As consumer demand for sustainable packaging continues to rise, brand owners and manufacturers across the packaging and processing supply chain are looking for solutions to reduce the carbon footprint of their overall operations.

Though sustainability solutions are rarely restricted to any single focus, packaging plays an important role as the right material specification during the package design phase can help cost-effectively minimize waste, without sacrificing form or function.


Lighten Up

Doing more with less has become the name of the game in food and beverage packaging. As seen throughout the beverage industry, light-weighting (i.e. source reduction) is an essential tool in the sustainable practices toolkit. By using various high-performance flexible plastics such as polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and high-density polyethylene (HDPE), brand owners are able to cost-effectively achieve thin-gauge packaging that significantly reduces the amount of plastics used and the amount that enters the waste stream.

At PACK EXPO International 2014, Flex Films (USA) Inc. will showcase two examples of such source reduction. Flex Films and LEHAR Snack Foods collaborated on a pouch featuring a new laminated, metallized structure and 23 percent less material. Flex Films’ 8 micron BOPP film suitable for printing and lamination — the world’s first — gets much of the credit for the source reduction. Sustainability efforts continue well after a product has been packaged. Paperboard, a material commonly used in secondary or transport packaging can be “greened” as well. Brand owners can specify paperboard with larger percentages of post-consumer recycled (PCR) content.

“Precision mandrel forming technology produces cases that have reduced fiber and greater stacking strength, allowing larger loads per carrier. This enables manufacturers to reduce their carbon footprint by maximizing logistical efficiencies,” says Don Reggio, marketing director, Corrugated, RockTenn. “In some cases, we help customers take 5,000 tractor trailers off the road, which has a tremendous impact on both cost savings and sustainability. We always consider how the performance of the packaging can affect the logistics of the supply chain.”

RockTenn will showcase several of its reduced-fiber solutions at PACK EXPO, including its fiber-neutral mandrel-forming technology, which precisely forms cases (or folding cartons) around a mandrel (form). The technology reduces crushed case corners, maximizes structural integrity, eliminates case-skew, reduces the amount of fiber used, and increases stacking strength.

New case designs are available in a wide range of two-piece, shelf-ready packages of same or co-mingled substrates that enable consumer packaged goods companies (CPGs) to meet U.S. retailers’ varying display requirements with lower costs for materials and transportation and improved shelf presence. RockTenn’s ground-breaking Meta Predictive software simultaneously analyzes the packaging design, materials, production line and distribution environment to determine the best combination of primary, secondary and tertiary packaging materials and palletization options for a fully optimized supply chain solution.


The Circle of Life

When specifying materials for food and beverage packaging, it is critical for brand owners to consider the whole picture — including what happens to the packaging after its useful life cycle. By choosing materials that are more easily reused or recycled, brand owners are greatly reducing the amount of waste generated. Bio-based polymers sourced from corn and sugarcane also contribute to a more sustainable package lifecycle. Rigid plastics, such as low-density polyethylene (LDPE) and polypropylene (PP) which are used in yogurt cups, dairy tubs and lids are easily recyclable.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says PET can be recycled and reused as fiber for carpets and textiles for clothing while HDPE can be recycled for bottles as well as landscape and garden products. LDPE bags and film can be used to make composite lumber for decks and fencing.

More applications of biodegradable packaging are also hitting store shelves, and at PACK EXPO, Flex Films will also showcase its biodegradable film technologies.

“Everyone is looking for greener products,” says Peekay Kasturia, senior vice president, Sales and Marketing. “True to our commitment to quality, service and innovation, we’re working to add more sustainability-enhancing offerings to our portfolio — and with great success; given the award we recently received from the Flexible Packaging Association for our bio-degradable film.”

Dordan Manufacturing, Inc. an engineering-based designer of custom thermoformed packaging solutions, traditionally highlights a variety of resins that support sustainability goals, such as cellulous acetate developed with cellulous sourced from Sustainable Forestry Initiative-managed forestry in North America. The resin, which has earned the Vincotte OK Compost Home certification, complies with EN 13432 and ASTM D 6400 standards for industrial biodegradability and compostability, and the film is recyclable – along with paper – in a re-pulping process.

Dordan’s 4th Annual Bio Resin Show ‘N Tell at PACK EXPO International will offer an overview of alternative resins, including comparative specs and cost analysis.

This year, Dordan’s Show ‘N Tell will also include its latest generation of algae-based biodegradable plastics and its “Design for Thermoforming Process,” a service that enhances customers’ understanding of the steps required to take a thermoformed package from concept to reality.

“Now more than ever, brand owners and their suppliers are held accountable by consumers, retailers and regulatory agencies to reduce the environmental impact of their supply chains,” says Chandler Slavin, sustainability coordinator and marketing manager, Dordan Manufacturing, Inc. “Our philosophy behind the ‘Design for Thermoforming Process’ was to empower them with a holistic approach to design strategy, material selection and machinery usage — minimizing inefficiencies along the way and helping fully understand the sustainability-enhancing measures behind their packaging.”


Sustainable Equipment and Processes

Choosing the right packaging material is vital. However, the type of equipment used during processing and packaging can have an equally significant effect on sustainability in processing and packaging operations.

Equipment should fit in with sustainability goals and practices, but for the food and beverage industry, that can be a tall order. With that in mind, packaging and processing equipment manufacturers are designing their machinery to allow brand owners to run faster and smarter, increasing their throughput while cutting energy costs and wasted material for maximum profits.

During processing, for example, pick-and-place systems can be used to place products such as baked goods and confectionary into packs and wrappers. Advanced robotic pick-and-place equipment provides a higher level of speed and precision, reducing labor, energy requirements and potential product damage, while increasing throughput.

Polypack, Inc. continues to expand its line of pick-and-place equipment designed to reduce packaging material. The ROKH robotic system can handle ellipsoidal packages and unstable products. Because it has no pusher, the infeed system can collate and load products directly from a conveyer onto the film of the shrink wrapper, allowing for accurate transfer and fast changeover. The discharge system can be reoriented in many different configurations for flexible unloading and transfer products from the shrink wrapper onto another conveyer. Lastly, the gantry is a compact pick-and-place system that loads shrink-wrapped products from the shrink wrapper into cases, minimizing transfers for better control.

Packaging equipment allowing brand owners to implement thinner packaging is in high demand. However, there are other considerations. For example, less-substantial packaging can be prone to leaks and breaks during packing. To combat that scenario, equipment manufacturers are creating solutions for the entire line, including conveyors that exert less pressure and drop packers that use less force, resulting in minimal damage to thin-gauge packaging.

Secondary packaging systems under development use flat cartons, and significantly less material and glue for shrink wrapping than conventional four-walled cartons.

From product handling to cartoning and palletizing, brand owners need equipment and materials designed to fit within a sustainable operation.

Packaging may seem to play a background role in a comprehensive sustainability program, but even specifying the right polymer during the design stage can mean ultimately achieving functional, financial and environmental stewardship goals. With truly sustainable materials and processes, packaging can help manufactures make strides in environmental responsibility and maximize their investments.