The US Flexible Packaging Association (FPA) has released its Sustainability Life Cycle and Economic Impacts of Flexible Packaging in E-commerce Report.
E-commerce is a growing economic segment and as more products are shipped via e-commerce, brands continue to look for ways to optimize the shipping, reduce costs, and reduce environmental impact, while offering consumers a positive experience and protecting the product. In an effort to achieve these goals, more brands and e-commerce providers are using flexible packaging as either the primary package due to its ability to withstand robust handling and limit leaks, or as the e-commerce delivery pack itself as a way to reduce the amount of packaging material and space utilized.
FPA partnered with PTIS, LLC to provide a holistic view of the sustainability benefits that flexible packaging offers in e-commerce and to quantify the environmental and economic shipping impacts comparing flexible packaging to other formats across a range of products.
For the report, five different LCA case studies were developed using the EcoImpact-COMPASS® LCA software, which allows for quick life cycle comparisons between different package formats and included a wide range of products including shoes, cereal, peanut butter, laundry detergent, and flat mailers. All primary, secondary, and tertiary packaging, including dunnage from the packages, were used for the assessment. Dunnage is a filler that is used to prevent a product from shifting during shipping, resulting in product damage. Dunnage may be either paper or plastic based, and includes crumpled paper, corrugated inserts, air pillows, and bubble wrap.
Additionally, the product-to-package ratio, as well as the amount of packaging that is landfilled for 1,000 kg of each product, was determined. The amount of packaging landfilled was based on the recycling rates for each material while assuming none of the flexible packages were recycled. However, most flexible packaging used in e-commerce applications, including bubble dunnage or poly mailers, are made of LDPE, which can be recycled with grocery bags and other films as part of the grocery store drop-off program. These materials can qualify for the How2Recycle® store drop-off designation if they go through the certification process.
The results from many of the case studies suggest that flexible packaging has more preferable environmental attributes for carbon impact, fossil fuel usage, water usage, as well as material disposed of when compared to other package formats.
An additional benefit of flexible packaging, says the report, includes the robust nature of the material, which can help reduce leaks or package breaks, thus significantly improving consumer enjoyment of a product (and brand). This is important in an e-commerce environment where a product is handled at least three times as often as is done within a traditional retail channel.
The report is publicly available and can be downloaded by clicking here.