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How mono-material packaging improves sustainability in FMCG industries?

By: Gustavo Morais & Marta Clavero

With the 2025 sustainable packaging commitments just a few years away, innovative recyclable solutions such as mono-material solutions could be the way forward, thanks to new developments that deliver some of the benefits of traditional multi-material coverings.

As humanity’s impact on the environment becomes clear, businesses are under increasing stress to achieve a circular economy. With momentum building towards the 2025 sustainable packaging goals, innovative packaging solutions are gaining currency among manufacturers and brand owners.

Mono-materials offer a crucial solution to bridging the circularity gap in the flexible packaging sector. Since they are easier to recycle than multi-material, multi-layer packaging, less material ends up in landfill.

This article explores the growth of mono-material flexible packaging and outlines their sustainability benefits while evaluating the key challenges for producers when it comes to processing.
Juice and mono material packaging

Understanding the different types of flexible packaging

Flexible packaging

Flexible packaging is quite simply a container or package that is capable of being bent, folded or shaped without breakage. In other words, these packages protect their contents from dust, moisture, mould and other environmental contaminants while maintaining product quality and shelf life. They are usually lightweight, cost-effective and malleable.

Such packages are typically made from multiple layers, so the overall effect combines the benefits of each monolayer, including strength, storage and stability. These benefits are of great importance to sectors such as food, beverage, cosmetics, personal care and pharmaceuticals, where flexible multi-layer packaging is widely used.

Overall, there are two main kinds of flexible multi-layer or composite product packaging.

Mono-material structures may be made from up to three layers of from the same family matrix. They do not need an adhesive to bond them and can be easily recycled because all layers are made from the same plastic.

On the other hand, multi-layer structures have more than three material layers (3, 5, 7, 9, 11). Each layer may be of a different polarity, or a mix of different substrates. Bonding these layers requires the use of an adhesive. The type of adhesive used is determined by the processing method. Examples of such adhesives are tie layers, lamination adhesives and heat-seal coatings.

Find out more about the benefits of flexible packaging with multi-layer structures.

How mono-materials promote recyclability in packaging?

The global flexible plastic packaging sector is expected to grow from $160.8 billion in 2020 to $200.5 billion by 2025, on the back of major trends such as increasing urbanization and the growth of e-commerce. That’s a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.5%, according to research from MarketsandMarkets.[1]

Accompanying that increase in volume will be a corresponding rise in the need for recyclability, as well as innovation and investment to achieve a circular economy.

Thus far, flexible plastic packaging has been made from complex, multi-material materials as companies have prioritised function, versatility and cost. Up until recently, recyclability has rarely been a consideration in the design of flexible packaging.

It is now evident that recycling multi-material structures can be both difficult and time-consuming. In order to obtain high-quality recycled products, such packages must be separated into their constituent elements so that each layer can follow its own recycling processes.
Mono-material packaging food

Recycling mono-material packaging

The process is simpler with mono-material solutions. Since mono-material packages are composed of a single material or fibre, the recycling process is quicker and easier than other products made of multiple plastics or mixed with other materials such as cardboard or glass. Similarly, less energy is needed to separate the various constituent materials. The increased efficiency in recycling mono-materials also delivers time and cost benefits.

Recycling mono-material packaging
Consequently, the industry has identified a need to evaluate the functional requirements of flexible packaging. To achieve true circularity, brand owners may need to go back to the drawing board, to redesign existing multi-material solutions into recyclable mono-material packages.

Against this requirement, the demand for mono-material flexible polymer packaging is expected to grow the market to 26.03 million tonnes valued at $71 billion in 2025, according to a recent report by market intelligence firm Smithers[2]. That’s against an aggregate of 21.51 million tonnes valued at $58.9 billion in 2020, or a CAGR of 3.8% over the period.

This growth in demand for more sustainable solutions to meet expectations from brand owners and consumers will be especially relevant in industries such as the food, confectionery, personal care and pharmaceutical sectors.
Choosing mono-materials and facilitating the recycling process enables companies to comply with new regulations. Such new directives include the European Strategy for plastics, which requires companies to join circular-economy models and guarantee that all plastic packaging must be recyclable by 2030.

Types of mono-material solutions

A wide range of mono-material flexible packaging solutions are available to manufacturers and brand owners. Let’s look at some of the most common ones.


Type of mono-material structure


Circularity benefits / Recyclability

Industrial use

Polypropylene (PP)


Lightweight and transparent thermoplastic that resists moisture

Fully recyclable and reusable


Oriented Polypropylene (OPP), Biaxially Oriented Polypropylene (BOPP) and Cast Polypropylene (CPP)


Lightweight, transparent and hygienic films that support overprinting

A combination of these films can replace mixed-material laminates such as those with paper, PET or alufoil

Food film packaging

Polyethylene (PE)

Monolayer or multilayer

Lightweight, heat and moisture resistant, transparent, durable and flexible

Easy to recycle as a mono-material

Represents half the global packaging market through film packaging, medical & health, pipes & fittings, household products, agriculture, and wiring & cable

Machine-direction orientation (MDO) + Polyethylene (PE)

Monolayer or multilayer

MDO improves the key properties of the PE film (as above), while matching the properties of PET and PA films

Environmentally friendly and recyclable

Food & beverages, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, personal care, homecare

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)


Transparent, easily extrudable, low temperature and chemical resistance

100% recyclable

Food, healthcare

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET)

Monolayer. Recent developments allow mono-material packaging from this mono polymer

Lightweight and transparent

100% recyclable and versatile

Food & beverages, cosmetics

Biaxially-oriented polyethylene terephthalate (BoPET)


Lightest weight and lowest cost per pack

Lowest CO2 footprint.

Mixed plastic laminates based on BoPET films are compatible in most feedstock recycling processes

Represents up to 25% of all current flexible packaging, including 11% of food film packaging demand

Polyamide (PA)

Monolayer and multilayer

High heat and mechanical resistance, strong tensile strength, high optical properties, with strong oxygen and other barrier properties


Perishable foods


Monolayer. Can be used as a solid plastic and as a foam

Thermoplastic, lightweight and flexible

100% recyclable

Food service containers, insulation, protective packaging

Global demand of mono-material films in food packaging

Global demand of mono-material films in food packaging
Source: AMI[3]

Industrial applications for mono-material solutions

Mono-material packaging solutions are being widely used across the industrial world. They are principally used in the food and beverage sector, for pharmaceuticals and medical supplies, as well as for industrial and specialty applications.

Here, it’s worth noting that mono-material does not mean monolayer. Researchers are working to develop solutions that bring the benefits of multilateral multilayer structures to mono-material packaging. Such ‘in-between’ or alternative solutions are now available in the form of mono-material multi-layer materials.

At IMCD, we can offer technical support on the design and product selection to move to high-tech mono-material solutions.

Below are some examples of the way IMCD works with mono-material packaging.

1. MDO can reconcile temperature challenges for heat sealing and printing

Heat sealing is the most common fastening technology due to the quality and robustness of the seals. However, while mono-material packages can be sealed within smaller sealing windows, the problem arises when they need to be printed. Both processes happen at different temperatures, and the features of the layer to be printed may be more specific depending on the type of printing technique being used.

Consider the case of a pouch made from a printed film uses several layers. PET, OPP and OPA form the printed layer, in addition to an adhesive, while a PE layer works as a sealant.

Proposed solutions in such a case include modifying PP or PE substitutes by changing the direction of their orientation. The process modifies the material’s properties allowing the same polymer to be used in a multi-layer structure that is 100% recyclable.
Mono-material packaging nuts
Laminated film structure

2. Improving monolayer structures with barrier coatings to improve oxygen barriers

Oxygen barrier properties can present a significant technological challenge for monolayer structures.

In such cases, applying a primer or barrier coating layer to polyolefin materials goes a long way to improving the barrier properties of the initial polymer. Doing so allows these structures to achieve the desired high-tech properties as in the case of providing a good oxygen barrier within the mono-material structural framework.

According to current standards, if a structure has more than 90% of polyolefins, it can be considered mono-material.

IMCD offers different coating options to support this solution.

Monomaterial: Different structures, different properties

3. Redesigning PA-free structures to promote circularity

PA has been widely used in deep thermoforming, as it serves as an excellent barrier and offers puncture-resistant performance.

When it comes to circularity, however, separating out the PA component becomes a challenge. Instead, the use of specific and modified polyolefins (PE) with a low amount of EVOH and ties resins (less than 5-10%) can help packers to meet their packaging recyclability goals while maintaining the required barrier levels.

Redesigning PA-free structures to promote circularity

Tackling challenges around using mono-materials in flexible packaging

Mono-material packaging offers significant benefits in promoting the circular economy and improving manufacturers’ sustainability profile. At the same time, traditional mono-material packaging must be refined and improved if it is to perform the same quality and safety functions as multi-material counterparts.

However, there are several challenges associated with switching from multi-material packaging to mono-material replacements.

Perhaps the most significant challenge concerns packaging design. Consumers, brands and retailers now all expect packaging that both extends product shelf life and is sustainable. Meeting these needs with mono-material options may require significant redesign if barrier and mechanical functionality is not to be compromised. Continued research and development in the field is seeing these limitations being overcome. For instance, polymer adhesives are being substituted with coating solutions, which eliminates the need for additional materials or layers while enhancing barrier protection.

At the same time, design limitations are also being surmounted. While mono polymers have traditionally been seen as compromising on packaging design and aesthetics, new plastic mono-materials have changed the game. The use of plastic foam, for instance, has extended design possibilities for manufacturers in new ways.

Outlook for mono-material packaging

The increasing emphasis on sustainability as the effects of environmental damage become apparent will only accelerate consumer demand for green solutions.

Enterprise commitments to sustainable packaging have centred on 100% of packaging being reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. With such a short goal window, governments are enacting regulations and levying plastic fees to incentivize investments in recycling.
In such an environment, mono-material packaging, with its high recyclability, will be more important than ever. For brand owners and manufacturers, the target represents a business opportunity to shift to mono-material packaging and create future value – while delivering on our global community’s shared values.

How can your business benefit from mono-material packaging solutions? Speak to an IMCD consultant today.
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Gustavo Morais

Gustavo Morais
For nearly 10 years, Gustavo Morais has worked packaging industry, more focused in flexible packaging. Taking of care of Brazilian market, technical and commercial, he also is in charge of technical support of Latin American customers. Always helping customers to improve their process or final product with new technologies. Participates in events, fairs and lectures related to the segment, also attentive to new trends, process and materials related to sustainability.

Marta Clavero

Marta Clavero
With more than 20 years working with advanced materials, Marta has a wide range of experience across all areas of thermoplastics, including the design, development, analysis, and application. Marta is a sales manager based in Spain and also leads the global Packaging Expert Team. Her experience  in wastewater treatment, papermaking, oil & gas, mining, agriculture, cosmetic polymer ingredients, textiles, and other derivative sectors has prepared her to support IMCD customers in developing innovative solutions that differentiate their products on the market.