« March 2007 Table of Contents
Trend Watch: Green packaging
Manufacturers, retailers consider recycled packaging materials
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
"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
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
"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
"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
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
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
"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