In an era where environmental concerns are paramount, the rise of post-consumer recycled (PCR) packaging is nothing short of a packaging industry revolution.

This innovative approach provides solutions to some of the most pressing sustainability challenges, redefining how we perceive packaging materials and their environmental impact.

To gain deeper insights into this transformation, we spoke with David Bankson, Director of Flexible Packaging & Shrink Sleeves at Fortis Solutions Group, a company that’s taking the lead in sustainable packaging innovation.

Redefining PCR packaging

PCR packaging is not merely a recycling initiative; it’s a comprehensive approach that repurposes post-consumer materials and transforms them into valuable packaging solutions.

This approach leverages materials such as polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and low-density polyethylene (LDPE) – two of the most common resins in flexible packaging – to create environmentally conscious packaging that meets the stringent demands of modern consumers and communities.

David Bankson explains, “PCR content in flexibles comes in the form of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and low-density polyethylene (LDPE) solutions, two of the most common resins in flexible packaging today. PET is the most widely available recycled resin due to the significant infrastructure in recycling clear PET beverage bottles.”

PCR packaging’s remarkable evolution

One of the remarkable aspects of PCR packaging is that it is nearly indistinguishable from packaging made with brand-new materials. Thanks to advances in recycling technologies, PCR resins, especially chemically recycled PET, have achieved a level of parity with their virgin counterparts.

As Bankson highlights, “In the case of chemically recycled PET, there is physically and visually no difference to virgin resin films; they are functionally identical and place no limits on what applications they can be used in.”

In essence, PCR packaging is not just a sustainable choice; it’s a high-performing one. It mirrors the strength, barrier properties, and functionality of packaging made from newly sourced materials, thereby alleviating any concerns about performance.

The driving force behind PCR packaging’s resurgence

Consumer and industry demand for sustainable packaging have been instrumental in driving the resurgence of PCR packaging. It offers a way for consumer-packaged goods (CPGs) to contribute to recycling demand and infrastructure investment, effectively reducing waste in landfills.

As Bankson elucidates, “Clearly, consumers and retailers continue to demand sustainable solutions in packaging. Flexible packaging is an inherently sustainable option due to the significant energy reduction required as compared to rigid packaging forms.

“However, many consumers want more. PCR content is a way for CPGs to achieve a positive impact by driving recycling demand and, therefore, infrastructure investment in recycling to divert a larger and larger percentage of waste from landfills.”

Economically viable and sustainable

Cost-efficiency is a pivotal factor when considering the adoption of any packaging solution. Fortunately, PCR packaging delivers not only on the environmental front but also on the economic one.

Businesses are finding that PCR films typically come at modest cost increases over virgin films, making the transition financially feasible.

Bankson highlights this crucial aspect, “The PCR films in the market today typically have very modest cost increases over virgin films. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and linear low-density polyethylene (LLDPE) laminations are often less than 10% more costly than their virgin counterparts, with no physical or barrier performance limits.”

PCR packaging’s cost-efficiency has made it an attractive option for businesses, especially when compared to recyclable or compostable solutions, which often come with higher costs and performance limitations.

Innovations in PCR packaging at Fortis

Innovation remains a driving force in the PCR packaging landscape. At Fortis, continuous advancements in recycling streams are seen as opportunities to meet the growing demand for PCR materials in flexible packaging.

As Bankson states, “We are excited about new polyethylene solutions coming online in 2024 that will allow for higher PCR percentages to be used without introducing optical issues like gel spots.”

Fortis is actively providing innovative solutions, such as a new PCR paper-based cold seal bar wrap option with 74% PCR content, which will further advance the capabilities of PCR packaging, ensuring it meets the evolving needs of businesses and consumers.

In a world where sustainability is paramount, PCR packaging is the treasure that arises from the ashes of waste, providing a pathway to reduce environmental impact while meeting consumer and industry demands.

The evolution of PCR packaging has been driven by innovation and a commitment to a greener future, as seen through the efforts of industry leaders like Fortis.

With the increased adoption of PCR packaging, we can look forward to a more eco-conscious and responsible packaging industry.