Getting Easier Being Green

by Shonda Talerico Dudlicek
Contributing Editor

Suppliers continue making strides with environmentally friendly packaging.
Buzzwords like “sustainability” and “green” are getting tossed around a lot lately. We interviewed some notable players among packaging manufacturers to get their input on how they view the arena of environmentally friendly packaging.
DF: What are the latest technology and trends in packaging in the area of environmentally friendly packaging?
Oliver Bittner, vice president of marketing, SIG Combibloc Inc., Chester, Pa.: Feedback from the market indicates that environmentally friendly packaging has become one of the key aspects in the packaging decision. There are several observable trends in this debate. Packaging that is made of natural, renewable materials that are biodegradable is clearly preferred. Secondly, trends focus on reducing excess and unnecessary packaging. Thirdly, there has been a lot of debate about the “ecological footprint” of packaging.
This year has shown several improvements in the area of environmentally friendly packaging. One of the most important achievements is that the environment has become an integral part of the packaging decision. Also, recent market launches show a significant increase of environmentally friendly packaging.
The environment is an integral part of SIG Combibloc’s business and one of the unique selling features that differentiates aseptic carton from other pack types. Aseptic cartons by their nature come from a renewable resource, and packaging including the spouts can be 100 percent recycled and reused in other materials. Important to mention here is the fact that exclusive use is made of sustainable forestry for its packaging. Also, aseptic cartons clearly outperform other types of packaging materials over their entire life-span.
Giovanna Prestes, marketing and communications manager, Tetra Pak Inc., Vernon Hills, Ill.: Packaging is being closely scrutinized for its environmental impact and the material content of non-renewable resources. This is a hot topic with manufacturers, retailers and consumers. There is a growing sentiment about the precarious position the world is in due to its reliance of non-renewable resources. As a result, awareness is growing of why it is better to minimize the use of scarce resources versus relying on recycling alone. Tetra Pak has long understood this social responsibility and our motto —Protects What’s Good — was designed to incorporate our package design mainly made from renewable resources.
The industry is becoming more aware of sustainability issues, looking for alternatives that deliver the same quality product but in a more environmentally friendly way.
Tetra Pak believes food packaging should save more than it costs. This extends to the environment as well as to the products inside. It’s all about being better for the environment and better for business.
Use of renewable resources, reducing effects on climate change, minimizing energy use and supporting recycling are just some of the areas in which Tetra Pak focuses its sustainability efforts. Although no packaging yet is fully sustainable, Tetra Pak is committed to being a leader in sustainable packaging. Tetra Pak cartons come primarily from a natural and renewable resource and are recyclable; nearly 50 million consumers can recycle their cartons in curbside programs today. Our cartons are 70 to 81 percent paperboard, which comes from wood, a natural and renewable resource grown in responsibly managed forests. Tetra Pak packages use less material and are among the lightest on the market, which makes them cost-effective for manufacturing, shipping and storing.  
Carl Rooth, vice president, category director for foods and beverages, Owens-Illinois Inc., Perrysburg, Ohio: The glass container industry continues to develop and refine technologies to improve the performance of its products. Light weighting plays an important role in making a sustainable product because energy consumption during the manufacturing process is proportional to the weight of the container. Surface treatment of containers is another technology that has contributed to light weighting opportunities. In its most pristine form, glass is stronger than steel. But it is brittle and surface abrasion can affect its strength. Therefore, coatings and surface treatments are current R&D focuses to help protect and prolong the inherent strength of glass. In addition, the use of organic base materials for decorating and labeling, which are heavy metal free, are also a growing area.
Paul Pritchett, sales and marketing manager, Seal-It Division of Printpack, Farmingdale, N.Y.: Seal-It is very proud to be among the first shrink label converters to be able to introduce Plastic Suppliers’ Earthfirst PLA film to our customers. This alternative to petroleum based film allows us to offer a choice of film for all our customers’ packaging needs. Tamper-evident bands and shrink labels can now be compostable and environmentally friendly when produced with corn-based PLA film. PLA film has all the properties of our traditional shrink film and performs as well. Printpack’s initiatives regarding sustainable packaging include a family of sustainable packaging structures called Natura. These products are being offered to many market segments. In general, flexible packaging can provide an excellent opportunity for source reduction when converting from other formats.
DF: What do consumers want from environmentally friendly packaging?
Bittner: Today’s consumers are more and more environmentally aware and try to make environmentally conscious decisions that fit their lifestyles. Consumers clearly feel like contributing provided that several conditions are met. It is important to communicate to consumers as to how a particular packaging can be considered environmentally friendly. Also, providing clear instructions and incentives as how to recycle appropriately helps the consumer to identify immediately where his/her actions are needed and how they can contribute. Lastly, the convenience aspect is uncompromising. This means that packaging has to score high on both convenience and being environmentally friendly to really take of and be a success. In the case of aseptic cartons, consumers are aware of the positive impact on the environment. In addition, the high convenience factor of cartons allows consumers to contribute to the environment without making sacrifices to their lifestyles.
Prestes: Consumers are going green, and their purchasing habits directly reflect this trend. Reports demonstrate this segment is today a $227 billion domestic market for goods and services focused on sustainable living and social responsibility. These are the consumers, in other words, who are eating organics, driving hybrids, and buying fair-trade java. And there are 63 million of them out there, comprising 30 percent of the American market.
This market is willing to spend up to an astounding 20 percent premium on clean, green products over the non-sustainable alternatives.
Over the next 20 years, this group is going to grow exponentially. With two huge generations dominating America — the baby boomers and the millennials — principles of conscious consumption are sure to dominate future purchasing decisions. This new, evolving mindset will carry with it a direct penalty for companies reluctant to meet their needs.
Pritchett: Consumers are more aware of the environmental effects of packaging then ever before. Sustainable packaging is more than a buzzword. It is vital to the health and safety of all people. Producing packaging that meets these needs is a major business goal for Printpack.
DF: What are dairy processors asking for in environmentally friendly packaging?
Bittner: Dairy processors are looking for a package that satisfies the requirements of being a convenient, environmentally friendly and attractive packaging. Especially regarding value-added and functional product concepts, dairy processors are looking for a package that fits the product in terms of attractiveness and offers an excellent shelf presentation. Aseptic cartons offer dairy processors the opportunity to clearly differentiate their products on the shelves and create an outstanding fit between an appealing product concept and being environmentally friendly.
Prestes: The industry is becoming more aware of sustainability issues, looking for alternatives that deliver the same quality product but in a more environmental friendly way as we’ve mentioned before. And it’s not different within the dairy industry.
Pritchett: Dairy processors are concerned that they meet the needs of consumers and are looking toward alternative packaging for their products. They are looking for converters and printers who are taking an environmental approach to the manufacturing process as well as the product that is produced. 
Shonda Talerico Dudlicek is a freelance journalist and a former managing editor of Dairy Field.