In This Section
Film & Flexible Plastic Packaging
Film and flexible plastic packaging (‘flexibles’) is the fastest-growing plastic packaging category. Due to their low weight, low cost and high functionality, flexibles are used for many products, such as fresh fruit, meat, dry food, confectionary, drinks and more. The construction may be plain, printed, coated, coextruded or laminated.
As noted by the Association of Plastics Recyclers (APR), the vast majority of film is polyethylene and polypropylene, but currently only polyethylene is routinely collected and recycled as “PCR” (Post-Consumer-Recycled) in North America.
Life-cycle assessments [LINK to section], which take into account the full cycle of packaging, from material extraction to disposal, often show that flexibles are preferred, when compared with alternatives. However, flexibles are typically single-use, with very low recycling rates, and some flexible formats, such as food wrappers and plastic bags, are high-frequency litter items.
A 2021 Recycling Partnership white paper provides these definitions:
Film: Plastic film is typically defined as any plastic less than 10 millimeters thick. The majority of plastic film is made from polyethylene (PE) resins, both low-density and high-density materials.
Examples include retail grocery bags, bread bags, produce bags , air pillows and case wrap. Polypropylene (PP) is also used for packaging in similar applications. These film categories are often referred to as “monolayer” film.
Flexible packaging: In contrast to monolayer film, flexible packaging is often comprised of multiple materials or multiple layers of plastic film. The different properties in each layer contribute different performance characteristics to the package. The layers within a flexible package can be aluminum foil or paper in addition to plastic.
Examples include pouches, sleeves, sachets, and bags.
Film and Flexible Plastic Packaging Types
The following grouping illustrates the range and diversity of flexible packaging currently in use, and in scope for this sustainable packaging guide.
|Flexible Packaging Group||Packaging Descriptor||Material Construction|
|I||Bag – Stand up pouch||Multi plastic|
Plastic + Foil
Plastic + Paper
|II||Bag – Pillow Pack||Multi plastic|
|III||Sealant Film||Mono material|
|IV||Shrink Film / Wraps||Multi plastic|
|V||Bag – Wrapper||Multi plastic|
|VI||Mesh – net, banded and poly-mesh combo||Mono material|
Sustainable Packaging Options & Use Cases
Supporting Resources – Flexible Packaging specific
- APR Design Guide: https://plasticsrecycling.org/pe-film-design-guidance
- WPO Design Guide: 39-42: https://worldpackaging.org/Uploads/2021-10/ResourcePDF37_1635406572.pdf
- Ellen MacArthur Foundation Site on Flexible Packaging: Executive Summary and Deep Dives.
- CPP flexibles guide