4 Ways Forward for Sustainable Pet Food Packaging


The pet food industry produces an estimated 300 million lb of plastic pet food and treat bags per yr inside the U.S. alone, and only about 1% of that packaging has an end-of-life solution that doesn’t include the landfill. That is in accordance with the Pet Sustainability Coalition (PSC), a nonprofit that seeks to advance environmental practices within the pet industry.

Domestic animal food packaging is especially susceptible to generating plastic waste because producers have a tough time finding materials that ensure long shelf life while meeting food-grade standards. Plastic is appealing within the industry because the fabric is able to holding the heavy weights wherein pet food is sold, explains Peter Hjemdahl, co-founder of rePurpose Global, a plastic motion program that enables for the acquisition of carbon credits. A plastic motion program that enables for the acquisition of carbon credits, rePurpose Global announced within the spring that 20 of its partner pet food brands from the U.S., Canada, and Recent Zealand, had recovered 2,000 tons of plastic waste from nature, the equivalent of 111 million plastic bottles or 1 billion plastic bags in weight.

One factor that hinders environmentally friendly packaging is consumer behavior: Pet owners appreciate the convenience of tossing containers within the trash. Other challenges include the shortage of recyclers and the massive and expensive logistical changes that might be needed to maneuver to a recycling or a reuse model, Hjemdahl adds.

The composition of packaging across brands can also be highly variable, one other recycling challenge. “It’s an actual challenge to seek out packaging options that aren’t based on plastic,” Hjemdahl says. “There’s lots of paper packaging, however it features a plastic liner.”

In May, rePurpose Global announced partnerships with 20 pet food firms within the U.S., Canada, and Recent Zealand to cut back plastics of their packaging and provide chains and finance rePurpose Global’s waste projects. The brands, which include Earth Animal, Nature’s Logic, and Right Right Pets, have already recovered 2,000 tons of plastic waste, the equivalent of 111 million plastic bottles or 1 billion plastic bags in weight, Hjemdahl says.

The rePurpose Global announcement comes on the heels of a survey by packaging and paper group Mondi, which showed that pet owners are increasingly turning an environmentally focused eye on the luggage, boxes, and containers stuffed with Fido’s food. Of the 751 pet food buyers polled in 2021, 74% said they’d favor pet food packaged in sustainable bags and containers. As well as, 45% of buyers said 100% recyclable packaging has essentially the most favorable impact, with “made out of post-consumer waste” close behind, at 32%. Barely greater than 25% of buyers favor compostable packaging, says Bill Kuecker, vice chairman of promoting for Mondi Consumer Packaging in North America.

Packagers and the makers of pet food packaging generally agree on the 4 major ways industry products may very well be packaged more sustainably. Containers which are either reusable, compostable, mechanically (traditional) recyclable, or chemically (advanced) recyclable constitute the 4 more ecological paths in pet food packaging. We’ll have a look at all of them of them, starting with reusables.

Reuse by refilling empty containers 

Consumers will likely adopt an environmentally conscious packaging method that prioritizes convenience, Hjemdahl says. Some containers and bag programs currently in place or being piloted call for buyers to return recyclable packaging to pet stores, where it’s picked up and shipped to recyclers.

But Hjemdahl proposes another choice: “Changing from single-use to the milk-delivery strategy, where they deliver your milk, take the empty bottles, sterilize and reuse them, after which do the identical thing again the subsequent week,” he says.

But he goes on to enumerate the 2 big drawbacks to reuse. It’s a giant adjustment for consumers. Also, the provision chains for the containers’ cleansing and reuse would have to be established from scratch. 

Nonetheless, one pet food brand—Open Farm Pet Food—has recently been making inroads into the reuse model Loop’s circular shopping platform. Open Farms Pet Foods’ Freeze-Dried Raw Recipes use durable, reusable packaging hosted through TerraCycle’s Loop platform.Open Farms Pet Foods’ Freeze-Dried Raw Recipes use durable, reusable packaging hosted through TerraCycle’s Loop platform.

Through the three-year-old Loop platform from TerraCycle, participating brands offer their products in reusable containers. Customers then drop off the empty containers at designated drop-off sites inside stores. Loop picks up the empty containers, cleans and refills them, then makes them available for purchase at a participating location.

“Sustainability is on the core of all the pieces we do at Open Farm as we proceed our commitment to boost the bar relating to feeding our pets and caring for our planet,” said Isaac Langleben, Co-Founder and CEO of Open Farm, in a press release upon joining Loop. “Joining Loop  is a crucial next step in reducing our environmental impact and is the right approach to offer consumers a waste free option.”

Open Farm says its reusable containers for the 2 Freeze-Dried Raw recipes are the one recipes hosted through Loop right now. Nonetheless, the corporate hopes to someday offer its entire product range in re-usable containers. 

“That is just the start of a bigger sustainability effort we hope to be a component of at Open Farm,” the corporate told Packaging World.

Mechanical recycling advantages from mono-materials

Perhaps consumers would find it convenient to return their used packaging for recycling while picking up a latest supply of pet food? To seek out out, PSC carried out a five-month pilot from August 2020 to February 2021 called Flex Forward. The study checked out the feasibility of in-store collection of multilayer plastic pet food and treat packaging for mechanical recycling. The study found that pet owners genuinely do need to recycle their pets’ food bags, though they’ve a tough time checking out the best way to achieve this, says Caitlyn Dudas, PSC’s executive director. Hero Image

Nearly all pet food bags are made by co-extruding and laminating multiple layers of plastic film right into a multilayer, sandwiched structure. Each layer performs a special functional purpose, and “it’s nearly inconceivable to separate layers from one another with the present state of [mechanical] recycling technology,” in accordance with the report.

One other factor holding the industry back is that the fee of recycling is normally greater than the worth of the materials within the package. Also at issue is the difficult hunt for a distribution partner that may take the luggage from drop-off locations in pet stores to recycling facilities, in accordance with PSC. Even finding appropriate recycling facilities for the Flex Forward pilot was a challenge, Dudas says. 

There are some return-for-recycling pet food packaging programs that exist already, Dudas says. A handful of brands have established recycling options through the aforementioned TerraCycle, an organization that develops recycling solutions for those waste streams that are usually not typically curbside recyclable. The packaging could be sent by mail to TerraCycle or dropped off at a retail establishment inside the program, which then mails it back for recycling.

Alternatively, some bag manufacturers have begun to supply single-material “recycle-ready” bags which are recyclable in a polyethylene stream, collected at store drop-off locations. So far, recycle-ready bags make up only a single-digit percentage of the pet food and pet treat packaging market, Dudas shares. 

The Flex Forward pilot ran for five months—one month faster than planned attributable to its success—at 127 U.S. pet stores. The multilayer and single-material bags were mechanically recycled at Earth Plastics. The Pennsylvania company has long experience recycling post-industrial pet food packaging, in accordance with the Flex Forward report.

Throughout the pilot, PSC learned some helpful lessons. The “right out of the gate” lesson: Don’t put paper stickers on recyclable packaging. The pilot’s leaders asked stores to place these stickers on the returned bags, in order that they could track where the luggage were coming from. But “using paper stickers on each bag increased contamination within the waste stream because paper mustn’t enter the plastics recycling stream,” the report noted.

Overall, the participating stores saw around a 5% to 10% weekly return rate on all packages sold. PSC originally expected it to take around six months to gather 5,000 lb of pet food and treat packaging. The common food or treat bag weighs 1.6 oz. But it surely took just five months to gather 8,356 lb of packaging, far surpassing that estimated timeline, in accordance with the report. And that was in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, when stores saw far less foot traffic than usual, Dudas says.

One huge drawback to in-store collection is the shortage of pet food packaging recyclers. PSC found that shipping packaging from the assorted retailers to Pennsylvania was expensive and couldn’t be sustained long-term.

“It’s not in the perfect interest of the pet industry, or the planet, to proceed to gather materials if a more sustainable solution to landfilling can’t be found,” the report notes. 

Dudas says PSC will now be conducting recycling trials to seek out the simplest, simplest, and lowest-cost recycling method, whether or not it’s mechanical or chemical recycling,

With mechanical recycling, plastic waste is made right into a secondary raw material without significantly changing the chemical structure of the plastics. Mechanical processes include sorting, grinding, and melting. 

Examples include Mondi’s recently introduced RetortPouch Recyclable package for wet pet food. The high-barrier pouch can replace complex multilayer and unrecyclable packaging, offering an answer that may withstand high temperatures, protect the product, and supply excellent shelf life while reducing food waste, Kuecker, of Mondi, says.

Moist or semi-moist foods which are heat-treated in steam or hot water retort vessels to attain industrial sterilization are packaged in retort pouches. Mondi has replaced the aluminum typically used for retort pouches with a recyclable, high-barrier film. The brand new, single-material packaging is fully recyclable, Kuecker says.

Mondi also introduced its FlexiBag Recyclable for dry pet food, which is a reclosable, high-barrier, recyclable packaging solution that confines smells, protects the product, and is recyclable. Produced from a single-plastic material, the luggage are already utilized by several leading pet food brands, Kuecker adds.

One such brand using this pack format is Wolf of Wilderness, an own brand by German online pet supply retailer zooplus AG. Mondi is supplying the brand with a pre-made FlexiBag Recyclable and BarrierPack Recyclable form-fill-seal (F/F/S) reel material, each certified recyclable by the Institute cyclos HTP, which makes a speciality of the classification, assessment, and certification of packaging recyclability. In the Wolf of Wilderness application, the bag’s materials provide all the necessary barrier properties to protect against the unwanted transmission of moisture, oxygen, and odors, with a premium look and feel, while still being certified as recyclable.Within the Wolf of Wilderness application, the bag’s materials provide all of the mandatory barrier properties to guard against the unwanted transmission of moisture, oxygen, and odors, with a premium feel and appear, while still being certified as recyclable.

“The success of ‘Wolf of Wilderness’ shows that we’ve got our finger on the heartbeat for species-appropriate, convenient, and high-quality food that dogs love. That’s the reason Mera Tiernahrung, who has been contributing to our success for years, manufactures the pet food. As a consequence, we only considered a sustainable and high-quality solution to package the brand new flavors,” said Dominik Mayer, Senior Product Manager for Wolf of Wilderness at zooplus when asked in regards to the project in late 2020.

Finally, several brands are selecting augment sustainability programs, like those geared toward using more recycle-ready materials, by redesign their packaging to cut back the amount of raw materials utilized in packaging when it comes to size, weight, and thickness. Smaller packaging designs, for instance, reduce the space needed for transport and might lower CO2 emissions through a 20% to 30% reduction in overall transportation weight, PCS’s Dudas says.

Those emission numbers can be affected by specific packaging designs and the way much material redesign eliminated, she adds.

Chemical recycling holds promise

Chemical recycling—sometimes called advanced recycling—is a broad term that includes many various technologies, though each of them converts plastic waste into chemicals by converting the chemicals inside the plastics to raw materials that could be used for other chemical processes, including creating latest products.

“These technologies are latest and emerging. They have an inclination to be expensive, and there are usually not currently many at a big enough scale to handle waste on the size of the whole pet industry,” the Flex Forward report notes. Mars’ Sheeba brand wet pet food pouch introduced to the European market containing food-safe polypropylene made from post-consumer recycled waste, processed by SABIC’s Trucircle solution and made into a film by Huhtamaki.Mars’ Sheeba brand wet pet food pouch introduced to the European market containing food-safe polypropylene made out of post-consumer recycled waste, processed by SABIC’s Trucircle solution and made right into a film by Huhtamaki.

One example of a chemical recycling effort within the pet food industry is a Mars’ partnership with SABIC and Huhtamaki to research where best to develop a versatile packaging solution incorporating advanced recycled materials. Through trials and a brand partnership with cat food manufacturer Sheba, the corporate was capable of launch a wet pet food pouch to the European market containing food-safe polypropylene made out of post-consumer recycled waste, processed by SABIC’s Trucircle solution and made right into a film by Huhtamaki.

“This not only helps us on our journey to attain 30% average recycled content in our plastic packaging and to cut back our use of virgin plastic by 25% however it also proves that the inclusion of advanced recycled materials is feasible, even with essentially the most difficult of packaging processes involving high temperatures and pressures,” Allison Lin, Mars global vice chairman of packaging sustainability, told Packaging World in May.

Compostable bags break down naturally over time

Other pet food makers are considering the best way to avoid plastic packaging in the primary place. Take the instance of The Everlasting Pet Company, founded in 2022, which makes organic dog treats packaged in compostable bags that look a bit of just like the brown paper lunch bags humans use to hold their very own treats. The labeling can also be printed on compostable paper.

“Like lots of startups, Everlasting was founded out of private frustration,” says Peter Andruszkiewic, company co-founder. Dog treats from the Everlasting Pet Company are packaged in a paper bag, with the liner being a compostable laminated film.Dog treats from the Everlasting Pet Company are packaged in a paper bag, with the liner being a compostable laminated film.

When he became a dog owner two years ago, Andruszkiewic had trouble finding organic, sustainably packaged treats for his dog, Millie. “The available options were low-quality, single-use packaging,” he says.

In response, he investigated making and packaging his own product. From the beginning, he planned to make use of renewable or recyclable packaging.

As he shopped for packaging for the corporate’s dog treats, Andruszkiewic says he soon discovered a number of the the reason why sustainable containers are underused available in the market. “An enormous piece of it’s that consumer packaging is costlier than alternatives. In pet treats, specifically, we see a dramatic rise in pouches. They’re convenient,” he says. “For us, as startup, finding a provider who provided durable but fully compostable packaging at a price we could afford was a challenge.”

The luggage Everlasting Pet Company landed on are made with paper, and the liner is a compostable laminated film. Andruszkiewic estimates the fee for the corporate’s compostable bags is about 30% higher per unit than the more traditionally used pouches. To assist with those costs, Everlasting sells larger packages of its dog treats as in comparison with similar brands. “You may then charge a better fee, and that cost is absorbed across a bigger base of ounces,” he says.

The pet food industry still must clear various hurdles before sustainable packaging becomes the on a regular basis norm.

But it surely’s clear that pet owners can look ahead to a neater time finding sustainable packaging options for his or her animals’ food than up to now. Sustainability will come not through a single method, but via an optimized combos of the choices outlined here, summarizes Hjemdahl of rePurpose Global.

“We haven’t found a panacea of 1 single thing that may replace plastic. So plastic will likely be in our lives for a lot of many years to return,” he says. “What’s vital now could be how we take care of it through recycling, refilling, and other methods while we try to seek out other products that may take its place.”  PW

Editor’s note: at press time, major pet food brand owner Freshpet relaunched its Nature’s Fresh brand to be 100% plastic neutral through its partnership with rePurpose Global. For each package of Nature’s Fresh sold, rePurpose will remove the equivalent amount of ocean-bound plastic waste from regions with poor waste collection infrastructure.

“Our team understands that aligning with the appropriate partners helps make us a wiser and more accountable brand,” says Scott Morris, President and Co-founder, Freshpet. “We’re making decisions which are driving change, and I’m proud that Nature’s Fresh can take a number one role in helping transform our business in addition to the industry.”

Freshpet partners include Global Animal Partnership, The Pet Sustainability Coalition, Conservative International, and rePurpose Global.