Advances in Packaging Sustainability
New material innovations are creating opportunities for sustainable packaging in every sector.
From light-weighted glass and PET bottles to recycled corrugated cartons and compostable plastics, opportunities are out there. Brands and retailers rely upon packaging manufacturers to give them what consumers want — in a cost-effective, time efficient manner.
Smurfit Kappa (smurfitkappa.com) launched the Better Planet Packaging initiative in September 2018 with the goal to explore and reimagine the packaging that is needed for a sustainable world.
“Our idea is to build on Smurfit Kappa’s expertise in packaging, innovation and sustainability. It is a multifaceted initiative comprising futuristic product design, extensive research and development and collaboration with existing and new partners,” says Germán Pulido, director of innovation and development, Smurfit Kappa.
He adds that the company will strive to reduce litter by improving recycling, renewability and biodegradability.
Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics (dowpackaging.com) has a long history of material development that leads to lighter
weight and thinner packaging products to address the goals of the value chain for lower material utilization. The company recently launched INNATE precision packaging resins for heavy-duty shipping sacks, food packaging and protective packaging, which includes a combination of toughness and stiffness that enables the package to meet the demands of the application at an overall lower material usage.
Jennifer Ronk, sustainability and advocacy manager, North America, Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics, says that “in conjunction with Dow’s broad portfolio of PE resins, its RecycleReady Technology enables packaging with the convenience and features of typical multi-material, multilayered pouches, flow wrappers and barrier film with the added benefit of recyclability at store drop-off locations.”
Rootree of Canada (rootree.ca), a Canadian provider of digitally printed flexible packaging, now offers greener packaging, including fully compostable flexible packaging. Rootree has doubled its print capacity with the addition of a second HP Indigo 20000 Digital Press for flexible packaging. The higher capacity supports the increasing demand for fully compostable flexible packaging using various technologies, such as the HP Indigo Pack Ready Lamination Solution.
Rootree’s compostable pouches use films that are 100 percent home-compostable. The next move in the innovation of fully compostable pouches will continue with the development and certification of home-compostable inks and adhesives.
The digital printing equipment helped the company transform its business from fulfillment house to full-service
packaging provider, with its manufacturing process using as much as 75 percent less waste than conventional packaging manufacturing.
Toray Plastics (America) (toraytpa.com) has come out with the Torayfan CB3 portfolio, manufactured with Toray’s proprietary formulation and a patented PVdC-free coating. The films offer superior oxygen-barrier protection along with excellent moisture barrier and are available in sealable and non-sealable versions. The 70- and 80-gauge CB3 films are a thinner alternative to thicker OPP films and enable source reduction, yield and economic benefits.
“Also important is CPG companies’ preference that PVdC be eliminated from packaging because of the environmental concerns associated with it. They also appreciate Toray’s commitment to sustainability. Now manufacturers are able to specify a transparent package with even greater shelf stability, without PVdC issues,” says Tammy Williamson, product manager of the Torayfan Polypropylene Films Division, Toray Plastics (America) Inc.
A Time-Honored Commitment to Sustainability
The corrugated industry embarked on a path to extreme sustainability decades ago. It began with the building of a recycling infrastructure that now shows success in the 90 percent recovery rate for old corrugated containers (OCC). The fiber that comes from recovered OCC is reused 10-12 times, on average, to make new containerboard, and the average recycled-content of boxes in the U.S. is 49 percent. Of the 35 million tons of corrugated produced in 2017, 31 million were recovered for recycling.
Boxes are made from raw materials that come from sustainably managed forests. The planting of new trees has outpaced harvests since the 1940s and today, at least three seedlings are planted for every tree harvested.
Life-cycle assessments (LCAs) show that advances in corrugated manufacturing continue to reduce energy use, increase recovery and optimize material usage. Corrugated recycling, expressed in end-of-life impact, reduces methane and CO2 emissions. Two-thirds of energy in kraft paper mills now come from carbon-neutral biomass and purchased energy efficiency improved by 8.1 percent between 2006-2014. Sulphur-dioxide emissions were reduced by 75 percent in the same timeframe, water use reduced by 6 percent, and factors that contribute to global warming have been reduced by 35 percent.
Advances in papermaking technology have also supported resource material reduction. A recent study showed that better boxes can be made more economically today even as raw material usage is reduced, supporting sustainability goals.
Sustainability in E-commerce Packaging
An estimated 98 percent of packs used in e-commerce were originally designed for use in traditional brick-and-mortar retail. When this transitions to e-commerce delivery in pre-cut corrugated boxes it means that around half may be shipping approximately 55 percent air, which the retailer — and ultimately the customer — pays for, cites a report by Smithers Pira (smitherspira.com).
This can be reduced by designing the pack to the product being shipped. The fit-to-product concept — creating a box around the shipment — is gaining traction and there are many systems becoming available in the market. Fit-to-product systems, such as Box on Demand (BoD) by WestRock (westrock.com) with fanfold corrugated supplied in various widths and grades, can be custom-printed to user requirements at a distribution center once an order has been received.
DS Smith (dssmith.com) is addressing the need with its Made2Fit technology. This design platform selects from three board sheet sizes and converts this into one of 33 different box dimensions most appropriate for the product being shipped. The boxes have built-in crease lines and a tool for custom perforation. The system reduces movement within the box, reducing damage in transit and the need for protective packaging components like air pillows.
The company reports that in full automation, Made2Fit can create up to 1,000 boxes per hour and achieve a 90.5 percent fill rate for single products and more than 75 percent fill rate for co-mingled pack contents. The box is estimated to reduce void fill by 80 percent on average and achieve a potential cost saving of 30 percent on inbound and outbound shipping.
U.K.-based eco-packaging company Flexi-Hex has received the 2019 EcoPack Challenge award. The EcoPack Challenge is an annual competition held to find the world’s most sustainable new packaging innovations. Flexi-Hex’s eco-packaging is recyclable, and biodegradable packaging sleeves include a new system to protect bottles in transit.
The patented design and honeycomb structure was originally created by brothers Will and Sam Boex who — with their passion for surfing, background in design and personal experience of transporting surfboards around the globe — were inspired to create a sustainable paper packaging sleeve originally for the board sports industry.
How to Sustain Success
Most players in the packaging space believe that this is only a glimpse of what may come. From new material advances to alternative ways to package products, the industry has ample opportunities to go greener.
Due to labeling regulations and product quality standards, many cannabis products are sold in multiple layers of plastic and packaging, leading directly to the industry’s carbon footprint problem with a big waste issue. Wana Brands (wanabrands.com) addressed this by unveiling a more sustainable packaging solution for its edibles to save cost and headaches. The new containers reduce three layers of packaging to just one, with a tamper-evident shrink band adding another level of security.
Dow’s Ronk believes that one of the key needs for the packaging industry is the creation of infrastructure that increases the collection rate and brings it on par not only with other highly recycled materials but also that of other countries. Development of mono-material solutions for packaging is Dow’s highest priority while maintaining delivery of the functionality.
Dow continues to innovate in the areas of improved performance for recyclable films that exist today and also improve the performance of the recyclate through the use of its portfolio of compatibilizers. Expect new materials in the coming years.
The Fibre Box Association sees corrugated boxes as a valuable resource waiting to be reused. An industry-wide commitment to this, and the actions that create the reality, stand behind continual improvements in the holistic sustainability of corrugated packaging.
On the future of sustainability, Pulido with Smurfit Kappa says that technology — specifically augmented reality — will help designers achieve more sustainable packaging, because they will be able to calculate and predict what the impact is in terms of CO2 in cargo transportation and the whole packaging cycle.
3 Steps to Sustainability: Embracing an Environmental Mindset in Packaging
BY Todd Meussling | senior manager, market development, Fresh-Lock
Sustainability is more than a good idea; it’s a mindset that must be embraced on all levels. We’ve only begun to scratch the surface when it comes to our sustainability potential in flexible packaging, but we’re entering the early phases of a “renaissance,” as it pertains to developments of new materials and technologies geared toward reclamation and multi-life use.
More consumers are recognizing the importance of green packaging and are supporting realistic price tag premiums associated with bringing new technologies to market. According to Nielsen, 73 percent of global millennials are willing to pay extra for sustainable offerings. As packaging professionals, how can we help brands begin to adopt sustainable mindsets and meet consumer demand?
1. Understand the Circular Economy
A vital part of implementing sustainable initiatives is to understand and embrace the concept of a circular economy. The linear economy we currently live in takes resources, makes a product, uses it and then disposes of what’s left. Modeled by the Ellen McArthur Foundation, a circular packaging economy focuses on how packagers can design out waste, keep products and materials in use and regenerate natural systems. This process utilizes resources with sustainable design, makes products for effective use and then processes unconsumed materials so they can be repurposed.
Brands can embrace this philosophy by supporting packaging opportunities that target material waste elimination and secondary use. If possible, this could start in small steps like adding recyclable zippers and films to replace single opening, multi-material structures. Zippers and sliders can help to maximize functionality and freshness. Coupled with a recyclable film, the entire package can be cleaned and dropped off in-store for the recycling process.
2. Prepare for Global Regulations and Objectives
U.S. companies should pay close attention to recent European regulations and prepare for initiatives being adopted by other countries, companies, NGOs and states here at home. In July 2018, new measures were implemented that require EU members to recycle at least 55 percent of waste by 2025. We’ve also recently seen multinational companies, including Walmart, P&G and Unilever, announce sustainability goals that range from adopting renewable energy to reducing waste and shrinking their carbon footprint.
3. Educate Customers
According to the Pew Research Center, while 75 percent of American adults say that they’re concerned about helping the environment in their daily lives, only one in five conduct their lives in ways that help the environment all the time. This is where education on sustainability is the key, as responsibility falls on brands and retailers to communicate how to properly dispose of packaging in a manner that aligns with the circular design.
How2Recycle is a great example of a program designed to educate consumers. Created by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, the standardized labeling system communicates recycling instructions for each piece of the package. This increased visibility is helping educate consumers on recycling efforts and subsequent improvements in the reclamation process as brands feature How2Recycle messaging on packaging.
Where to Start
For brands ready to look closer at sustainable packaging but are unsure of where to start, I recommend turning to industry partners, such as suppliers and packaging converters. These partners can help navigate sustainability efforts and share the technological options available. Brand extensions offer the opportunity to introduce sustainable packaging on a smaller level. This allows CPGs to implement sustainable efforts slowly and in a way that highlights a positive change for consumers to see.
In 1979, Presto Products became the first private label company to introduce reclosable sandwich and food storage bags, later launching the Fresh-Lock zipper product line.
For more information, visit fresh-lock.com.