An inside look at Nature Valley’s new “store drop-off recyclable” wrappers

By Mark A. Spaulding

With Nature Valley™ Crunchy Granola Bars packaged in new “Store Drop-Off Recyclable” wrappers now hitting store shelves, the Converting Curmudgeon took the opportunity to speak with Printpack to learn more about the converter’s work on this breakthrough development.

The Atlanta, GA-based flexible-packaging converting giant began partnering a few years ago with General Mills to develop the new plastic-film wrapper – one of the prime drivers being to bring Nature Valley closer to achieving its commitment to 100% recyclable packaging by 2025. Wil Goetsch, Product Development Engineer dedicated to General Mills at Printpack, lead the team effort that ranged from film suppliers to the customer to in-house Printpack operations and recyclers.

“General Mills came to us about the project,” explains colleague Daniel Cluskey, Product Stewardship Engineer at Printpack. “We had to develop a plan to overcome a lot of obstacles.”

Printpack knew from the start that the goal was to create a wrapper to work within the US recycling stream.   Because very few communities collect flexibles for recycling curbside, the best option to recycle flexible films was the polyethylene “store drop-off” stream. “We had to figure out how to make this only PE,” Cluskey says.

The final structure is a lamination of oriented-PE films that is reverse-printed, vacuum-metallized and uses a cold-seal adhesive. “Oriented PE film will be a key tool in Printpack’s toolbox going forward since it retains many of the physical properties our customers are accustomed to like clarity, stiffness, and heat resistance while still being compatible with the PE-recycling stream,” says Cluskey. The previous wrapper was based on polypropylene films.

Using guidance from the How2Recycle® organization, Printpack made a variety of material samples that were tested at external labs for the recyclability requirements of metallized films. General Mills ran the testing, and the samples fell into acceptable ranges. “Because metallized film hasn’t been approved for recycling yet, every package with metallized film needs to be handled on a case-by-case basis using APR’s Critical Guidance testing for flexible films.” Cluskey explains.

There is still work to be done, he admits, but General Mills is committed and Printpack as well. “We’re moving the science along, pushing the industry in the direction of fully recyclable all-PE.

“We can get metallized film out of some packages, but there isn’t an alternative to metallization for some products. They need to be metallized, but they also need to be recycled.”

More info:

Editor’s Note: Read Daniel Cluskey’s technical paper, “Reinventing flexible packaging in five years,” in our 2021 Q1 issue, page 33. Click here