. Compare this to a 16 fl. oz. HDPE bottle with 24 mm PP dispensing cap at 32.3 grams, or a 16 oz. clarified PP jar with 89 mm PP lined cap at 34.5 grams. Even with the single-use pouch configuration, the packaging mass is still less than using tubes, jars or bottles comprising the same volume of product.

When this is factored into the relatively low energy consumption for continuous extrusion and lamination of the film media layers for the pouch, compared to the blow-molding or injection molding processes used to form other package types, the energy conservation is strong.

Beyond the Pack

Additionally, shipping pouches consumes less fuel because far more units may be shipped at less gross mass and in the same truck cube than bottles, jars or tubes.

This also applies to the world of direct marketing using the Web. The mailing cost of fulfilling a customer order in a pouch is less for the direct marketer compared to another package because it has lower mass and better package flexibility. As for survival in transit, the burst strength of pouches is more rugged than most realize. Paket Corporation has tested its filled pouches using a vacuum oven chamber set at 15 inches Hg at 45C for 20 minutes, or under compression using a 15 kg roller.