BOULDER, COLO. — The pilot phase of Flex Forward, a return-to-retail pet food packaging program by Pet Sustainability Coalition (PSC), Earth Animal and Pet Food Experts, has successfully concluded after exceeding the initial collection goal of 5,000 lbs of used, flexible pet food and treat packaging.

The program was first announced in February 2020, but the launch was delayed to August due to COVID-19 complications. The goal of Flex Forward is to reduce landfill waste and promote the use of sustainable, recyclable packaging solutions by pet food and treat manufacturers.

Flex Forward now moves into its second phase, where the recyclability of collected materials will be tested with the goal of repurposing the recycled plastic material for the manufacture of hard pet goods such as dog beds, toys and other pet product accessories.

NOVA Chemicals has joined the program for this second phase, coined “Toward Circularity,” to fund and provide expertise on circular solutions for the recycled flexible plastic.

According to PSC, roughly 300 million lbs of flexible pet food and treat packages are manufactured in the United States each year, of which almost all are produced through co-extrusion and laminating multiple layers of film plastics. These materials are “nearly impossible” to separate to be recycled, the organization said. Because of this, an estimated 99% of pet food packages in the United States wind up in landfills rather than recycling streams. 

More than 120 independent retailers across Oregon and Washington participated in the pilot phase of Flex Forward. PSC stated many of these stores reported increased foot traffic because of the program. Participating retailers received collection vessels, associate training, digital content and incentives to facilitate and encourage pet owners to return to the store to recycle used packages, all at no cost.

PSC will discuss Flex Forward in more detail at its upcoming virtual conference, UnPacked21, which will focus on sustainable packaging solutions and discussions in the pet care industry.

Read more about sustainability in the pet food and treat supply chain.