With processors’ goals in mind, progress continues on the development of sustainable packaging technologies.

Sustainable packaging concepts have two goals: to be environmentally friendly and beneficial to a company’s bottom line.

We asked several key suppliers about the past, present and future of sustainable packaging. Here are their responses (edited for space):

Q: Explain the history of your company’s progress in sustainable packaging.

Ron Giordano, chairman and chief executive officer, H.S. Crocker Co., Huntley, Ill.:  H.S. Crocker Co. began working on sustainable packaging approximately 15 years ago. Each step was a beginning step to the eventual result of where we are today. Many hours of research and dollar value have gone into the firm belief that this is a needed commodity for now and the future.

Dale Andersen, president and CEO, Delkor Systems Inc., Minneapolis: Starting in the late 1990s, Delkor embarked upon a multiyear effort to develop alternative shipping packages that offered our customers more efficient use of packaging materials. Since then, Delkor has received seven U.S. patents for new shipping packages specifically focused on this common theme.

The most popular to date has been Delkor’s Spot-Pak package. With nearly 200 Spot-Pak packaging lines in North America, and about 75% of these lines used for dairy industry applications, the improvement in packaging material usage has been very substantial. On average, a customer reduces packaging material content by 60% when replacing a corrugated shipper with Spot-Pak. In addition, because the Spot-Pak package is smaller than a box, the number of shippers per pallet increases by an average of 8 to 10%.

Sveinar Kildal, director of environment, Elopak, Norway: The Pure-Pak gable-top carton was the first sustainable milk package, starting out as a lightweight alternative to glass bottles in the 1930s and really taking off after World War II. Over the years, we have reduced weight and improved production methods. Today we use 50% less raw timber material and can typically make more than 2,000 cartons from a tree. Also, today’s typical one-liter carton weighs just 265 grams versus more than 400 grams 50 years ago.

Ben Fogg, director of sales, Fogg Filler, Holland, Mich.: Fogg has transitioned into using light technology to sanitize bottles and caps. By using light technology, we eliminated the need for chemical sterilization. Light technology is better for the environment and much more cost-effective for the manufacturer. 

Pat Lancaster, founder, Lantech, Louisville, Ky.: Lantech’s basic beginning premise was that the customer’s product needed to arrive at its final destination without damage. Damaged product represented a substantial portion of the waste product of packaging. That certainly is a true component of sustainability that we have been focused on from the beginning and is more directed at reducing the amount of damaged product that ends up in the solid-waste stream. The current sustainability phase brings new challenges in that the reduction of one material often yields other consequences.

Beryl Lawrence, dairy sector manager, Polypack Inc., Pinellas Park, Fla.: Polypack has over 50 years experience in the shrink-wrapping industry and continues to innovate with products delivering sustainability and cost savings. Our first machines for the U.S. were delivered to the dairy industry. Polypack has affected market changes from trays to pads and now to unsupported products formed into shrink-wrapped bundles.

Barbara Drillings, marketing communications manager, Printpack Inc., Farmingdale, N.Y.: Printpack began supplying Earthfirst PLA to the dairy industry in 2004. We were one of the first suppliers to be able to offer this new film, made from plants, a renewable resource and not petroleum. Recently, we began to offer R*PLA (recycled PLA), also made from plants. Customers are eager to find out more about R*PLA. In addition, we also offer Pure Affinia PETG, another film that has eco-friendly properties.

Ron Cotterman, executive director of sustainability, Sealed Air Corp., Elmwood Park, N.J.: Corporate citizenship and sustainability have become an increasingly important part of our growth strategy as a result of many external factors that are influencing our business environment. Key environmental drivers are global climate change, availability and use of natural resources and waste management practices. We are responding to these global challenges by setting goals to reduce packaging weight, facilitate energy savings and reduce overall life-cycle impact through carbon footprint reductions.

Beatriz Callanta, marketing manager, SIG Combibloc, Chester, Pa.: For more than 20 years, SIG Combibloc has been actively working to address major environmental issues. SIG Combibloc carton packs consist mainly of fiber pulp obtained from renewable wood resources, and represents efficient use of resources across the entire life cycle. Carton packs generate significantly fewer emissions than packaging manufactured using fossil fuel resources.

The objectives and activities of the company’s sustainability strategy have been structured around taking effective measures to address the issues of global warming and the dwindling supplies of resources. SIG Combibloc is the first company in the beverage carton industry to achieve product chain of custody (CoC) certification at all its production sites worldwide in accordance with the standards established by the Forest Stewardship Council. In October 2009, SIG Combibloc led the way by launching Europe’s first FSC-labeled carton packs for fruit juice drinks and iced teas.

Adam Howarth, technical sales manager, Spiralkote Flexible Packaging, Orlando, Fla.: The Clondalkin Group and Spiralkote Flexible Packaging remain continually focused in the pursuit and development of packaging materials that will improve our overall carbon footprint and extend our portfolio of solutions into the marketplace.

Dave Skala, vice president and general manager, Uniloy North America, Tecumseh, Mich.: I think plastics take an unfair, unfortunate rap when it comes to sustainability and environmental compatibility. A study has just been released [that shows] the use of plastics saves 2,300 million GJ in energy a year. This equates to 50 million metric tons of crude oil or 120 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. Substituting plastics with alternative materials would increase energy consumption by 46% (across the total life-cycle of plastic products) and increase greenhouse gas emissions by 50%.

Uniloy has long been at the forefront of lightweighting containers; however, there is a strong movement afoot to substitute lightweight gallons and half gallons for heavier-weight containers that eliminates the need for substantial secondary packaging.

Nevertheless, Cal Poly State University conducted a comparative analysis of the environmental burdens of greenhouse gases, energy and solid waste caused by material, process and transportation factors of three different (conventional, cube and stackable) one-gallon HDPE bottles currently available in United States as delivered to institutional customers (on-site users) and retailers within 250 miles from the processing and packing plant. The study concluded that the use of reusable crates reduces the material requirements of the primary package and this attributes to a lower environmental burden.

So, Uniloy continues to work with processors, end users, secondary package manufacturers, transportation companies and resin manufacturers to develop the optimal package that has acceptance at both the retailer and end-user level.  We have yet to find that magical “one-size-fits-all” solution.

Q: What are processors demanding from sustainable packaging?

Giordano: Most processors want a product that not only satisfies the sustainability of the package but also the advantage of metal detection.

Andersen: Proven solutions that also provide an effective ROI. There are many reasons why a good idea in sustainable packaging does not translate to commercial success.  Market acceptance is critically important so having a proven track record is a necessary step. Secondly, the ROI must support the overall business objectives. The success of Spot-Pak was a result of market acceptance coupled with ROIs of between 1.5 to 2 years for most customers.

Kildal: The dairy industry is faced with tough demands for sustainability performance, and they will likely get tougher. Retailers and consumers want them to reduce excess packaging and CO2 to improve sustainability. This means packaging must be more efficient to do its job of preserving quality.

Lancaster: Lantech views processors as customers who value anything we can do to reduce the amount of materials required to ship their product. There is quite an interchange going on between adding certain kinds of materials and subtracting other kinds of materials from packaging. The full balance of packaging materials doing the job is something that we closely monitor to ensure that we don’t participate in a project that solves one problem while creating another one.

Lawrence: Cost-effective capital solutions, with minimal recurring costs for consumable packaging materials, and an equipment footprint designed to fit into the always-limited floor space of existing dairy production lines. 

Drillings: Customers are always interested in reducing costs. We have been successful converting a number of our dairy customers to lower-gauge film. The result is source reduction through less material weight which lowers product and transportation costs.

Cotterman: One of the essential functions of packaging is the safe, efficient transport of food products throughout the supply chain. Packaging can prevent product damage caused by physical abuse and preserve product freshness through use of modified atmosphere or vacuum packaging. At the consumer level, extending the shelf life is key to avoiding product spoilage and use of portion-control packaging addresses over-purchasing or over-preparation of perishable foods.

Callanta: The consequences of climate change are also having an impact on the success of different packaging types with sustainability the new challenge for packaging manufacturers, filling companies and retailers. The demand for more responsible treatment of the environment is growing. The marketplace wants an easy-to-understand proof of responsible forestry. Food processing companies and retailers also want to position themselves with responsibly sourced products and the corresponding packaging, and minimize risks at the same time.

Skala: From the packaging component of the U.S. Fluids Milk Life Cycle Assessment, the industry is looking for a 25% reduction of the 1.9 million metric tons of GHG emissions. To that end, Uniloy is working to design more energy-efficient machinery (though its process uses as much as 30% less energy by the nature of its design vis-à-vis other plastic bottle forming technologies) and the components of the package formation aligned with leading-edge resin technology.

Q: What types of products have you developed or are you developing?

Giordano: We are supplying our current product and at the same time testing and developing new products. The products are a combination of paper and recyclable film.

Andersen: A common problem for all producers today is how to address the changing needs of the marketplace with one packaging line. At the September IDFA International Dairy Show in Dallas, we will debut an alternative packaging line designed with this capability. Other recent developments include some new package concepts for Retail Ready for which Delkor recently was awarded U.S. patents. These Retail Ready concepts have the common theme of more efficient use of packaging materials.

Kildal: At Elopak, we have rededicated ourselves to improving our products and reducing our environmental footprint. Our partnerships in the CDP and the World Wildlife Fund Climate Savers program are the most visible part of this effort.

Fogg: We have lowered their costs by using light technology to sanitize. Fogg’s line of Microb-Blasters sanitize caps and bottles immediately before filling and capping to ensure greater sanitation for product safety. It also eliminates the need for chemicals, which is a huge cost savings for the manufacturer.   

Lancaster: The No Film Break concept is a product that does a number of things for the customer’s cost. In terms of sustainability, it dramatically reduces the fluctuation of the packaging process. Today, there are more display and shelf-ready products. Containment force criticality has become much narrower and the products that Lantech has developed are addressing the issue of reducing the fluctuation of the process and improving the effectiveness of the wrap.

Lawrence: Introduction of industry-specific shrink solutions, including the Atlantis shrink bundler, with washdown features; and the reintroduced gable-top carton shrink bundler for producing palletizable bundles of dairy cartons. We are introducing equipment solutions that allow milk plants to move away from cases and crates, to shrink bundle from 4 ounces to gallons.

Drillings: We have launched a new film called Neo Affinia PETG, especially geared to the dairy industry as it is a high-yield PETG film that encourages the use of a thinner-gauge bottle. It has light barrier properties and can replace multilayer and barrier bottles, saving money on their present bottles.

Cotterman: Sealed Air, through its Cryovac brand, has a long history of providing innovative products to the market that minimize waste. From the very earliest products that employed barrier technology, such as Barrier Bags, to more recent resealable packs such as Multi-Seal, Cryovac products work to minimize or prevent waste across the supply chain. In addition, packaging systems that deliver more product out of the package, such as Vertical Pouches, can reduce the food waste associated with consumer handling.

Callanta: SIG carton packs are composed of up to 75% wood pulp fibers. Selecting this principle raw material responsibly and in accordance with the most exacting ecological standards is one of SIG’s top priorities. SIG Combibloc requires all its suppliers of unprocessed cardboard to operate production facilities that are certified according to the FSC chain of custody standard. This ensures that controversial wood sources can be avoided.

Howarth: We have developed a polyester-based material as a direct alternative to the traditional aluminum lid used in the yogurt/single-serve market. Our polyester material consumes less energy in manufacture when compared to converting aluminum from bauxite. Further benefits include the ability to metal detect the packed product and a seven-fold increase in tear resistance.

Skala: By the very nature of its design, the Uniloy reciprocating screw technology is as much as 30% more energy efficient than conventional continuous extrusion shuttle machines. Much of our work with customers is confidential … But our work goes both ways with respect to lightweighting of conventional containers, adding structural integrity to containers such that secondary packaging is compromised, new materials and, probably most significantly, completely new designs that have sustainability as a primary objective, but not at the expense of aesthetics and consumer acceptance.

Q: Is sustainable packaging purely an environmental arena, a means to a better bottom line or both?

Andersen: Sustainable solutions are simple ways to use our resources more efficiently. Focusing on more efficient methods and practices is good business.

Kildal: Sustainable packaging should lead to improved environmental performance, improved customer satisfaction and an improved bottom line. We have set our sustainability targets because we think it’s the right thing to do, but obviously it must make financial sense for the company. Based on our experience, our efforts on sustainability will improve our bottom line.

Lancaster: Sustainability has an enormous amount of publicity and sales claims, which has made it tremendously difficult to really understand what “environmental” means. Currently, larger customers have laid the gauntlet down in an effort to be environmentally positive, which has trickled down to their suppliers. Whether there is an environmental benefit that is stronger than the overall costs of sustainability is truly complicated.

Lawrence: With shrink bundling, sustainable efforts also translate quickly to the bottom line; customers usually experience ROI in 9 to 18 months. A key benefit of switching from cases to pad supported or unsupported shrink bundling is minimizing or eliminating the use of corrugate.

Cotterman: Packaging must meet market demands for value to reduce waste and improve the performance of the supply chain. In addition, packaging must meet demands for social responsibility by providing benefits to communities and individuals while helping emerging markets to develop.

Skala: If you venture into any sustainability initiative without improved financial performance, you will not win the day.

Q: What’s next on the horizon for sustainable packaging?

Andersen:  It is having packaging equipment solutions that provide flexibility and variety so that a customer can meet the changing needs of the marketplace without having to reinvest in new packaging lines. 

Kildal: In the long run, we believe the preferred packaging materials must be those that are both renewable and have low CO2.

Lancaster: We foresee a balance achieved between the hype and current uninvestigated claims about sustainability and the PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act) activity that will ensure the things we believe are more sustainable actually are more sustainable.

Lawrence: New methods for handling products and further developments with bio-degradable shrink packaging materials. These directions are driven by the ever-scaling-down of materials used, changing materials and the new developments with environmentally friendly shrink films. 

Drillings: We are hearing from our suppliers that there are newer bio-based films being developed to challenge PLA and we expect to see a more dynamic market in the years to come.

Cotterman: As the focus increases on food waste and extending the consumer food dollar, there are several technologies that will play an increasingly important role by empowering the consumer to better manage their food purchases. First, packages will need to ensure a longer shelf life. Second, there will be increased need for packaging features providing the ability to reseal and store remainders for a future meal. Third, there will be an increased need for more on-pack information technology to provide the consumer with a means to learn more about the package contents.

Callanta: Our requirement that we obtain the main raw material for our carton packs through sustainable practices and in the best quality goes hand in hand with continual improvements to (and reductions in) the use of materials. 

Howarth: Spiralkote Flexible Packaging is currently looking at a number of new technologies including the use of vegetable resins, paper-based materials and materials generated from naturally occurring minerals.

Skala: I think the biggest change will be more collaborative programs among supply-chain participants that did not have reason to work together before to optimize not only their individual input into the LCA.

H.S. Crocker Co.   www.hscrocker.com
Delkor Systems Inc.   www.delkorsystems.com
Elopak   www.elopak.com
Fogg Filler   www.foggfiller.com
Lantech   www.lantech.com
Polypack Inc.   www.polypack.com 
Printpack Inc.   www.printpack.com
Sealed Air Corp.   www.sealedair.com/citizenship
SIG Combibloc   www.sig.biz
Spiralkote Flexible Packaging   www.spiralkote.com
Uniloy North America   www.UniloyNA.com