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Green Packaging: Inside the box

Seafood companies explore sustainable packaging options

By Lauren Kramer
November 01, 2008

When Specialists in Business Information conducted its last report on sustainable packaging in 2005, the market research publisher predicted that sustainable packaging for the food and beverage market would surpass $42 billion annually by 2010. At the time, the firm, a division of Rockville, Md.-based MarketResearch.com, reported the sustainable or "green" packaging market exceeded $37 billion, making their projection a modest 10 percent increase.

In the three years since then, many companies have jumped on board the green movement, some inspired by a wave of concern for the health of the planet, and others motivated by the demands of retail chains like Wal-Mart, which implemented an initiative this year to measure its 60,000 worldwide suppliers based on their ability to develop sustainable packaging and conserve natural resources.

Starfish in Mukilteo, Wash., has switched from packaging containing 10 percent post-consumer recycled content to packaging with 100 percent recycled content.

"Before, we couldn't get a box sufficiently strong to hold up in the freezer, but now the technology has improved enough that it will," says Bob O'Bryant, Starfish's general manager. "Our ultimate goal is to get as much post-consumer content in our packaging as possible, and we're constantly looking for packaging that will take us to the next level."

In August, Starfish launched a new, gluten-free product to add to its repertoire of battered cod, halibut and haddock and its other gluten-free frozen seafood that uses the new packaging supplied by Georgia-Pacific. Starfish also moved from an oil-based ink for printing to a soy equivalent.

"It's a little more expensive, but it's more ecologically friendly than oil-based ink, and you cut down on the use of petroleum," he says. Starfish is presently looking for more environmentally friendly products to replace the plastic bags used in its frozen seafood line.

At Ian's Natural Foods in Lawrence, Mass., those bags are a thing of the past, says Clair 
Sidman, marketing manager.

"Today we use a coded internal box with no bag inside. We've reduced the packaging element and the box is 100 percent recycled post-consumer content," says Sidman. "But the box is more expensive than what we were using before, so we're not exactly saving money by not using the bag."

A couple of years ago, the company was using 40 percent recycled cardboard on the master cartons containing its product shipments.

Taking steps toward more environmentally friendly packaging is not an immediate money-saver, agrees Frank Dulcich, president and CEO of Clackamas, Ore.-based Pacific Seafood Group. The company began working with Georgia-Pacific two years ago to develop more sustainable packaging, and has replaced 90 percent of its packaging with the 
Greenshield® line of recyclable, corrugated solutions that contain a proprietary moisture-resistant coating. The cost, however, is 15 percent higher than previous packaging solutions of polystyrene foam and wax-coated boxes.

While the Greenshield® line provides the insulation properties and water resistance required to maintain seafood's integrity, each box can only be used once before it goes back into recycling.

"We're still looking at other alternatives to lessen our impact on the environment even further, by using reusable shipping containers to our direct store delivery and warehouse customers," says Dulcich. "When we implement our new packaging containers six to nine months from now we'll be able to reuse them between 30 and 50 times."

Since some suppliers are still requesting Styrofoam containers, Pacific Seafood invested in a machine that breaks the packaging down for reuse, to avoid sending large quantities of Styrofoam to a landfill.

"This machine breaks down the foam from 50 boxes into a small block container that is melted and sold to moulding and picture frame manufacturers to use in their product," says Dulcich. "What was once five to seven truckloads going to the landfill, as of January 2008 we have no truckloads heading to the landfill. It doesn't compensate for the higher cost of the Greenshield® product, but in time we hope it will."

Pacific Seafood also entered into a joint venture with Converted Organics in Eureka, Calif., in March. Through this partnership, the company's seafood waste is processed into fish-based organic fertilizer that prevents millions of pounds of fish by-products from entering a landfill.

"Again, it's too early to tell if we'll make money from this," says Dulcich. "But hopefully, it will work as a combination of an environmentally friendly initiative and also generate revenue."


Contributing Editor Lauren Kramer lives in British Columbia



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