« March 2007 Table of Contents Pin It

Trend Watch: Green packaging

Manufacturers, retailers consider recycled packaging materials

 - Photo courtesy Georgia Pacific
By Lauren Kramer
March 01, 2007

Sustainability and eco-friendly have become buzzwords, touching a wide array of businesses and business practices. In the food and beverage industry, shipments of sustainable, or "green," packaging exceeded $37 billion in 2005, according to a recent report from market research publisher Specialists in Business Information. The research firm, a division of MarketResearch.com in Rockville, Md., predicts the food and beverage market for sustainable packaging will surpass $42 billion by 2010.

A few seafood manufacturers have already jumped on the sustainable-packaging bandwagon.

"We're always trying to think of ways to be sensitive in the choices we make in the packaging we have to utilize," says Val Davies, assistant GM at Starfish in Mukilteo, Wash. The company's packaging contains 21 percent recycled fibers in a solid unbleached sulphate (SUS) board, which the company has used for eight years.

"It's slightly less expensive than solid bleached sulphate," says Davies, adding that by using SUS, the print clarity on the package is not 
as good. "We definitely made a conscious, strategic decision to go with SUS, and we don't save money substantially by using it. But it's great for freezer applications and has excellent freeze-thaw characteristics."

Ian's Natural Foods in Lawrence, Mass., uses 40 percent recycled cardboard in its master cartons, says Clair Sidman, Ian's associate director of marketing. The company is working on making its fish-stick and fish-portion boxes more environmentally friendly.

"We're in the testing period of an initiative planned for 2007, but we have to ensure that in increasing the sustainability of our packaging we can still preserve the two-year shelf life of our products," she says. "Generally, when you're dealing with a frozen product, recycled cardboard is not as sturdy as virgin material, so we need to see how our products will show up on the shelves after they've been through the distribution phase."

If a sustainable package fails to protect a product through the duration of its lifecycle and sell the product to the end user, it's not more sustainable in reality, says Brian Reilly, senior director of the Innovation Institute for Georgia-Pacific's packaging business.

"Damage, increased waste, reduced product quality and decreased sales will cause more waste and inefficiency than the previous package," says Reilly. "In fact, what has been accomplished is shifting costs downstream versus developing a more profitable and sustainable solution."

Georgia Pacific offers Packaging Systems Optimization analysis, a five-step process that promises to improve the efficiency of a company's packaging supply chain. "We often find that small changes to packaging can add up to big cost savings and sustainability advantages," says Reilly. "Using PSO since 2002, we have identified savings of approximately $180 million for our customers. We've found that our process works across all industries - the solutions are different, but the path to get there is the same."

Seafood is often shipped in wax-coated, corrugated packaging that is not recyclable. Georgia-Pacific has found an alternative in Greenshield®, a family of recyclable corrugated solutions.

"Greenshield delivers tested strength, a superb moisture barrier as well as recyclability," says Reilly. One company that has made recycled packaging materials integral to their modus operandi is EcoFish, established in 1999 in Dover, N.H. "Our packaging is 100-percent recycled content, and a large percentage of that is post-consumer recycled," says owner Henry Lovejoy.

In addition, EcoFish uses soy-based ink on its packaging, to prevent the possibility of other inks, which may contain toxic chemicals, leaking into the environment. But there are no cost savings associated with these steps, Lovejoy says.

"Ironically, in some cases, as soon as you start adding post-consumer content to your packaging, it starts costing you more," he says. "The manufacturing process of taking newspaper and turning it into cardboard costs more than manufacturing cardboard from scratch. It's just something that needs to be built into [each manufacturers'] cost."

That might just become a reality in the future, as behemoth retail chains like Wal-Mart begin playing an active role in the demand for sustainable packaging. Wal-Mart recently announced it would start measuring its 60,000 worldwide suppliers based on their ability to develop sustainable packaging and conserve natural resources.

The initiative, set to begin in 2008, may reduce overall packaging by 5 percent, saving Wal-Mart a whopping $3.4 billion. More importantly for the environment, it will save 667,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

On a smaller scale, Wild Oats Markets also is developing packaging standards for vendors to the chain's 109 stores in 24 states and British Columbia.

"It's just something that we've wanted to do, and it's very consistent with the Wild Oats mission," says company spokesperson Sonja Tuitele. "It's important to us to reduce our overall impact on the environment, and most of the companies we work with share our underlying mission of sustainability, so they're very open to making such changes," she says, adding that the guidelines will be released to vendors this year.

Sustainability initiatives like Wal-Mart's will likely have a ripple effect on other companies, such as seafood company King & Prince. Owned by Gorton's, King & Prince supplies Shrimp Temptations under the Gorton's brand to Wal-Mart and Sam's Club.

"Right now, all of our box packaging consists of virgin material, but in the fourth quarter of 2006 we introduced a synergy project to reduce the amount of material we use in our packaging," says Shelton Wright, King & Prince's packaging engineer. "For example, 75 percent of our products go into plastic bags and then into a case. We're reducing the film thickness of the bags that we're using, in a process called down-gauging, that's estimated to save us $75,000 to $150,000."

"I'm working up some concepts to address Wal-Mart's sustainability initiative, and will be discussing them with [King & Prince] soon."

The present enhancements to sustainable packaging are a great start, but by no means an end point, in what will be a long process, says Anne Johnson, director of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition in Charlottesville, Va. "Packaging needs to have some positive life after its use, rather than just being thrown in a hole in the ground," she says.


Contributing Editor Lauren Kra m er lives in British Columbia


Featured Supplier

Company Category