Circular_Economy_Sustainability_ICPGIn our quest to help global brands replace PS in their thermoformed & form-fill-seal food packaging applications, ICPG has participated in conversations with teams across the globe all working on the same initiative – to improve the sustainability of their single-use plastic packaging solutions. With governments domestically and abroad taking a more active role to hold businesses financially accountable for their packaging with programs like Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and taxation policies, organizations are placing sustainable packaging initiatives at the top of their list of priorities for 2024.

Depending on the organization, application, and the location, this could mean different things. However, throughout the course of our conversations, we noted similar questions and concerns leading us to establish the 5 unofficial food packaging rules that alternative material solutions must follow to be considered sustainable for the long term.


5 Unofficial Food Packaging Rules

1. Recyclability by the Standards

Amid increasing efforts to avoid greenwashing it’s not enough just to say a material is recyclable “in theory” – you need to prove that it is recyclable “in practice.”

There are three organizations that have emerged within the past few years to effectively become the “North Star” for determining if your plastic packaging material stands up to industry-accepted guidelines for recyclability:
  • Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR) Design Guide: The APR design guide has become widely recognized as the industry-authority on best practices for designing plastic packaging for recyclability in North America. Using the design guide, companies can measure each component of their packaging solution against industry-accepted criteria to ensure their product is truly recycling compatible.
  • How2Recycle: How2Recycle is an organization on a mission to increase recycling rates by taking the guesswork out of recycling with a clear labeling system that provides consistent and transparent on-package disposal instructions for consumers. Food processors & brand owners can receive a custom recyclability assessment that evaluates each component of the packaging solution against national data on recycling in the US and Canada. Rollstock suppliers can receive a pre-qualification label from How2Recycle for the base packaging material to make the process of securing a label more efficient for brands & CPGs.
  • US Plastics Pact (USPP) Problematic & Unnecessary List: The USPP has established a list of 11 problematic and unnecessary resins, components, and formats, identified as detrimental for recycling, and works with pact activators to eliminate the materials and items by 2025 to establish a circular economy for plastics packaging in the United States.

2. Circular Economy Potential

To ensure that a material will meet the evolving regulatory requirements for incorporation of post-consumer recycled (PCR) content, solutions need to demonstrate feasibility for re-use in the plastic’s circular economy now and into the future. In fact, market value of the recycled material is a main component of APR’s definition of recyclable. This means that there must be established infrastructure for reclaiming that material or plans to develop the necessary infrastructure to reclaim a material at a volume that makes the process economical from a business perspective. This also means that there must be a place for the reclaimed material to go including existing or on-coming capabilities for reprocessing that material into usable PCR resin, and existing demand for selling the PCR material back into new applications.

3. Carbon Footprint Reduction

While recyclability is a key component of improving the sustainability of packaging solutions, it does not consider the difference in environmental impact from beginning to end of life. With so many options to choose from – from paper, to fiber, to various polymers – it can be challenging to understand the implications of using one solution vs another. Conducting a Life Cycle Assessment can help quantify the environmental impact of these decisions, giving brand owners and food packaging processors confidence that are selecting the solution that minimizes the carbon footprint of their packaging, providing comparative data on various environmental indicators including:

  • Fossil fuel consumption
  • Global warming potential
  • Transportation emissions
  • Water consumption

4. Total Cost of Ownership

When we consider the basic definition of sustainability unrelated to environmental impact, “able to be maintained at a certain rate or level,” it makes sense for cost to be included in one of our unofficial sustainable food packaging rules.

Ultimately, if a solution is cost prohibitive or requires exorbitant up-front investment, it reduces the chance that it will be feasible on a commercial scale. Organizations must evaluate the total cost of ownership including:

  • Market Economics: factors including the cost per pound of a packaging material, pricing trends over time, and the anticipation of any additions or subtractions from capacity that could impact supply & demand.
  • Equipment Utilization: ability to use existing equipment, tooling & processes, investment needed to modify, retrofit or replace equipment & the cost per line for necessary modifications.
  • Resource Efficiency: impacts on consumption, output, and overall cost that material characteristics such as weight, density & down-gauging/light-weighting potential can have on material spend.

5. Versatile Performance Characteristics

With any significant change there will always be a certain level of switching costs and company resources that must be used to trial and validate a new solution. Brands want a packaging solution that they can commit to for the long-term – preferably one that offers versatile performance characteristics that can be applied across to various applications in their portfolio, and that allows them to expand into new product offerings.


How XPP Measures Up to the Unofficial Sustainable Packaging Rules

Switching from PS to a new material can help improve the sustainability and recyclability of your existing food packaging applications. However, in many cases, it requires upgrades to your existing thermoforming & form fill seal equipment & tooling which can be cost-prohibitive, limiting your ability to achieve your 2025 goals. Brands need to select a material solution that is sustainable, affordable and provides the same performance as current solutions. For rigid thermoformed and form-fill-seal packaging applications, ICPG’s XPP is the ideal solution.

See how XPP measures up to our unofficial sustainable food packaging rules:

  • Recyclability: XPP offers a more recycle-friendly solution than existing PS packaging, conforming with industry-standard guidelines for recyclability including:
    • APR Design Guide Preferred Material
    • How2Recycle Pre-Qualification Label as Widely Recycled
    • Not listed as a Problematic or Unnecessary Material per the USPP
  • Circularity: The outlook for PP recycling & reuse is very bright, which means food packaging companies looking to switch to XPP can feel confident that they are switching to a long-term circular solution. Active investments are currently being directed towards improving access to PP recycling & sortation from organizations such as the Recycling Partnership’s Polypropylene Recycling Coalition. In addition, companies such as PureCycle Technologies are heavily investing in processes that convert polypropylene plastic waste into like-new plastic, helping to close the loop on the reuse of recycled plastics while making recycled polypropylene more accessible at scale to companies seeking to incorporate PCR-PP into their packaging.
  • Carbon Footprint: The low density and lightweight nature of polypropylene also allows for sustainability advantages vs incumbent PS & alternative PET solutions throughout the product lifecycle. A Life Cycle Analysis comparing a switch from PS to PP, and PET to PP, demonstrates that Polypropylene reduces environmental impact on various environmental indicators including Fossil Fuel Use, Global Warming Potential, Transportation & Water Consumption, for an overall lower carbon footprint solution.
  • Cost: Not only does XPP offer a lower cost per pound on a trailing 12-month averaged vs PS & PET, the low density and lightweight nature of polypropylene in comparison to alternatives offers increased resource efficiency & higher yield on pounds purchased for an overall lower total cost of ownership. In addition, XPP has been designed to offer compatibility with existing thermoforming & form-fill-seal equipment & tooling currently used to process PS & PET, allowing brand owners & converters to make the switch to XPP without the need for significant and cost-prohibitive up-front capital expenditure.
  • Versatility: Brand owners & CPGs that switch to XPP can take advantage of the versatile nature of this polypropylene solution, offering the opportunity to extend the sustainability attributes of XPP across their portfolio and into new products.

    The high temperature resistance of XPP solutions coupled with enhanced functional and mechanical properties allow for suitability in a wide variety of packaging/sterilization processes including:

ICPG Can Help you Achieve Your Sustainability Goals:

As we navigate the official and unofficial food packaging rules in 2024, ICPG is here to support your goals! Our XPP Polypropylene Solutions have been developed as a sustainable and recyclable product for replacement of non-recyclable and problematic PS food packaging. Download the XPP Product Sheet to explore the benefits of this material and get in touch with our team.


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