Designing liquid packaging for sustainability comes with the same considerations as other packaging types, but it has unique considerations too.
In this Q&A AeroFlexx CEO Andrew Meyer discusses what his company has done to create liquid packaging to solve for problems around designing for sustainability; mainly tied to designing for ecommerce; simplifying the supply chain; and figuring out how to reduce plastic without compromising functionality.
Waste360: Describe your main product and industries you cater to.
Meyer: Our liquid package solution, the AeroFlexx Pak, is designed to be made from flexible material but still acts like a rigid bottle. The packages do not lose shape while staying flexible. It supports companies across the personal care, food, household products, industrial manufacturing, and pet care industries. To get a better idea of how many other industries it can positively impact, we suggest watching our video, “Day in the Life with AeroFlexx.”
Waste360: What are some trends in designing liquid packaging for recyclability?
Meyer: Probably one of the most significant trends is companies moving away from mixed plastic applications and/or removing problematic recyclable components or layers to create a more “mono-material” approach.
Waste360: What’s going on to incorporate recycled content in liquid packaging?
Meyer: We and others are using recycled content in liquid packaging and continue to strive for the highest levels possible. One of the most significant challenges of this is having an ample supply of recycled content –either postconsumer resin (PCR) or postindustrial resin (PIR).
We have proven that our AeroFlexx Pak can incorporate up to 50 percent recycled content without compromising the features and benefits of the Pak. Our goal is to eventually reach 100 percent recycled content in our manufacturing process.
Waste360: What are special considerations in designing liquid packaging for sustainability?
Meyer: The most impactful consideration is source reduction without compromising durability and the consumer’s experience using it. The liquid packaging industry is taking notice by adopting lightweight and flexible packaging. The AeroFlexx Pak, for example, uses up to 70 percent less plastic than traditional bottles, resulting in 73 percent less water consumption and 81 percent less waste that would otherwise end up in landfills. The package can also be curbside recyclable where all plastic bottles are accepted.
Another consideration is simplifying the supply chain by reducing the number of components in a liquid package and reducing shipping components such as bubble wrap, packing peanuts, or other packing materials.
Innovative liquid packaging will have to find the most sustainable approaches all while preserving functionality that enhances the consumer experience.
Waste360: What have you learned about designing both flexible and rigid liquid packaging?
Meyer: When designing the AeroFlexx Pak, we combined the best features of rigid and flexible packaging into a single solution. The result of our learnings and innovative design has led to a flexible liquid package that enables a preferred consumer experience, delivers brand value, and introduces sustainability benefits.
Waste360: Tell us more about the technology’s capabilities/problems it helps solve.
Meyer: The AeroFlexx Pak can eliminate up to 85 percent virgin plastic compared to traditional rigid bottles between the reductions in virgin material and the amount of recycled content we can incorporate.
The AeroFlexx Paks are Amazon ISTA-6 approved for ship-in-own-container (SIOC) and over-boxing. They are hermetically sealed, and omnichannel-ready right off the filling machine production line.
The airframe technology protects the product inside when shipped and doesn't require extra packaging materials, allowing it to arrive at its final destination in perfect condition. Our airframe technology also provides structural rigidity throughout the product’s lifecycle and won't break if you accidentally drop it.
Once a consumer opens the packaging by removing the top tab, the self-sealing valve allows them to dispense the precise amount of the contents needed. Even if the packaging is turned upside down or falls to the ground, the self-sealing valve and airframe ensure no leakage, resulting in less waste and more money saved.
Once the consumer is finished with the product, the AeroFlexx Pak can be curbside-recyclable where all plastic bottles are accepted.
It requires no molds to produce and because it removes the need for a bottle, cap/trigger spray, and/or inductions seals, it simplifies the company's supply chain.
Waste360: What are consumers and brands asking for in packaging? And what are you doing to know, and cater to, their expectations?
Meyer: Research has shown that consumers are asking for eco-friendly, secure, durable, and easy-to-use packaging. A report from McKinsey & Company states: “With 43% of U.S. consumers saying that the environmental impact affects their purchasing decisions, it is more important than ever that companies make environmentally sound decisions.”
Brands are seeking to accomplish three main objectives:
- How will this packaging help meet our sustainability commitments?
- What is the consumer experience with this packaging?
- How does the package stand out in-store and online to continue to strengthen the brand integrity?
We have conducted independent, third-party consumer research studies that indicate the consumer prefers the AeroFlexx Pak over traditional bottles. This is driven by features including eco-friendly packaging, the self-sealing valve, and precision dispensing.
We also partner with brands to create customized packaging for consumer testing as part of their go-to-market strategy.
Waste360: Can you quantify sustainability payoffs for brands?
Meyer: For most liquid brands, we see an immediate upfront reduction in plastic. For example, our 16-oz empty flat AeroFlexx Pak weighs 14 grams, which equates to an 80 percent reduction in plastic for one liquid provider (i.e., empty rigid bottle and pump).
The value we bring to brands is reducing their total cost of ownership across a range of operational dimensions. By switching to AeroFlexx, brands can replace three to four components (bottle, cap/trigger spray, labels, inductions seals) with a single solution, thus taking trucks off the road and simplifying their operation. For example, approximately 1.2 million flat AeroFlexx Paks fit on a standard empty truck in comparison to only 120,000 empty traditional bottles.
We eliminate the need for separate SKUs for e-commerce. Plus, the ISTA 6-Amazon approval means products can be shipped without additional bubble wrap or other packaging materials and won't break or open during shipment.
According to our projections, if manufacturers shift 500 million product units from bottles to AeroFlexx Paks, it would save 119.9 million kilowatt-hours of energy and 13.1 million gallons of gas. Furthermore, CO2 emissions would be reduced by 51.4 million pounds, and landfills would be spared from 196.2 million pounds of waste.
An additional benefit for brands that utilize AeroFlexx packaging is the ability to fully customize the packaging’s design (e.g., size, shape, and artwork) by removing molds and label limitations.
Waste360: How do the bottles get filled?
Meyer: AeroFlexx supplies both the liquid package and the respective filling machines. The filling machine can be located at our commercialized facility in West Chester, OH, at the brand’s location, or at a co-manufacturing location. The filler machine takes the flat AeroFlexx Paks and fills them with product and air.
Waste360: How are you able to make it with 50-70 percent less plastic than traditional bottles?
Meyer: The unique features (whereby the packaging is made of a flexible material but still acts like a rigid bottle) also mean less plastic used up front. When compared to an empty traditional rigid bottle with a cap, lid, or pump, our package is 50-70 percent lighter.
And as mentioned, our built-in, self-sealing valve means no extra pieces are necessary.
Waste360: Have you done any lifecycle analyses? If so, what have they found?
Meyer: We have completed two life cycle analyses — one in 2020 and another in 2021 — both by a third party (Boundless Impact). Findings concluded that our packaging is more sustainable across a broad range of metrics including greenhouse gas emissions, waste-to-landfill, energy consumption, and more when compared to rigid bottles.