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Sustainable Packaging

Flexible Packaging Offers E-Commerce Benefits

Dani Diehlmann

Director of Communications, The Flexible Packaging Association

E-commerce has been a fast growing economic segment and the growth has skyrocketed with more and more consumers choosing to shop online during the pandemic.

As more products are shipped via e-commerce, brands continue to look for ways to optimize shipping, reduce costs, and reduce environmental impacts while offering consumers a positive experience and protecting the product. To achieve these goals, more brands and e-commerce sellers are using flexible packaging. It requires less material and space to ship and can withstand robust handling and limit product leaks and breaks.  

Much of the flexible packaging used for e-commerce shipping is made of polyethylene (PE) and is reusable and recyclable. For instance, flexible pouches are designed to be used again for easy consumer returns while dunnage such as air pillows are designed to be refilled and used over and over again.

The Flexible Packaging Association (FPA) partnered with PTIS, LLC on its recent “Sustainability Life Cycle and Economic Impacts of Flexible Packaging in e-Commerce Report” to provide a holistic view of the sustainability benefits of flexible packaging and quantifies the environmental and economic shipping impacts by comparing flexible packaging to other formats across a range of products.

For the report, five different Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) case studies were developed using the EcoImpact-COMPASS® LCA software, which allows for quick life cycle comparisons between different package formats with a wide range of products: 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.

The results of many of the case studies show 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. This is due to the efficient use of resources enabled by flexible packaging.

Additionally, flexible packaging is made of strong materials that can withstand rough usage without breaking, reducing the amount of product damage during shipping. This is especially important in e-commerce, where a product is handled at least three times as often as a traditional retail channel. This means more consumer satisfaction with both product and brand as well as fewer returns, limiting the environmental impact of additional shipping.

For more information on the sustainability benefits of flexible packaging, visit the FPA’s website, www.flexpack.org or www.perfectpackaging.org.

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