A better understanding of what structures and innovations can support a circular economy for flexible packaging is needed, and more data linked to design can pave the way forward, according to Professor Steven De Meester from Ghent University in Belgium.

Q: Why is it so important to have more data linked to circular flexible packaging?

We have to transition towards a circular economy for flexible packaging and this includes the whole value chain – from production to end-of-life. Making this transition in a matter of years is really complicated, so we need to have some facts or else everyone will keep on talking and not acting. If there’s no data on the table, you get opinions against opinions and this is very difficult to align stakeholders around.

Q: You’re involved in CEFLEX’s testing programme to update the Design for a Circular Economy guidelines (D4ACE), how can this help create the needed data you talk about?

What we want to do with this programme is create as much scientific data as possible, with sound testing of a sufficient quantity of samples. In the best case we can have some statistics and say with a level of confidence that this is a ‘design fact’ that cannot be ignored, for example, what exactly is sortable and what is recyclable.

Then we can give facts that allow for discussions between designers, product safety, marketing divisions, recyclers and even the consumers and governments. The data also helps us produce guidelines that clearly state we have to produce in a certain way for a product to be efficiently processed, sorted and recycled. I think that is really a key way towards transitioning this whole value chain towards more circularity.

Q: What are the benefits of working with CEFLEX’s testing partnership from an academic’s perspective?

For us as a University, this is really crucial data that we’re getting and it’s the first time that we achieve such an amount of data. Usually when we do this kind of work as academics, we have to gather samples ourselves and we have to analyse the sample and what composition it is. We get some fragmented samples in our testing, but working closely with industry in this case we got real large scale samples with known composition and we know exactly in which processes and which conditions they are processed.

Q: Are there any interesting outcomes already coming out from CEFLEX’s testing programme?

What we see currently from the sorting and processing tests is very nice data, it’s quantitative and it’s linked to the design phase. This is interesting and good for decision making related to design for recycling guidelines.

At the moment, we are linking expert judgment with the data and seeing how we can really get the maximum out of this data combined with experts around the table and it’s really interesting to hear all the perspectives on that. At the end, we hope to come with some sound evolution on CEFLEX’s previous work in design for recycling guidelines for flexible packaging.

Prof. Steven De Meester, Ghent University

Prof. Steven De Meester, Ghent University