RANCHO PALOS VERDES, CA — The need for sustainable packaging solutions to tackle plastic pollution is growing. While the flexible packaging industry faces shifting challenges, there is potential for advanced recycling technologies and solutions.

To adapt to the evolving landscape, PepsiCo Foods is developing a range of materials using innovative packaging solutions that not only comply with new regulations but also align with PepsiCo’s sustainability goals. Rob Cotton, R&D director for packaging sustainable materials at PepsiCo, shared the details during the BEMA 2024 annual convention, held June 28-July 2 in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA.

Cotton started his presentation by noting that the packaging industry is the largest small industry in the world, comprised of entrepreneurs and individual companies, and then shifted to describe PepsiCo’s packaging structures.

“It’s basically two layers of polypropylene films glued together, and the various properties we use we get from metallization,” Cotton explained. “The metallization layer is not foil — it is metalized film — and the fact is, while I’ve been speaking, your fingernails have grown longer than the metal is thick on our lens.”


Collaboration is key in the area of sustainability, and partnerships are critical to driving success. Cotton stressed that this was more essential than having a competitive advantage.

In response to industry challenges, PepsiCo is currently developing biodegradable flexible packaging. They are using new polymers called polyhydroxyalkanoates, which can mimic polypropylene. PepsiCo has collaborated with various companies to develop a supply chain for creating these materials, from the polymer to the film, and then converting the film so it can be used on its packaging equipment at the same rate as conventional films.

“It takes a village to do this,” he said. “Sustainability is the right thing for the planet, and we want to share this with everyone, and that’s why we’re advocating for it. We’re willing to show you how to get involved and who to partner with.”

Cotton noted a few of the biggest challenges: a noticeable lack of consumer collection opportunities and the need for plastic printing with eco-friendly ink.

Material recovery facilities process corrugated material into paperboard, but they are not equipped to process plastics. Cotton estimated it would require a $1 million investment for facility upgrades to process flexible packaging, and with over 900 facilities in the US, this is not a feasible solution.

“Sustainability is the right thing for the planet, and we want to share this with everyone, and that’s why we’re advocating for it. We’re willing to show you how to get involved and who to partner with.”— Rob Cotton | R&D director, packaging sustainable materials | PepsiCo


As a possible alternative, he identified municipal solid waste facilities as a sorting solution for consumers.

“People are investing in that technology because materials that are valuable are going to landfills,” he stated.

PepsiCo is currently undergoing the certification process for this material, which has to demonstrate disintegration within six months and then fully biodegrade within 12 months.

“It’s really exciting because we’re making very big breakthroughs in a short amount of time,” Cotton said.

Given the escalating scale of plastic production and the resulting pollution, Cotton reaffirmed that tackling the industry’s plastic waste is an urgent issue. Waiting until recycling infrastructure investments materialize is simply not feasible.

“We have to start on this journey now to change the direction we’re headed,” he concluded.