Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification

PEFC is the world's largest forest certification organisation

NatureFlex Packaging

NatureFlex™ is a range of speciality packaging films developed by Futamura to offer packaging material options that give strong environmental support towards increasing consumer demand for responsibly-sourced packaging. These bio-films start life as a certified wood product. We spoke to Futamura about why this is so important to climate care.

Q: Can you say a little about NatureFlex’s vision and the importance of bio-based and compostable material for sustainable and flexible packaging?

NatureFlex™ is a range of compostable and renewable films which are suitable for many different markets, such as confectionery, chocolate, biscuits and bakery, dairy, dried foods, tea, coffee and fresh produce. The films are certified for both home and industrial composting and are also suitable for anaerobic digestion. Whilst there are some applications for which conventional plastics are best suited, applications where the packaging is still contaminated with food, such as tea bags or coffee capsules, are best suited to compostable materials as they can facilitate the recycling of food waste. Other applications such as food caddy liners, fruit labels, ready meal trays and small formats, such as twist wraps for sweets, are also key potentials applications for compostable materials. By 2023, every household in England should have access to food waste collections and compostable packaging can be collected together with the food waste. In this way, compostable materials are part of the circular economy.

Q: How has customer awareness grown in the last few years of the need for responsible consumption across the packaging business generally?

Customers are much more aware of the amount of packaging that they buy and the fact that very little plastic (and even less flexible plastic) is actually recycled. Programmes like Blue Planet have had a significant impact on the public highlighting the devastating effects of marine pollution on the environment. Consequently, consumers are looking for more environmentally-friendly materials and compostables are considered a good choice. In a recent Populus of 4000 people, 85% of respondents said they wanted to see more compostable packaging with 57% saying they’d pay more for products packed in compostable packaging.

Q: The principal raw material for NatureFlex products is the cellulose drawn from wood pulp. How important to NatureFlex™ is the use of certified material and the assurances that the raw materials are from responsibly-managed forests investing in certification?

The reputation of NatureFlex has been built on third party certifications because it is important to us that the claims we make are substantiated. This applies to both end of life for our compostability certifications and also the start of life for our raw material. Having PEFC chain of custody certification demonstrates that we are using wood pulp from responsibly-managed forests. This provides our customers with assurances of sourcing.

Q: For the uninitiated – what is the difference between bio-degradable, compostable and recyclable material?

A biodegradable material will break down under the action of naturally occurring micro-organisms (e.g. bacteria, fungi or algae), but has no specific timeframe and no requirement for not leaving a ‘toxic residue’. A compostable material is a material that ‘undergoes degradation by biological processes during composting to yield carbon dioxide, water, inorganic compounds and biomass, at a rate consistent with other known compostable materials (e.g. cellulose), and leaves no visible, distinguishable or toxic residue’ (ASTM D6400). Recyclable materials can be collected and reprocessed into new products, although quite often these materials are downcycled i.e. turned into a lower grade product due to the fact that it is difficult to obtain pure materials, unless the input stream is tightly managed e.g. PET bottles.

Q: Choosing certified material ultimately drives healthy forest management – is this something that the wider packaging industry is understanding more?

Just because a bio-based material is sourced from renewable resources, whether it be crop based or forest based, it doesn’t mean that it is sustainable. Customers are still interested in where the raw material is coming from and they want to ensure that it has been sustainably sourced and so there needs to be a credible sustainability certification to demonstrate that this is the case. The devastation caused by illegal logging is well understood and so healthy forest management is a prerequisite for our wood-based products.

Futamura Tomatoes

Q: What is the future for pulp/bio-based material and can they truly replace plastic packaging totally?

In some cases, plastics are being replaced by paper or cellulose based products, but for a number of applications, plastic packaging is still the most appropriate option, assuming it is collected and recycled at the end of its life. However, there are some applications which are best suited to compostable packaging materials and so the material of choice should be chosen based on the application.

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