Three pet industry players have partnered under the common goal of creating a more environmentally sustainable pet industry. Earth Animal, a holistic pet product brand, Pet Sustainability Coalition (PSC) and Pet Food Experts, a wholesale pet supply distributor, have launched Flex Forward, a pilot program for “return-to-retail” recycling of pet food and treat packaging. 

The program aims to reduce waste-to-landfill by introducing sustainable packaging for pet products and encouraging consumers to return packages to the place of retail to be recycled. 

According to PSC, an estimated 300 million lbs. of plastic waste comes from pet food and treat packaging per year in the US. Additionally, many of those packages are made from unrecyclable or hard-to-recycle materials, making the cost of recycling more than the value of those materials. PSC also projects at least 99% of all pet food packaging in the US is thrown away rather than recycled.

Flex Forward will launch as a pilot program at hundreds of independent retail locations currently supplied by Pet Food Experts across the US. The program will come at no cost to participating retailers. Earth Animal, Pet Food Experts and PSC will provide all the materials and resources, including collection receptacles, employee training, digital content, incentives and customer support.

“These efforts bring together what is best about our industry: passion, innovation, and a commitment to helping all Earth’s animals. This program is not designed for just one company or one brand, but for the good of the industry and the good of the Earth. What we learn through this pilot program will shape how we move forward in the years to come,” said Stephanie Volo, chief marketing officer at Earth Animal. 

Returned packaging will be collected by Pet Food Experts, carried via reverse logistics to a Pet Food Experts distribution center, then shipped to a recycling plant where the materials will be pelleted and upcycled into new pet products, which will be donated to animal shelters across the US, according to the companies. 

“With shared values and a commitment to sustainability, the idea to partner with Earth Animal and PSC came naturally. As leaders in sustainability, we owe it to the industry to be a beacon for others to follow on the journey to a more sustainable future,” said Michael Baker, CEO of Pet Food Experts. 

The partnership hopes to collect 5,000 lbs. of post-consumer packaging from pet food and treat products through Flex Forward over a three- to four-month period, starting in the spring of 2020. Earth Animal, Pet Food Experts and PSC said they hope the pilot program will help inform consumers, retailers, manufacturers and packaging suppliers about the importance of reducing the overall environmental impacts of plastic packaging in the pet industry and fuel sustainable solutions for the future.

“As an industry we’ve made great strides in terms of sourcing sustainable ingredients, though the packaging innovations are slower to come. We know that fully recyclable packaging is on the horizon but in the meantime, we are clogging our landfills with more and more packaging waste. Our goal is to find an alternative avenue for those offscourings and eventually, to eliminate them altogether,” commented Caitlyn Dudas, executive director of PSC. 

Earth Animal will host an informational session about Flex Forward during Global Pet Expo at booth #1219 on Wednesday, Feb. 26 at 2 p.m. PSC will also host a webinar detailing the recycling program on March 31. 

Additional information can be found at www.earthanimal.org/flexforward