Flexible Packaging Round Table Podcast

Podcast: Episode 9 – Alison Keane from the Flexible Packaging Association

Is there new flexible packaging legislation or policies in place? What flexible packaging trends will continue into 2022? Tune in to hear what Alison Keane, President and CEO of the Flexible Packaging Association (FPA) has to say.


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00:01:02 Sara Januszewski
Well, I’m just going to hop right on in. Welcome everyone to the 9th episode of the Flexible Packaging Round Table. Today we are speaking with Alison Keane. She is the President and CEO at the Flexible Packaging Association (FPA). We will be talking today about her takeaways from Pack Expo back in September, the current state of legislation for our industry, and flexible packaging trends that she sees continuing into 2022. That’s coming up here soon and I am your host, Sara Januszewski.

00:01:43 Sara Januszewski
Hey Jonathan. I see your comment down there and again, thank you Alison. You are our first repeat guests on here, so thanks for joining us.

00:01:52 Sara Januszewski
To start off here, coming back from Pack Expo, what new trends did you see?

00:02:02 Alison Keane
Yeah, I mean first and foremost it is so good to be back in-person at Pack Expo in Vegas this year and I think from a trend standpoint I mean, maybe I’m myopically focused when I look for things, but I hope everybody saw what I saw, which is the sustainability trend continues and it just keeps growing and growing. I think for the first time here, I really saw that post-consumer recycled (PCR) content is buying for recyclability at the same time, right? For the last several years we’ve really been talking about design for recyclability and recyclable packages and pouches and now I’m seeing that as well as post-consumer recycled content. So that was an interesting trend to see.

00:02:46 Sara Januszewski
And what are you most looking forward to coming up next year at Pack Expo in Chicago?

00:02:53 Alison Keane
Vegas was better than I expected, with folks still uncertain about COVID-19 and the Delta variants but it was still a lot of good foot traffic and a lot of great packaging and seeing people back together. So, I think Chicago is just going to be magnified, right? It’s just going to be bigger. It usually is bigger anyway, but bigger and better and I’m excited to see everybody again in-person.

00:03:18 Sara Januszewski
What is new at the FPA?

00:03:26 Alison Keane
What’s new with the FDA, so we just finished our judging for 2022 Innovation Packaging Awards, and I have to tell you again, I’m not sure if it was because of COVID and people still not traveling as much, but we had a record-breaking number of entries over 100 entries, like 115. Then if you add how many entries were in multiple categories, it was amazing. So, we’re going to give the results out in-person at our annual meeting. I always have to caveat that nowadays, but it should be in-person in Bonita Springs, Florida. The awards dinner will be March 23rd. So, looking forward to seeing everybody there and giving out a ton of awards. I know it was a really difficult year for the judges, it was best of the best. They were all fantastic and they had to pick and choose the best of the best this year.

00:04:30 Sara Januszewski
I’d like to know more about that. How many guests do you have judging the events?

00:04:38 Alison Keane
Well, first of all we have 5 categories. We had an unprecedented amount in Printing and Shelf Impact this year as well as Sustainability, but there’s Packaging Excellence and there’s Extending the Use. So, taking something that didn’t use to be in flexible packaging. So again, multiple packages could be in multiple categories. We have 3 judges. I am not one of them, so don’t blame me if you didn’t win. We always have somebody from academia, so this year we had a judge from Rutgers Packaging School, and we always have a media type, so this year we had somebody from Napco Media and then we always have a consultant and this year we had a consultant from PTIS. So, 3 judges and like I said, they had their work cut out for them this year with so many great packages and so many entered in the important categories.

00:05:36 Sara Januszewski
Awesome, I’m glad to hear it was a major success and it was a groundbreaking year. Is there any new legislation or policies in place that we should be aware of?

00:05:49 Alison Keane
Yes, so when we talked back in the spring, there was probably five states with 15 pieces of legislation. We ended up with about 10 States and 20 pieces of legislation that will impact packaging. And in the end, some good news, and some bad news. There were some packaging post-consumer recycled content bills that we were able to carve out flexibles, but of course, the precedent is there. So, we got some changes, and we made some changes so that we can live with what that content is that’s in Washington State, New Jersey is still pending. There was a couple EPR bills, but I put a big question mark, so that’s extended producer responsibility, one in Maine and one in Oregon. That did pass, and that was probably 2 out of five or six that were pending back in the spring, and we didn’t really support either one of these. We supported an alternative in Maine, mostly because of more government centric, we think if it’s extended producer responsibility, the producer should have the responsibility, not just pay into the system, but fundamentally help run the system. The fee is going to go on packaging, it is going to go right to the government, so that’s the worst of worst or it will go to a producer responsibility organization, but it is very heavily going to be dictated upon by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. So not great on either front, but we are working in 2022 with a couple of states that we can support, like Maryland and we’re working with Connecticut and Vermont on language that looks better than those two, quote-un-quote models.

00:07:36 Alison Keane
And then, you know, hopefully everybody knows, I’m sort of a policy wonk in the DC area, but we did get an infrastructure bill passed. I’ve been talking about it, working on it for probably four years, but it did get passed and Biden signed it last week and instead you know, just bridges and roads at broadband and technology. Not just those things, but actually recycling got in there too. So, we have $350 million in infrastructure improvement for recycling through grants and another $75k for consumer education, so the administration really is thinking long term about this and modernizing our recycling system infrastructures, and that’s really the message we wanted to get out and to have some money in that infrastructure bill to do it is pretty powerful.

00:08:31 Sara Januszewski
Right, wow. And I mean you can build off it but are there any further challenges that are coming with some of these newer developments, like I don’t know if you want to touch more on those four years that you went through to get this bill passed. You know what all led up to that and what were the challenges you faced to finally get there?

00:08:53 Alison Keane
I mean, we’re going to see the same challenges, probably magnified in 2022 because now you have this Maine bill and you have this Oregon bill, neither of which look exactly the same and I know you don’t make packaging different for Oregon than we do for Maine, and neither do our customers. So, all of a sudden, you’re starting to see you know, not a 50-state approach, but even a 5-state approach to this packaging world of modernizing our recycling system. Again, if I buy something in California, I might recycle it in Nevada or vice versa, so, this state siloed approach really isn’t the way we’re going to need to see going forward in the future. I think the opportunity is to continue in 2022 to try to draft better model legislation, when it comes to packaging and circularity, try to get it passed in one or two states. Like I said, we’re working there, we’re working with Vermont, Connecticut. We’re sitting down before that bill is introduced and writing that legislation. That’s really important. It’s much easier to change it now and have those conversations then to try to do it on the floor of a House or the Senate. In addition, we are talking to the government, the federal government to say, look, you know this is a commerce issue we need to come together if we can find a model that works, we need at least harmonization from the federal government. We need modernization of the recycling system, or labeling for what’s recyclable, what’s not recyclable?

00:010:30 Alison Keane
Certainly, that consumer piece, you can make it recyclable but if the consumer doesn’t know where to put it or doesn’t have access to get it into a Blue Bin system, right? So, all of that stuff really needs to be harmonized across the States and we’re already starting to have those conversations with our partners in the Biden administration. And now that infrastructure is done and they’ll have to get over the debt ceiling sometime in December and another budget resolution, so we don’t shut down. But you kind of start to see the clouds lifting and the administration being able to really concentrate on something other than just getting the government up and running and the sort of partisan acrimonious. You get a couple things done, people start working together and you start to see the possibilities to do further good work.

00:11:30 Sara Januszewski
So, would you say that Maryland is at the forefront of a lot of things, in terms of flexible packaging and recycling and all that?

00:11:39 Alison Keane
I think Maryland’s a pretty small state, but we have the microcosm of the United States. Now I know our mountains aren’t as huge as they are out West, but we do have mountains. We do have the shoreline and we also have the Bay, so we’ve got the best of both worlds. We’ve got the rural communities. We have the heavily developed communities like your Baltimore’s. So, it’s a good, what I would consider, a pilot. I wish it could have been the 1st pilot when we looked at modernizing infrastructure for all packaging, including flexible, but we weren’t successful with that bill last year so, but we’re going to try again. If we can get a better model than Oregon and Maine then we’re in better shape when we go to other States and say see, here is a system that works.

00:12:27 Alison Keane
And here’s the other thing, Sara, Maine isn’t slated to go into place until like 2027. That’s when the money would start flowing for recycling. I mean that in and of itself is not a really great bill that is going to take you seven years to implement. Oregon’s probably going to flip it faster, but still a lot of regulations. We think we can do this pretty quickly. We think we can do it right? We think we can do it with our supply chain partners and why not start in a smaller state like Maryland where you have rural drop-off, where you’ve also have curbside collection, where you have a mix of apartments and houses, where you have a mix of incineration, waste to energy and potentially chemical recycling, right? So, start out, make the case, make it work and then you can shop it around to the rest of the States and to the feds.

00:13:23 Sara Januszewski
Ok, well, so as you know, the works never done is what it sounds like, right?

00:13:29 Alison Keane
So that’s what we want. We don’t want to be talking about this 10 years from now. We wanted to make it so that all packaging gets into the circular environment, and we can go work on other good stuff.

00:13:41 Sara Januszewski
Fantastic and is there anything else that you’d like to add here?

00:13:46 Alison Keane
So, I’ll just end by saying if folks haven’t seen it, speaking of, you know, sort of that intersection between the States and the Federal Government and our work to try to harmonize some type of system while we’re modernizing for recycling is the Environmental Protection Agency did just come out with the first part of their National Recycling Strategy and I got to say that we’ve dealt with a lot of associations and collaborations over the last two or three years talking about this circularity for packaging, Ameripen, the Recycling Leadership Council, the Recycling Partnership, and I’m pleased to say through our Recycling Leadership Council discussions and that whole supply chain discussion that the EPA’s recommendations look a whole lot like what we said they should look like. I just think it’s super important to keep up these types of conversations and to work amongst all of our packaging platforms. Whether it’s Maripen or ACC or FPA or you know the Consumer Brands Association. It’s so important to keep it out because they’re starting to listen. The government is starting to listen and to take our advice and it’s much better for us to come with the solutions and have them adopt it, than to wait for the government and their solution to be put up on, so that’s my soapbox. You know it. You’ve heard me talk about it before and I’ll reiterate it like let’s keep talking. The more we bring solutions to the government, the better off the entire industry is going to be right.

00:15:26 Sara Januszewski
Alright, fantastic and you know to conclude things here Allison, I just want to say thank you again for joining us. It was really a pleasure to have you on and maybe we can have you around again in the future. You never know.

00:15:38 Alison Keane
Absolutely. I must be doing something right since you already have me back once.

00:15:41 Sara Januszewski
So yes, we love hearing about all the new stuff that’s going on at the FDA & Legislation, it’s all good info.

00:15:48 Alison Keane
We appreciate it and I’ll tell you what, our members including Glenroy, you guys are at the forefront, right? You’re designing for recyclability. You’re designing for circularity, so if we can do our job from our association standpoint and get to that infrastructure, consumer product companies are going to be ready. You’re going to be there already. So, we appreciate working with you. I appreciate your membership.

00:16:12 Sara Januszewski
Yes, of course, absolutely. And I just want to let everyone know on here that we will not be doing another episode in December. So, we will be back at the start of the new year and again thank you Alison. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone that’s on here and Happy Holidays.


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