Manufacturers and retailers drive global innovations in packaging

In an ongoing effort to drive global change in packaging, leaders from many of the world's largest consumer goods companies and major retailers have approved a suggested set of common definitions and principles for packaging in the framework of sustainability. This common language will support a global discourse on packaging in the context of environmental, economic and social impacts.

An assembly of The Consumer Goods Forum's (The Forum) Global Packaging Project (GPP) met in Toronto, Canada, in January to establish a common industry language for packaging and sustainability and to outline final terms for the launch of pilot projects.

"Sustainability is a shared responsibility," said Roger Zellner, GPP co-chair and director, of sustainability, research, development and quality with Kraft Foods "By creating a common language and identifying shared global industry metrics this initiative will enable manufacturers and retailers to work together to develop packaging solutions to help achieve agreed sustainability goals."

"The Global Packaging Project started because retailers and manufacturers wanted a consistent approach to packaging of consumer goods," said Sonia Raja, GPP co-chair and head of packaging, Tesco. "We need to find a common way of measuring environmental and sustainability improvements on packaging that can be used across the world."

Collectively there was recognition that inconsistent measures between different actors in the packaged goods supply chain intended to improve packaging's contribution to sustainable development risked leading to unnecessary complexity, added cost and sub-optimal environmental, economic and social results.

The next phase of the project is to validate the output of the project; the principles for packaging and sustainability and a set of agreed indicators and metrics, within real business situations. Pilots will take place over a six-month testing stage. The Forum is targeting approval of the final report and deliverables in November 2010.

The Forum brings together the ceos and senior management of around 650 retailers, manufacturers, service providers and other stakeholders across 70 countries. Members from the packaging conversion and material supply sector include Arcelormittal packaging, Alcan Packaging, Crown Europe, Dupont, MWV, Novelis and SCA Packaging - many of which have been making recent advances in their packaging solutions. For example Crown Europe's sister company Crown Closures Americas has helped US company Old Orchard to achieve the desired youthful, bold look for its new cherry juices with the creation of a range of brightly-coloured twist enclosures.

Very Cherre Montmorency tart cherry juices are packaged in eye-catching squat glass bottles provided by Saint-Gobain. However, this bulbous shape limited how much information could be communicated to consumers. Instead, a two-colour printing process was used to communicate key health benefits and messages to consumers around the skirt of the enclosure. Flavour name and website details are also printed on the skirt.

"The closure played a crucial role in communicating the brand's nutritional benefits to consumers, so it was imperative to work with a supplier that possessed printing expertise and could deliver in a short timeframe. Crown delivered on all counts," said Kevin Miller, vice president of marketing with Old Orchard Brands.

Another Crown subsidiary, Crown Asia Pacific Holdings, has announced that it is to install a second beverage can line at its existing facility northeast of Ho Chi Minh City in Dong Nai Province, Vietnam.

The new line is expected to be operational in the fourth quarter of 2010 and have an initial annual production capacity of approximately 600 million two-piece 33cl aluminium beverage cans, which would expand the Dong Nai plant's capacity to more than 1.2 billion/year.

As a result of this latest investment, Crown anticipates having five beverage can lines in three facilities in Vietnam, with total annual production capacity in excess of three billion aluminum two-piece cans.

"The aluminium beverage can is perfect for the Vietnamese market. It is recyclable and sustainable, is shipped easily, and most efficiently preserves the quality of the beverage product for the ultimate consumer. Equally important, we expect that the additional line will increase both productivity and operating efficiencies at the plant as was anticipated when the facility was purchased last year," commented Jozef Salaerts, president of Crown's Asia-Pacific division.

In Vienna, Austria, MeadWestvaco (MWV) is celebrating winning top honours at the recent Association of European Carton and Cardboard Manufacturers' carton of the year awards. The company won with Crescendo C1S, the material of choice used for Le Chef Chocolatier products.

"We are pleased to have been a key partner in developing a highly sophisticated, innovative and demanding package," said MWV md Virginia McLain.

Crescendo C1S features a novel fibre mix, giving it a quality feel and high stiffness that meets the packaging needs of a variety of industries from personal care to food. Double coating on the front side is complemented by a smooth, shade matched, uncoated side for consistent visual appeal.

Looking to the future

Food packaging and other disposable plastic items could soon be composted at home along with organic waste thanks to a new sugar-based polymer. The degradable polymer is made from sugars known as lignocellulosic biomass, which come from non-food crops such as fast-growing trees and grasses, or renewable biomass from agricultural or food waste.

It is being developed at Imperial College London by a team of Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council scientists led by Dr Charlotte Williams (Fig. 1).

The search for greener plastics, especially for single use items such as food packaging, is the subject of significant research worldwide. "It's spurred on not only from an environmental perspective, but also for economic and supply reasons," explains Williams.

Around seven per cent of worldwide oil and gas resources are consumed in plastics manufacture, with worldwide production exceeding 150 million t/y. Almost 99 per cent of plastics are formed from fossil fuels.

"Our key breakthrough was in finding a way of using a non-food crop to form a polymer, as there are ethical issues around using food sources in this way," said Williams. Current biorenewable plastics use crops such as corn or sugar beet.

"For the plastic to be useful it had to be manufactured in large volumes, which was technically challenging. It took three and a half years for us to hit a yield of around 80 per cent in a low-energy, low-water use process," she added.

This is significant as the leading biorenewable plastic, polylactide, is formed in a high energy process requiring large volumes of water. In addition, when it reaches the end of its life polylactide must be degraded in a high-temperature industrial facility.

In contrast, the oxygen-rich sugars in the new polymer allow it to absorb water and degrade to harmless products - meaning it can be tossed on the home compost heap and used to feed the garden.

Because the new polymer can be made from cheap materials or waste products it also stacks up economically compared to petrochemical-based plastics.

"The development of the material is very promising and I'm optimistic that the technology could be in use within two to five years," says Williams, who is already working with a number of commercial partners and is keen to engage others interested in the material (Fig. 2).

Another innovative proposal is to use food packaging products made from dairy ingredients. The idea is outlined in a chapter written by US Agricultural Research Service scientist Peggy Tomasula for a new book, Dairy-Derived Ingredients: Food and Nutraceutical Uses, which is published by London-based Woodhead Publishing.

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