Flexible packages are produced from lightweight yet durable materials such as paper, plastic film, aluminium foil or any combination of those materials. Because flexible packages generally conform to the shape of the product, excessive layers of packaging are eliminated. Additionally, less material is needed to create the packages, less fuel is needed to transport the packages, and less landfill space is needed to dispose of them. If, for example, you replace a steel soup can with a flexible pouch, the weight of the product is reduced 93 percent, and the amount of packaging is reduced 97 percent.
Plastic bags are cheap to produce, economical, strong, durable, waterproof, convenient, reusable and recyclable. They are made from the gases produced as a by-product of the manufacture of petroleum products and cause less damage to the environment in their manufacture than alternatives such as paper.
A recent study in the U.S.A. ("Resource and Environmental Profile Analysis of Polyethylene and Unbleached Paper Grocery Sacks," Franklin Associates, Ltd., June 1990) reports that the plastic bags gave the following results:
After the initial use polyethylene plastic bags can be reused or recycled and if deposited in a landfill take up far less space than alternative single trip packaging. Recent improvements in polymer properties have meant that less plastic has to be used than was previously needed to achieve the required mechanical properties of the bags.
Thin film plastic is often made of the same material as easily recyclable hard plastic. But, it is not usually accepted by local curbside recycling programs or material recycling facilities (MRF), often due to the fact that thin film plastic can easily get caught in their machinery and cause damage. In addition, the films require to be separated from the other waste stream to make recycling a viable option the cost of which makes up-scaling prohibitive. The low density of the material increases transport costs. Recycling for food grade products requires a high degree of decontamination from bacteria and chemicals, and finally markets to take the recyclate need to be found or developed, as well as useful products to use it.
However, if recycling were viable, plastic film would require less energy to do so than alternative products. Further more: