Refill pouches are becoming more popular as the demand for sustainable packaging increases. But do you know why a refill pouch could benefit you? Whether you just started looking for packaging options or you are already considering refill packaging for your products, we will cover everything you need to know about refill pouches.
What are refill pouches?
Refill pouches are liquid flexible packages designed to refill permanent or semi-permanent bottles. Typically, brand owners offer rigid bottles and refill pouches together as a bundle. Once consumers purchase a bottle, they will reuse it and purchase only refill pouches after that. Refill pouches are popular in the home and personal care products such as shampoo, body wash, cosmetics, and lotion. Refill pouches can be divided into two forms: single-use and multi-use.
A single-use refill pouch often has easy tear openings because a reclosable functionality is unnecessary. The volume of a single-use refill pouch is usually less than the volume of a bottle; this is because many consumers refill before the bottle is completely empty.
For a multi-use refill, the volume of the pouch is much larger than the bottle so that consumers can refill multiple times. In this case, a pouch should be equipped with a resealable opening, typically a spout with a cap.
What are refill pouches made of?
Most refill pouches are made of plastics. Many liquids require barrier properties such as moisture barrier or aroma protection, and as a result, traditional refill pouches typically employ 2-3 layers (outer, barrier, and sealant layers) with different materials to create required durability and barrier performance.
Nylon and PET are both materials which are frequently used as an outer layer. Nylon is an excellent material to increase durability, reducing the likelihood of pinholes developing. Pinholes are one of the most common packaging failures for refill pouches because contents can leak from pinholes. Cracks, abrasions, and even frictions between pouches can result in pinholes. The nylon layer will help prevent pinholes. When pouches have a bottom gusset, nylon is often used in the bottom to increase durability.
PET is common material because it is widely available, relatively cheap, and easy to handle. In addition, it has an excellent heat-resistant property making it ideal for an outer layer.
There are various materials that can be applied between outer and sealant layers depending on the application. The most common materials are nylon and aluminum vacuum metalized film (VM) (or aluminum oxide).
VM or aluminum oxide (AlOx) provides exceptional moisture, oxygen, aroma, flavor, and gas barriers. VM gives a metallic appearance for designability. AlOx does not have a metallic appearance making it a good layer for clear pouches.
The most common sealant materials are polyethylene (PE) and Polypropylene (PP). PE is a more popular sealant material within the US market because of its availability and durability. PE divides into different types, such as high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and low-density polyethylene (LDPE), depending on its density. Refill pouches often use linear low-density polyethylene (LLDPE).
Laminating or coating various materials makes the pouches appropriate to different applications. Here are some commonly used structures for home and personal care refill pouches.
Pouch structure can be technical and complex. In addition to structure, chemical compatibility is critical for liquids. Having the wrong packaging materials can ruin the product. It is crucial to work with suppliers who are knowledgeable about materials and liquid chemical compatibility regarding the packaging.
Are refill pouches eco-friendly?
Refill pouches are one of the most eco-friendly packages available. Many consumers have a perception that eco-friendliness = recyclability. However, many different elements contribute to sustainability. One of them is the carbon footprint from raw material manufacturing to the end of the packaging lifecycle. Refill pouches use significantly fewer resources and reduce the overall carbon footprint when compared to rigid bottles. They can reduce plastic usage by up to 80-90%.
They also reduce logistic and storage spaces and costs. It is said that flexible pouches only need one truckload while rigid bottles need 10-15 truckloads when empty. With this in mind, we believe that refill pouches are better for the environment overall. It is not only lightweight but also durable and easily customizable.
Alison Keane, Esq., IOM, CAE
President & CEO, Flexible Packaging Association
“The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s long-standing goals for waste management start with source reduction and reuse; followed by recycling and composting, energy recovery, and then disposal as the least preferred method. Refillable systems, like refill pouches for reusable containers and refillable pouches, prioritize the highest priority of source reduction and reuse by avoiding the need for virgin production, including the related carbon footprint when compared to manufacturing of new packaging and products and the recycling of them. In addition, it shifts consumer behavior to more circular thinking and action without the loss of convenience. It’s a win-win for consumers and the environment!”
Recyclability has always been a struggle for flexible pouches. Typical multilayered flexible pouches are harder to recycle because they combine different materials together during the lamination process. This has additionally been compounded by the lack of recycling infrastructure. However, due to the amount of materials used, flexible pouches will reduce the overall amount of plastic put into landfills despite having low recyclability.
This is not to say that it is impossible to have a fully recyclable flexible pouch; there are indeed some recyclable flexible pouches in the market. The main issue for a recyclable flexible pouch is to sustain content using only one material. The traditional flexible pouch uses multi-materials because each material contains different functionalities, such as nylon for higher durability and PET for heat resistance. Improper sealing can easily lead to defective seals resulting in a poor-quality pouch. Since liquids weigh more than dry products, and so, it is necessary to have higher durability to support the contents. Although there are many obstacles to face, we start to see monomaterial liquid flexible pouches coming out to the market, including ZACROS MONOSOLUTIONS™ Flowpack. With refill pouches, you can achieve various levels of sustainability depending on your business needs.
Are refill pouches recyclable?
Traditional multilayer refill pouches are not designed for curbside recycling. Yet, there are programs like TerreCycle which provide solutions for hard-to-recycle packaging. Still, this solution does not create true circularity. Although more and more monomaterial recycle-ready refill pouches are coming out and being released to the market, recyclability largely depends on the liquid contents. Some liquids are qualified for store-drop off packaging recycling, and others are not. How2Recycle qualifies recyclability in the US market. Even your products are not qualified for packaging recycling; refill pouches can improve overall sustainability.
What are the benefits of refill pouches?
Refill pouches improve brand and consumer relationships. We call it the Refill Pouch Benefit Cycle. First, brands have lower packaging costs with refill pouches, leading to lower acquisition costs for consumers. Especially for the millennium generation, pricing is essential for purchasing decisions. Moreover, a refill pouch is user-friendly. It has a higher evacuation rate than a rigid bottle. With refill pouches, it is effortless to empty contents, which in turn is both user-friendly and cost-effective, as it leaves less unused material behind. Cost-effective and user-friendly products can drive consumers to purchase a product again, improving the brand market positioning. Simultaneously, refill pouches contribute to brands’ sustainability goals, offering more eco-friendly product options for the consumer. Brands and consumers benefit from each other in this regard.
Luci Petlack, PhD
Sustainability + Lifestyle Writer, Luci’s Morsels
“As a mother and homeowner, we’re always trying to live more sustainably while keeping everything going in the right direction. Refill pouches save us from having to make more trips to the store or have more deliveries (cutting back on emissions everywhere). Refill pouches also require drastically less water and energy to produce than the typical bottles they’re replacing, which requires no extra work on our part. Finally, they’re easy to store. Our cleaning product storage is more organized, consuming less space – taking up less and less room as we use the products.”
Refill Pouches for Future Sustainable Packaging
Refill pouches are great sustainable packaging solutions. They are relatively new to the US market but well-established in many countries, especially in Asia. For example, in Japan, the demand for personal and home care products has doubled in the past 20 years. Conversely, however, the material consumption of packaging has decreased by 42%.1 With this, the Japanese have proved that refill pouches improve sustainability. ZACROS was one of Japan’s leading refill pouch manufacturers that established a “refill culture” in Japan. We manufacture over 500 million refill pouches every year. ZACROS had countless experiments to figure out which packaging materials are adequate for different types of contents. Contact us for more information.
1. Data from Japan Soap and Detergent Association