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Replacing conventional plastics in flexible packaging

Andy Sweetman, Sales & Marketing Manager for Futamura

Every day, millions of people use flexible packaging – so what do brand owners choose, how does this impact them and is there a viable sustainable alternative?

Flexible packaging offers huge benefits for brand owners, such as lightweight or “right-weighting”, lower carbon footprint, improved logistics, cost efficiency, convenience, product protection, fantastic barrier properties, extended shelf life, contamination prevention, presentation opportunities, superb graphic capability and product information. In general, therefore, flexibility equals versatility.

But with these benefits come mounting concerns for the health of our planet. Although lightweight packs are a great solution for lowering carbon footprint compared with some rigid packs, it can be argued there is no value after use and the pack has a higher risk of becoming abandoned waste. Likewise, using mixed materials for lamination can offer fantastic functional benefits, but they cannot practicably be separated and recycled. With this inherent one-way design, landfill or incineration is often seen as the “best” option, yet where does this lead?


As brand owners are careful not to make any unsubstantiated green claims, they often take the safe option to switch from rigid to flexibles and to lightweight or right-weight their packaging.

However, there is an increasing range of bio-laminates that are now available to brand owners, offering the same critical barrier properties of conventional plastics, but with a long list of independently certified and substantiated sustainability claims.

Products such as NatureFlex™ films, incorporating Futamura’s unique cellulose film and coating technologies, have been harnessed to provide unparalleled gas and moisture barrier properties, excellent machinability and technical performance, without compromising the levels of renewable raw materials employed or the final compostability of the packaging material.


So why aren’t there many more bio-laminates? The performance of renewable and compostable resins and films has only recently reached a truly viable level. For example, cellulose film barrier performance has improved substantially without compromising compostability and there are now metallised films to enhance the barrier in laminate solutions.

Other recent developments include the arrival of the first true bio-adhesives and improvements in the sealant layer of bio-polymers.

When it comes to sustainable films, yes there is a premium and, therefore, it needs to fit the right product type such as organic, natural and Fairtrade products, to match waste reduction and management priorities or for extended shelf-life capabilities, but this premium can see a great return on investment.


Most bio-plastics contain readily renewable raw materials. It is, therefore, important to check that sustainable sourcing is available at the start of the pack life. NatureFlex™ films are manufactured from wood pulp sourced from certified managed plantations. During the manufacturing process, life-cycle assessment of the film is used to understand and reduce process impacts.

The end of pack life is where bio-plastics really score high. As we want to divert waste from landfill, it is important that local infrastructures allow for the recycling of bio-plastics where it makes sense to, such as with bio-plastic bottles, or to use bio-plastics to aid organic waste recovery where typical recycling is impractical.

Home compostable films can simply be put in a garden compost bin; this is the ultimate point of differentiation for compostable bio-plastics compared with all other plastics.


Using bio-laminates can really improve business operations. Futamura’s customers have seen a number of benefits, such as significant sales growth, improved brand reputation and positive public relations.

What does all this mean? It means bio-laminate films really perform. They have a technical functionality that can hold their own against more conventional flexible packaging materials, if not exceed them in some instances.

It means bio-laminates can now viably match the properties of conventional structures, with enhanced environmental attributes. Brand owners, therefore, do not have to compromise functionality for sustainability.

As for cost efficiency, for a minimal on-cost, the packaging now becomes an intrinsic part of the brand’s core values – something to talk about proudly with consumers instead of something to ignore.

For more information please e-mail, visit or follow us on Twitter @NatureFlexFilms