A global survey, carried out this year for Tetra Pak, across 12 different countries, concludes that environment is an increasingly important factor in consumers’ purchasing decisions. More than three-quarters claimed that environmentally sound packaging has an influence on the brand they buy.
When asked about recent purchasing habits, two-thirds said they have bought environmental products, even when they cost more, while around the same proportion have avoided specific brands or items due to environmental concerns.
In response, a parallel survey among food manufacturers showed that the majority of them have included environmental considerations in their business strategy. More than half are now sharply focused on using responsibly sourced materials, with more and more seeing renewable materials as a key element in product differentiation.
The Tetra Pak survey concludes that “Consumers expect companies to do more on environment these days, and are increasingly checking information about a product before they buy. This includes: sourcing raw materials responsibly, continuously improving energy efficiency in processing and filling lines, designing products that use more renewable materials and enable easier recycling”.
(Download the summary of the survey here)
In the footsteps of the Tetra Pak survey, let’s have a look at some recent developments in eco-friendly packaging material. I took four recent examples: the PlantBox, (of course) the PlantBottle, the Eco-lunch plate and the so called Micro and Nano Fibrillated Cellulose (M/NFC) packaging.
PlantBox uses up to 30% bio-PET
Klearfold PlantBox cartons are a more renewable alternative to traditional plastic folding cartons.
All PET is made up of 30% monoethylene glycol (MEG) and 70% terephthalic acid (PTA), yet possesses the same properties and characteristics as petroleum-derived PET.
But with bio-PET, the MEG component is derived from renewable agricultural crop, sugarcane, thus reducing the consumption of fossil fuel-based resources.
The company claims that PlantBox cartons offer the same appearance, quality and performance as standard Klearfold PET cartons.
These new cartons include the company’s proprietary Soft Crease scoring technology, which helps optimize setup and product loading performance, whether manually or automatically filled.
HLP Klearfold‘s bio-PET resin is produced by Toyota Tsusho, a major supplier of bio-PET resin, marketed under their GloBio brand. HLP Klearfold produces PlantBox bio-PET sheet material on its own custom extruders.
After the PlantBox we have the PlantBottle
World’s first PET bottle made entirely from plants
It is well-known that the Coca-Cola Company, already for some years, is “struggling” to get to its final goal: a 100% plant-based bottle. Apparently they succeeded as they unveiled the world’s first PET plastic bottle made entirely from plant materials at the World Expo in Milan/Italy.
The company claims that the PlantBottle packaging pushes the boundaries on sustainable innovation by using ground-breaking technology to create a fully recyclable plastic bottle made from renewable plant materials.
PlantBottle packaging is Coca-Cola’s answer to packaging traditionally made from fossil fuels and other non-renewable materials. The PlantBottle technology converts natural sugars found in plants into the ingredients for making PET plastic bottles. The packaging looks, functions and recycles like traditional PET, but has a lighter footprint.
The PlantBottle can be used for a variety of packaging sizes and across water, sparkling, juice and tea beverage brands. Today, the company uses sugarcane and waste from the sugarcane manufacturing process to create the PlantBottle. Both materials meet Coca-Cola’s sustainability criteria used to identify plant-based ingredients for PlantBottle material. These guiding principles include demonstrating improved environmental and social performance as well as avoiding negative impacts on food security.
Since the 2009 launch, Coca-Cola has distributed more than 35 billion bottles in nearly 40 countries using its current version of PlantBottle packaging, which is made from up to 30% plant-based materials. It is estimated that the use of the PlantBottle since the launch has saved the equivalent annual emission of more than 315,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide.
In a reaction, the World Wildlife Fund said plant-based plastics, if responsibly produced, allow the public to continue to benefit from the value that plastics provide, but without the negative environmental effects of using fossil fuels.
Eco lunch plate for schools.
I know the following example isn’t exactly a packaging, but it’s very close to packaging and a perfect example for the Food Service Packaging Industry.
The Urban School Food Alliance, a coalition of the largest school districts in the U.S. that includes New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami-Dade, Dallas and Orlando, announced that it will start rolling out the use of compostable round plates at cafeterias this month.
The districts in the Alliance collectively serve more than 2.9 million students enrolled in their schools. In a landmark collaboration, the Alliance’s six districts challenged the industry to develop an innovative and affordable environmentally-friendly round plate to replace the standard polystyrene tray school cafeterias use across the country.
Serving 2.5 million meals a day, the six districts project to remove 225 million polystyrene trays from landfills every year.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a non-profit partner of the Alliance, stated that “Shifting from polystyrene trays to compostable plates will allow these cities to dramatically slash waste sent to landfills, reduce plastics pollution in our communities and oceans, and create valuable compost that can be re-used on our farms”.
Note: That is correct as long as the Alliance can find facilities able and willing to compose their lunch plates. If there is no facility in town, they still end up in a landfill. The Alliance doesn’t give any information about this.
Schools across America use polystyrene trays because they cost less than compostable ones. Polystyrene trays average about USD 0.04 apiece, compared to its compostable counterpart, which averages about USD 0.12 cents each. Given the extremely tight budgets in school meal programs, affording compostable plates seemed impossible until the Urban School Food Alliance used its collective purchasing power and realised the almost impossible by obtaining a compostable round plate for schools at an affordable cost of USD 0.049 each.
The moulded fibre compostable round plate is produced from pre-consumer recycled newsprint. It is FDA-approved and manufactured by Huhtamaki North America. The plate has five compartments, with the beverage compartment strategically placed in the middle to balance the weight of a typical meal. The innovative design prevents hinging or bending and is easy to handle.
Agriculture waste turned into packaging
German-based companies Zelfo Technology and Upgrading have produced an up-cycled wheat straw based packaging concept. The so called Micro and Nano Fibrillated Cellulose (M/NFC) packaging is made using 100% agriculture waste. They claim that packaging can be manufactured from a mixture of up-cycled plant based M/NFC at various percentages and new cellulose or de-fibred waste material with production times relative to M/NFC quantities used.
Based on information from Upgrading, Zelfo Technology re-engineered its machine to process agricultural waste. Positive results were achieved after getting a longer and different fibre and changing the setting of machinery.
In the first trials the agriculture waste was converted from wheat straw because it was available, but the company claims that almost all fibre based crop residue or waste sources are suitable for conversion using the Zelfo/Upgrading system, while no additives or chemical processes are needed, because the fibres are self-binding.
With this technology the agriculture industry has the possibility to receive packaging for their products manufactured using agriculture residue/waste from its own products.
Although the product range will focus around containers for fruit and vegetables at first, the companies expect that agricultural waste from the olive trees, for example, can be used to make olive oil bottles. Fully waterproof containers will form part of the second wave of products and are already being reviewed.
The packaging will be offered with and without additional barrier and graphic surface treatments.
Upgrading and Zelfo Technology plan to install an R&D production plant near Hannover shortly.
These four examples of industries delving deeper into the possibilities of environmental friendly packaging materials are encouraging and the correct answer to the requirements of the contemporary consumer. Let’s see if more packaged consumer goods companies are ready and responsibly enough to implement eco-friendly packaging.