recycle bin with leaves

At a time when single use plastics are being criticized and banned for their environmental impact, it’s surprising to see 3M announce a single-use plastic packaging that replaces cardboard. What’s worse is that it doesn’t appear to be easily recyclable. Replacing cardboard with this isn’t a good thing, it’s a disaster – even though it’s marketed as being sustainable.

flex and seal recycling statement


The flex and seal packaging is intended to replace the vast majority of cardboard packaging that’s currently used to deliver all the small items that are ordered online. It reduces the amount of time & labour required to package small goods, and in doing so also reduces the amount of space (and correspondingly fuel) needed to ship these items. However the prolific use of “may” and the footnote reeks of “marketing speak”  & is a big clue that something is amiss.

The flex & seal packaging is made from the same materials as plastic bags, but plastic bags are not recyclable. So it’s likely that it will just end up in a landfill too. The recycling collateral is almost deceptive.

Why is this important?

The 2015 Neilson report highlighted the strong preference for consumers to buy sustainable products. 66% were ready to pay more for eco-friendly products.

If you make a product out of one-time-use plastic, where 91% of discarded plastic goes into landfills, and plastic is attracting lots of negative attention – is this really a good idea? Are you really catering to your customers? Or are you just waiting to be disrupted?

Yes, even if it’s dropped at recycling centers, the reality is that for many low-grade plastics (e.g. plastic bags), it’s just too expensive (and difficult) to recycle them.  

What could you be doing?

As a product manager or marketer, given the amount of noise around plastics, there’s a great opportunity to call out the environmental & sustainability benefits of your products versus your competitors. Market research has repeatedly proven that over 70% of customers will pay up to 5% more for an eco-friendly equivalent product. This is something you should be doing – get your sustainable marketing messages going!

I certainly hope my local post office doesn’t switch to using difficult-to-recycle-plastics instead of simple biodegradable paper envelopes & cardboard boxes. Choose biodegradable packaging. Choose sustainability. Choose to market an eco-friendly advantage.

p.s. – What does 3M have to say about this?

I wrote to 3M asking for some details on biodegradability, shipping efficiency analysis, etc. – but I got back a very underwhelming reply that didn’t actually answer any of my questions:

This product is made of the same material as plastic bags.  Some retail stores and recyclers have a plastic bag recycling program and may accept Flex & Seal in their program. Remove paper label before recycling. We do not have any additional information on projected waste options as we can only provide what recycling options are available and hope that all will take advantage of this option.