The environmental sustainability of pet food packaging presents many complex challenges in operations, supply chain and consumer adaptations. Materials selected to retain freshness and boost branding may present difficulties in recycling. Collection of used materials presents unique challenges. Compostable products may never reach a composting facility, or dilute the quality of materials collected for recycling. Reusable containers require new infrastructures and designs. Consumers have differing expectations of packaging and their role in sustainability.
Multi-laminate Flexible Pet Food Packaging Gets Attention as a Top Sustainability Issue
Multi-laminate flexible pet food packaging, which describes most of the pet food packaging seen on shelves, is highly favored for its durability, aesthetics and ability to include clear windows for product viewing. Yet, because it is made of multiple layers of differing materials, the packaging is not currently recycled, and ends up in landfills. A 2019 study performed by the Pet Sustainability Coalition and Ecocycle describes the use of multi-laminate packaging as “a linear system: from design to consumer to the dump.”
Multi-laminate packaging has become ubiquitous in pet food, because it does the job exceptionally well. However, it is estimated that 300 million pounds of multi-laminate packaging are generated by the pet industry in the US alone each year, and the number is increasing as pet ownership rises. – Anne Klein, Sustainability Manager, Pet Sustainability Coalition
It can be recognized that the environmental impacts of pet food packaging such as flexible multi-laminates are not equally distributed, and that plastics pollution, for example, is an environmental justice issue. Other social and environmental inequities may exist in the production, distribution and disposal of packaging materials.
Pet Sustainability Coalition Conducts Research on Pet Food Packaging
To help the pet industry address these challenges, the Pet Sustainability Coalition has hosted events addressing sustainable packaging, including a webinar assessing bio-based, bio-degradable and compostable packaging. and sessions on The Future of Sustainable Packaging at it’s annual Impact Unleashed conference. The organization published multiple case studies and resources addressing sustainable pet food packaging, available for free. The Coalition continues to drive education, research and collaboration in the industry.
Flex Forward Program Tests Return To Retail Pet Food Packaging Collections
In 2020, the Pet Sustainability Coalition launched a pilot ‘return to retail’ used pet food packaging collections model in over 100 independent pet food retail stores in Oregon and Washington. The goal of the pilot program is to help solve the recycling problems with pet food packaging. The pilot program will collect over 5,000 pounds (over 10,000 bags) of used flexible multi-laminate pet food packaging – testing the return to retail collections model – and then test the collected materials for suitability as a recycled content material for use in other pet industry products, such as pet toys.
Participating retailers in the pilot collections program found it increased in store traffic – an unexpected benefit of a return to retail collections model.
Next steps in the pilot program include testing collected materials to see if they can be used as a raw material in other pet products.
Research Expands “Toward Circularity” of Pet Food Packaging
A circular economy in packaging exists when materials are recycled or recovered to be used over and over. NOVA Chemicals Corp, a leading supplier of polyethylene resins, is providing funding and expertise to help the Pet Sustainability Coalition, it’s members and partners to identify opportunities to advance the circular economy for flexible plastic pet food and treat packaging materials.
“We are actively working with our customers and throughout the value chain to help them design and develop products and packaging that utilize recyclable film structures and post-consumer recycled (PCR) materials” – Monika Kleczek, Circular Economy Market Manager, NOVA Chemicals.
In early 2021, the “Toward Circularity” project will assess the use of both post-consumer and post-industrial recycled (PCR and PIR) materials for reuse in new flexible pet food packaging, while conducting testing to explore the best markets and applications for the recyclate.
Sustainable Packaging Event To Address Pet Industry Challenges
In February 2021, pet food packaging experts, including packaging suppliers, designers and distributors will meet with pet industry executives, brand managers and operations specialists to address the complex landscape of packaging sustainability in the pet industry.
“Sustainability will not be achieved in isolation, it will take the will and collaboration of partners to close the loop.️ Packaging companies and their suppliers, brand owners and our consumers, we all play a part.” – Glenn Treliving, Thanh Phu Packaging
UnPacked21, the first sustainable packaging event for the pet industry, is hosted by the Pet Sustainability Coalition on February 23rd and 24th, 2021. The virtual event includes speakers, workshops and a virtual exhibit hall. Speakers include leaders from Closed Loop Partners, NOVA Chemicals, WellPet, Sustainable Packaging Coalition, Tyler Packaging, US Plastics Pact, Earth Animal and more.