How to develop Recyclable Packaging: 3 tips for Sustainable Packaging

Last week we shared some interesting news from Packaging Insights. This article highlighted a study that found packaging recyclability is still limited due to the packaging’s design. Packaging that is designed without any regard for recyclability is all too often unsuited for it.

Even in the Netherlands there is still lots of room for improvement. In this study the Author found that only 27% of the tested packaging was well-suited for recycling. Considering 2025’s goal for plastic recycling is 50%, that is still a lot of packaging to be redesigned.

Even worse: according to the study a large part of the unsuitable packaging could be improved with only minor adjustments. They estimate as much as 29% of the unsuited packaging could be adjusted without too much of a headache. And this last part is what we’re focusing on today. How can we develop recyclable packaging?

Develop recyclable packaging: Flexoplast’s 3 tips

One of the core principles behind packaging recyclability are recycling streams. After being picked up from the trash, sorting machines decide in which stream your packaging is going to end up. For packaging to be truly 100% recyclable it firstly has to be properly identified. Only then can it be added to the stream without polluting it. The following 4 tips help with this:

  1. Choose minimalistic prints

    The more colors and square surface of your packaging gets printed, the higher the chance your packaging will get sorted into the ‘mixed colors’ stream. Yet the ‘purest’ stream is definitely the transparent recycling flow. So how do we design packaging that ends up in the transparent stream?

    Part of the equation is color. Try to stick to CMYK as closely as possible. Perhaps even cut down on the total number of different colors in your design. We get it, your coworkers in Marketing want to use all the colors known to man, and ideally even more. And with our printing presses allowing up to 11 colors it’s never been more tempting to do just that. But when designing for recyclability we’d advise you to reconsider. Maybe settle on a print that has only 4-6 colors.

    The other part is printed surface area. One of the easiest ways to end up in the transparent stream is to simply have a mostly transparent packaging. Makes sense right? Generally the rule of thumb at Flexoplast is as follows: as long as 10% (or less than 10%) of your packaging gets printed, your packaging-to-print ratio is healthy enough for the transparent streams.

  2. Packaging measurements and sizes: bigger is better

    This second tip might sound counter-intuitive, but one of the biggest issues with current packaging are the move towards smaller sizes. Keep in mind we’re not talking about thickness (micron) here. Moving towards thinner packaging is something we believe very strongly in!

    But when it comes to the packaging size, a fully sized stand-up pouch will do much better than a miniaturized sachet. Reason being that many Packaging Sorting machines are not capable of identifying packaging when it’s too small. Because of this all the small packaging shapes are ‘simply tossed on the burn stream’. So while we understand there might be other motivations behind small packaging (consumer convenience/ single-use sizes), you should be looking to leave them behind when designing for recyclability.

  3. Multiple layers and additives

    The last tip only applies to companies that are currently using laminated packaging. First off: make sure you actually need multiple layers. Many companies are still using outdated packaging concepts from different layers without any specific reason. Moving towards a single-layer packaging concept is one of the easiest ways to make it fully recyclable instantly.

    Aside from being more selective with your layers, you should also be taking a long hard look at your additives. Adhesives and lacquers are generally considered to be ‘recycle-friendly’ as long as you keep their presence to less than 5% of the entire package.

And there you have it! Three tips that you can instantly use to develop recyclable packaging. Feeling a bit lost or curious to know the technical details behind these tips? We’re happy to help you through the process. Get in touch with our experts to learn the ins and outs for recyclable Packaging Design, and let us help you bring your Packaging to new heights!

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