“As global concern and awareness for the environment continues to grow, consumers around the world are demanding more action from retailers and packaged goods manufacturers to protect the environment. And while eco-friendly packaging might not be the top priority for shoppers today, it’s certainly a growing priority the food industry cannot ignore,” says Patrick Dodd, president of The Nielsen Company Europe.
Eco-friendly being a hot item, I describe here three packages, although no novelties, recently introduced. More importantly they have something in common, i.e. sustainability, degradability and compostability, that I like to discuss today. But first the examples:
Hot N Handy Bio-Pouch
The Hot N Handy Bio-Pouch, made from renewable wood-pulp and produced by Robbie Mfg., Inc., is introduced as a more environmentally friendly version replacing the rigid clamshells commonly seen in the refrigerating section of convenience-stores.
Data of a life-cycle analysis supplied by Franklin Associates, Ltd., comparing the new flexible pouch with hinged, rigid PS containers, show the pouch using 92 percent less crude oil, reducing CO2 emissions by 56 percent and eliminating 75 percent of the packaging material waste, by weight.
The pouch material is made using NatureFlex film and is flexographically surface-printed with a random four-color repeat graphic indicating the biodegradable and compostable features.
NatureFlex NVS is a transparent, sustainable and biodegradable film manufactured by Innovia Films, headquartered in the UK. The film is based on renewable wood-pulp sourced from managed plantations which either have or are actively working towards Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification and use novel heatseal-resins on each side. The product is also compostable and certified under EN13432 and ASTM D6400 to compost within six weeks.
The films are static free and offer good gas barrier properties. The coatings can be tailored to provide varying degrees of moisture barrier, depending on the needs of the wrapped product.
The second example is the….
Palm Fibre trays for fresh produce
EarthCycle Packaging Ltd introduced moulded, food approved, palm fibre trays, used among others for the fresh produce at Wal-Marts.
The tray is made from a renewable source: palm fibre from long-established palm oil plantations in West Malaysia. This agricultural biomass waste, which occurs when the oil from the palm fruit is pressed, was always burned or taken to a landfill. It is a certified biodegradable and compostable material that easily meets the FDA and CFIA standards for food packaging. The material is also certified as made from renewable raw materials. The fibre is obtained, according to the specifications of the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), from non-environmentally sensitive areas (such as the habitat of endangered species) and the palm fibre is not taken from High Conservation Value (HCV) forests. Without doubt a true eco-material.
The tray and film degrade within 90 days, meeting the ASTM D6400 standard. The tray is not printed, but is embossed with the company logo, company name and references to the certificates.
The last example is …
PLA-film of NatureWorks
SunChips, Frito-Lay’s popular line of multigrain snacks, plans introduction of the first fully compostable snack chip bag made from plant-based materials in 2010. The change is designed to significantly improve the environmental impact of its packaging.
The current snack bag has three layers: a printed outer layer with packaging visuals/graphics, an inner layer, which serves as a barrier to maintain the quality and integrity of the product, and a middle layer that joins the other two layers.
Recently SunChips took the first step towards this transformational packaging. The outer layer of the 10 ½ oz (298 gr) SunChips snack bags will be made with a compostable, plant-based renewable material, polylactic acid (PLA). By Earth Day 2010, PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay plans to rollout a SunChips snacks bag where all layers are made from PLA material so the packaging is 100% compostable and will fully decompose in about 14 weeks when placed in a hot, active compost pile or bin.
NatureWorks will supply the film to Frito´Lay, claiming that its Ingeo proprietary polylactide biopolymer, uses 65 per cent less fossil fuel resources to produce, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 80 to 90 per cent compared to traditional petroleum-based polymers.
These three examples are made from bio-plastics, also called green plastics, usually fabricated from 100 per cent renewable sources, such as plant-based ethanol, vegetable oil, wood pulp, palm or coconut fibre.
Although, in my opinion, plastics made from corn and sugar cane are a dubious development in regard to the food shortage in the world, I have to admit that they are ‘plant-based’ materials and as a consequence ‘green’. They deserve the label: Sustainable, Degradable and even Compostable.
In contrast ….
As most consumers expect packaging to provide an added ‘feel eco-good factor’ by minimizing environmental impacts, many a company in these days, in its effort to fulfil this ‘consumer-dream’, introduces a packaging claiming sustainability, degradability and even compostability without using the 100% sustainable natural raw materials, as the examples mentioned above.
They claim to be degradable, which is basically true, but at the same moment objectionable. To make their packages degradable they add degradable or compostable additives to the basic, fossil fuel based, material used. And that is, according to Napcor, for the time being, a dubious claim and misleading in all its facets.
Aside from the potential negative impacts on recycling, Napcor, the National Association for PET Container Resources, questions the value of the concept whether or not the packaging will safely degrade in landfills, or as roadside or marine litter. “Even if a package were to disappear or fragment – and we’ve not yet seen this evidence – it would not make the package sustainable, nor does it provide any positive impacts in terms of greenhouse gas emissions or resource conservation,” says Napcor’s Executive Director Dennis Sabourin. “Degrading plastic provides no useful nutrients to the soil, and the impacts to soil and sea of reducing the plastic to molecules using degradable additives is unknown.”
But how is the consumer to know whether a packaging claiming to be ‘degradable and/or compostable’ is really a non-toxic packaging, adding some benefit to nature? After all, over the centuries, the word ‘compost’ has been synonym for stimulating the fertility of the soil, improving the crop.
Companies using ‘natural’ ingredients for their packaging material, i.e. wood pulp, palm and coconut fibres, even corn and sugar cane starch, should change their labelling from ‘degradable and compostable’ to ‘natural materials’, giving the consumer a hint he buys something really sustainable, degradable and compostable. In other words something really nature friendly.
All other ‘solutions’ smell, for the time being, like a monkey business, eye washing the consumer.