Recyclable polypropylene pouch available in May that replaces an unrecyclable multilayer structure is a move toward a more circular economy. Gerber will make available introduce something that has not been seen before: The world’s oldest and largest baby food company will introduce in May the first single-material baby food pouch.
"Designing with a single material creates greater value for the recycling industry, promoting the development of better recycling infrastructure," says Gerber Associate Director of Packaging, Tony Dzikowicz. "After more than two years of experimenting and innovating, we were able to help create a first-of-its-kind solution for baby food that meets the safety and freshness requirements for our little ones." With parent company Nestlé as a founding member of Materials Recovery for the Future (MRFF), a research collaborative committed to creating recycling solutions, Gerber is helping to expand curbside recycling for the pouch. MRFF's pilot program in Pottstown, PA, is the first curbside recycling program in the U.S. to accept flexible plastics such as these. "We believe the baby food industry should help create a world where babies thrive, and initiatives like this one help us go beyond nutrition to protect the planet," said Gerber President and CEO Bill Partyka. Dzikowicz, Gerber’s Sina Hilbert, brand manager & sustainability lead, and Justin Welke, Nestlé’s packaging project manager, respond collectively to Packaging Digest’s questions about the brand’s new recyclable flexible packaging. Comment on Gerber’s previous pouch structure. Gerber: Gerber launched its first baby food pouch in 2011 with a multi-material structure made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), foil, and polyethylene (PE). In 2017, we began the transition to a non-foil multi-laminate structure to provide transparent and window options in the pouches so consumers can see the product inside. In 2017, Gerber began conducting trials with Gualapack, the world leader of premade spouted pouches, with the goal of bringing the industry’s first mono-material pouch to market. Coming to market in May 2020, this first-of-its-kind mono-material polypropylene (PP) pouch is a step towards Gerber’s goal to make 100% of our packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025. What’s the difference with the new recyclable pouch structure? Gerber: The new mono-material pouch is made from polypropylene (PP), which is one of the most common and versatile forms of plastic. The current industry standard for pouches is a multi-material structure using two layers of plastic with an aluminum layer in between. This structure is not currently municipally recyclable in the U.S. due to outdated infrastructure that struggles to sort and process flexible plastics. Moving to a mono-material structure increases the value of the recycled material for the recycling industry, promoting the development of better recycling infrastructure and encouraging a circular economy approach to plastics. What’s the importance of curbside recyclability vs. #2 PE In-store Recycle Ready? Gerber: We know that many parents rely on plastic — and pouches specifically — for convenience, durability and portability. However, municipal recycling infrastructure in the U.S. currently struggles to recycle most flexible packaging, including pouches. Currently, the #2 Polyethylene (PE) in-store drop off stream is limited to plastics that are “clean and dry.” Because baby food is a wet product, it is challenging to clean and dry pouches to the level that is compatible with current store drop off programs without contaminating the waste stream. Our new mono-material pouch is 100% recyclable through our national recycling program with TerraCycle. The pouch is curbside recyclable for consumers in Pottstown, PA, thanks to MRFF’s pilot. Gerber: MRFF is dedicated to creating municipal recycling solutions for flexible plastic packaging such as baby food pouches, plastic shopping bags, and more. With Nestlé as a founding member, Gerber is helping to expand curbside recycling for the pouch — and all baby food pouches. MRFF’s pilot program in Pottstown, PA, is now the first curbside recycling program in the U.S. to accept flexible plastics — including our mono-material pouch and all baby food pouches — alongside other recyclable materials. The pilot facility is aiming to recycle 6 million pounds of flexible plastic packaging annually beginning this year. What were the packaging considerations? Gerber: We designed the new mono-material pouch to stand out from our other products by applying a fresh design that features our key achievement, “First single-material pouch designed for the future of recycling.”