“For 40-plus years, there has been significant public, private, and personal investment into recycling. And yet, recycling still isn’t an effective solution for most types of plastic,” Michael Waas, TIPA’s North American regional director, told TriplePundit. “This is particularly true for flexible packaging, which is the fastest growing type of packaging and also the most challenging to recycle.”
Unlike rigid plastics, flexible plastic packaging does not lend itself to recycling because it is often made by blending several materials, is contaminated by food, and too light for separation and recycling. Compostable materials offer a “uniquely” low-energy disposal with high-value output (compost), Waas explained. Redirecting waste from landfill to compost both reduces plastic waste and increases the volume of organic waste in compost facilities, he said.
With an estimated 30 to 40 percent of the U.S. food supply being wasted each year, and plastics causing severe damage to the environment and human health, composting these items is more important than ever, Waas told 3p.
TIPA’s compostable packaging products are all certified as compostable and free of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), Waas said. PFAS substances, often referred to as “forever chemicals,” are found in nonstick pans, waterproof gear and in the grease-resistant packaging used by takeout food chains and supermarkets. The certification process validates that TIPA’s products will completely break down into compost when disposed of in a proper compost environment, Waas explained to 3p.
The company has spent several years working on a formulation for flexible compostable packaging that uses certified compostable polymers but provides the same performance of conventional plastic, Waas added, including the key properties of conventional plastic packaging : a moisture and oxygen barrier, shelf-life, lightweight design, and flexibility.
TIPA’s success in creating its product line of compostable packaging comes at a time when consumers are seeking ways to reduce their environmental impacts. According to at least these surveys, seven out of 10 U.S. consumers try to reduce to their impact on the environment as much as possible, and two out of three go out of their way to recycle.
Food brands of all sizes are looking for sustainable alternatives to conventional plastic packaging, said Waas, but face three significant challenges: performance, availability and price.
Waas said many companies assume there needs to be a “tradeoff” between sustainable and compostable packaging with conventional packaging, but this “couldn’t be further from the truth,” Waas told 3p. Companies are not aware that there are high-performance solutions that offer the same performance and functionality as conventional plastic, he said.
As far as availability goes, not all packaging companies offer sustainable solutions, but all offer conventional plastics, which means brands need to be motivated to find a sustainable alternative, said Waas. TIPA made it a strategic priority that its materials are compatible with existing plastic processing and packaging lines, offering a “plug and play” solution that requires only minor adjustments to existing packaging equipment.
“This is true for our full range of customizable films, laminates, and packaging applications,” Waas said. “This gives brands and manufacturers the versatility to more easily switch to a compostable solution no matter what product they are packaging.”
Sustainable alternatives can initially cost more than a conventional plastic solution as high-performance compostable packaging is three to five times more expensive than conventional flexible plastic, which is intimidating for some brands, noted Waas.
“Switching to compostable packaging is an investment into providing customers with the solutions they want because market research shows that consumers are looking for more sustainable packaging and are willing to pay more for it,” Waas continued. “Like any breakthrough technology, the initial price is more expensive, but this is an investment into market leadership.”
Most of TIPA’s products — including films and laminates — are fully home-compostable, with the ongoing company goal of reaching 100 percent home compostability, said Waas. TIPA’s packaging is designed to be collected and processed along with food and organic waste, and the company encourages consumers to compost its packaging or send it to any composting facility or program that accepts certified compostable packaging.
Although there is no way to know how much of TIPA’s compostable packaging has been composted so far, Waas said consumers have reached out with photos of TIPA’s packaging in their compost bins and to ask about the best way to compost.
Waas said he expects more legislation requiring brands and consumers to pay for waste treatment, as is already the case in some European countries, as an incentive to encourage recycling.
“Compostable packaging will have the advantage of having an end-of-life solution built into the package,” he said as he wrapped up the interview with 3p.