Go Green with Next Generation Packaging

A new generation of packaging materials makes it difficult not to go green.

By Kate Bertrand Connolly, Packaging Editor

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The film heat-seals well and resists greases, oils and fats. In addition, it is glossy and transparent. "It really fits in the premium category," says Shawn Askinosie, the company's founder and chocolate maker. Revere Group (www.rgroup.com), Seattle, supplies Askinosie's NatureFlex bags.

Askinosie's outer packaging, which is made of natural unbleached waxed paper and closed with twine, educates consumers about the inner bag. Text on the back of the package explains: "The inner wrap is home compostable, non-GM packaging from a sustainable source. The tie that binds this package is from a biodegradable bag of beans shipped to our factory."

Paperboard also is greening up, with special attention to packaging for premium items such as gourmet, organic and luxury foods and beverages. The special challenge for this packaging is the need to convey a premium impression to consumers.

Packaging with the "crunchy granola look" is fine for some brands, but companies at the high end "cannot sacrifice their brand to go environmental," says David Lunati, director of marketing, Monadnock Paper Mills Inc. (www.mpm.com), Bennington, N.H. "You don't want to go out there with dirty-looking board."

Materials that deliver, both environmentally and vis-à-vis branding, are becoming available for these high-end companies. Envi by Monadnock PC80 folding boxboard recently launched. In addition to offering brightness, smoothness, thickness and other qualities required for high-end printing and converting, Envi contains 80 percent post-consumer waste.

Both the virgin and recycled fiber in this material are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification bodies, which is an assurance that the fiber was responsibly sourced. The material is geared to secondary packaging applications for gourmet foods as well as products in non-food, luxury categories.

Earth-friendly, business-savvy

In addition to the many green packaging materials that are commercially available or in development, services that help food companies address how they choose and use resources are becoming available.

Snyder's of Hanover used the Packaging Systems Optimization (PSO) service of Georgia-Pacific LLC (www.gp.com), Atlanta, to reduce waste, lower costs and improve sustainability across the packaging supply chain.

The PSO service evaluates a company's entire packaging system to identify areas where processes can be improved. Results of the evaluation can be used to optimize nine areas of the supply chain, including package design, SKU consolidation, materials handling and distribution. Georgia-Pacific's PSO Calculator is an online tool that quantifies not only the dollar savings a company can experience by addressing inefficiencies but also the sustainability advantages.

Test-drive the online Georgia-Pacific's PSO Calculator.

Benefits such as reduced greenhouse gas emissions and lower energy use are by-products of "reduced fiber usage, reduced transportation, reduced warehousing. Those things drive sustainability advantages," says Brian Reilly, senior director at Georgia-Pacific's Innovation Institute.

Snyder's and Georgia-Pacific worked closely to identify opportunities among Snyder's 10 highest-volume packaging specifications. Using the results, Snyder's redesigned six of the 10 specifications. In one instance, the PSO team identified a stackable corrugated tray as a candidate for downsizing. Snyder's uses the tray to protect bags of Snyder's Pretzel Sandwiches within shipping cartons. Snyder's redesigned the trays, reducing their overall knockdown size, fiber content and cost but without changing their inside dimensions.

This environmentally responsible design change could save Snyder's more than $42,000 per year. Plus the redesigned trays are easier to stack than the ones they replaced. Overall, Snyder's PSO-related redesigns and packaging optimizations have saved more than 350 tons of fiber, which translates into almost 971 tons of greenhouse gas reductions.

The PSO team also found ways to increase distribution efficiency. Snyder's recently upgraded its shipping fleet from 42- to 53-ft. trailers to reduce shipping and fuel costs. Using the PSO results, the company was able to change pallet configurations for packed cartons to take advantage of the increased shipping capacity.

Again, the results were positive both environmentally and from a business perspective. As Snyder's experience suggests, the new era of earth-friendly packaging holds much promise for food processors. "This is a time of disruption in the world of packaging," concludes Steven Levine, founder of Excellent Packaging & Supply (www.excellentpackaging.com), Richmond, Calif. And with disruption comes "great opportunities."

Note to Marketing

Designers looking for help creating "green" paperboard packaging have a comprehensive resource available in "A Field Guide to Eco-Friendly, Efficient, and Effective Print," published by Monadnock Paper Mills.

The guide's recently issued second edition provides guidance on choosing paper, inks, production techniques and more. It explains, "The message is threefold: Eco-friendly design can be cost-efficient, environmentally sensitive and beautiful. This guide gives graphic professionals the opportunity to think about design differently."

The guide is available in PDF format.

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