Flex Films talks Sustainability Trends and Challenges

All answers credited to Dr. Steven J. Sargeant; General Manager, Technology, Flex Films (USA) Inc.

Flex Films is the global film manufacturing arm of India’s largest multinational flexible packaging materials and solution company, Uflex Limited

1. How do you see the important trends in sustainability (light-weighting, recyclability, bio-sourcing etc.) impacting your customers in the coming years?

Virtually all customers have expressed interest in building more sustainable packaging. Each end-user may take a different approach to get to a common goal of reducing their carbon footprint. In the large volume packaging space, cost is a critical component. Bio-sourced materials are typically cost disadvantageous, however, significant work is being done in this area for the near future. Recycling materials or using recycled components in a package construction is a pathway we find many customers are interested in due to the available technology and cost issues. In the case of light-weighting, we feel that more or less this concept has run its course in the flexible packaging space. We see opportunity for layer reductions in order to improve the properties of one or two materials to replace multiple materials, but do not see any significant potential left for bulk material eliminations.

2. What do you see as some of the trends for Sustainability in Packaging, in the coming years?

End-use customers want more sustainable and green options in the market. We know they are pushing our customers for cost effective solutions to support the commercial goals of the end-users. Therefore, the pressure to build more cost effective options will only increase. For instance, the sustainable initiatives in the paper goods markets have led to broad initiatives in sustainable forestry practices. Such concepts are yet to be applied to the plastic film markets, but are something certainly needed. 

3. What technical challenges currently further deployment of potentially sustainable film technology?

Sustainable materials need to have relatively similar technical properties to stabled technologies. Therefore, barrier properties, stiffness, converter handling properties and other important criteria need to be similar in order to give comfort to the supply chain of the robustness of the materials and solutions. A more sustainable material with poor technical attributes will have little market acceptance. Another important consideration is how flexible to modification and adaption, the sustainable materials or processes are. Due to the large variability of packaging types, structures and end-use need-suitable materials with similar functional properties and ready modifications is what's needed for the market.

4. What do you think sustainability in your company will look like in 2025?

Flex Films is committed to sustainable initiatives. We can see many pathways our customers are working on. With their guidance, we believe that the market and technology will only continue to grow. Flex supported the light-weighting initiatives in the flexible packaging space for the past decade. Although the approach is probably exhausted in terms of further significance, bio-based and recycled material options will become more important. In the short-term Flex Films sees recyclable options as the near term option, with technically suitable bio-based materials the ultimate solution on the horizon.

5. What are you most looking forward to hearing at Sustainability in Packaging 2018?

We are looking forward to hearing about the consumer demand and CPG market guidance so that we can set our technical work in the most effective manner. This is a really good forum to bring together so many key stakeholders to get a broad overview and critical insights in order to progress the materials science more effectively.