The Flexible Packaging Association’s report, A Holistic View of the Role of Flexible Packaging in a Sustainable World, highlights the sustainability benefits of flexible packaging. FPA commissioned PTIS, LLC to provide a holistic view on the sustainability benefits that flexible packaging offers; provide foresight into future sustainability implications for flexible packaging; and develop six Life Cycle Assessment case studies comparing flexible packaging to other packaging formats across a range of products.

The LCA case studies were developed using the EcoImpact-COMPASS® LCA software, which allows for quick life cycle comparisons between different packaging formats. The results from the case studies show that flexible packaging has more favourable environmental attributes for carbon impact, fossil fuel usage, water usage, product-to-package ratio, as well as the amount of packaging material going to the landfill when compared to other packaging formats for the same products.

The use of single-dose pods has become a popular method for packaging laundry detergent, replacing liquid or powdered detergent with pre-measured packets. For this LCA study, two common packaging formats for pods were evaluated for their holistic environmental impact: a flexible stand-up pouch with a zipper and a rigid PET container.

Water consumption of the two package formats is driven by differences in packaging weight as well as the use of water to cool moulds during the injection moulding process for the rigid PET container. The rigid PET container’s water footprint is +660% larger than the flexible stand-up pouch.

When considering the greenhouse gas emissions of the two primary packaging types, the flexible stand-up pouch has a significant advantage largely due to using much less material and a less energy intensive laminating process. Injection moulding for the rigid PET container results in additional energy used in the process, leading to higher overall emissions (+726%).

The flexible stand-up pouch comes out favourably in fossil fuel consumption, driven largely by the lightweight nature of the pouch and the energy or conversion efficiency in the manufacturing process. The injection moulding process of the rigid PET container’s manufacturing stage is much more energy-intensive than the laminating process used by the flexible stand-up pouch. The rigid PET container has a fossil fuel usage nearly 504% greater than that of the flexible stand-up pouch with zipper, and the package weight is 6X heavier.

When taking current recycling rates into consideration, the rigid PET container results in nearly 4X more material ending up in municipal solid waste than the flexible stand-up pouch. In order for the PET container to have the same level of municipal solid waste as the flexible stand-up pouch, the recycling rate of both the rigid PET container and lid would need to increase from the current rate of 30% to more than 80%.

The results of the laundry pod case study show that the flexible stand-up pouch has a number of sustainability benefits (fossil fuel usage, carbon impact, water consumption, and municipal solid waste) over the rigid PET container, even when taking the current recycling rate of the rigid PET container into consideration.