A svelte green carton
Earth-friendliness was one of the reasons California Natural Products
, Lathrop, Calif., chose Tetra Prisma Aseptic packaging for CalNaturale Svelte protein drinks, which launched last year. Tetra Pak
, Vernon Hills, Ill., supplies the packaging.
With years of experience as a co-packer specializing in aseptic low-acid filling of soy milks, soups and nutritional beverages, California Natural chose Tetra Pak cartons for its own Svelte brand for several reasons.
"Our objective is to improve the health and wellness of our customers, and we have some parameters around that," says Pat Mitchell, president and founder of California Natural Products. "It has to be a very good tasting product, it has to be convenient, it has to be a great value and it can't compromise the environment."
He adds that "there are quite a few" environmental benefits of using aseptic cartons. "It would take 26 truckloads of glass bottles, for instance, to replace one truckload of Tetra packaging materials on the inbound side."
Looking at it from another angle, the aseptic cartons account for only about 4 percent of the weight of the filled package. "With other packaging forms, a much higher percentage [of filled package weight] is actually the packaging material and not your product. You're paying to ship it in, and you're paying to ship it out," Mitchell says.
The lower transportation costs go hand in hand with reduced GHG emissions. Other factors that keep the aseptic carton's carbon footprint down are its shelf stability — no refrigeration is needed during storage or distribution — and storage density.
Because the cartons are rectangular rather than round, Mitchell says his warehouse density is 20 to 30 percent higher than if he were storing cans or bottles. Higher storage density permits smaller warehouses and, correspondingly, lower energy requirements for heating and cooling.
To address the cartons' end of life, a key concern when assessing packaging sustainability, California Natural has been working with Tetra Pak to establish a post-consumer carton pulping plant in the Lathrop area. Pulp from the cartons will be turned into other products.
Tetra Pak and carton manufacturers Elopak, Evergreen Packaging and SIG Combibloc banded together two years ago to boost carton recycling in the U.S. and to encourage paper mills to process recycled cartons. Results to date are encouraging, with four paper mills participating and recycling rates on the rise.
According to Jeff Fielkow, vice president of sustainability and recycling programs for Tetra Pak, the number of households with carton-recycling access (curbside or drop-off) last year increased by 12.3 million, reaching 34.3 million households by year-end.
In the first month of 2011, another 1.5 million households were added. Parsed in percentages, carton-recycling access on Jan. 1 was 30.6 percent and by the end of that month had grown to 31.7 percent of all households. All of these figures refer to households in the lower 48 states.
"Our top priority right now is carton recycling," says Derric Brown, director of sustainability at Evergreen Packaging Group, a paperboard packaging maker and probably the leader in gabletop cartons. He says the company is working with municipalities to increase those paperboard recycling rates.
Another R that's also a priority at Evergreen is renewable. The company makes more than 70 percent of its paperboard packaging from "responsibly managed forests." Its third-party certifications from the Forest Stewardship Council and Sustainable Forestry Initiative can be carried by food processors on their Evergreen-supplied packages, to share the green halo.
Bioplastic yogurt packs
Organic yogurt maker Stonyfield Farm, Londonderry, N.H., made news in sustainable packaging recently when it switched to polylactic acid (PLA) for all the yogurt multipacks it makes and fills at its Londonderry plant.
The multipacks are 93 percent PLA, which is a corn-based bioplastic. Stonyfield products now packaged in PLA include YoBaby, YoToddler, YoKids, B-Healthy, B-Well, Probiotic and O'Soy. Stonyfield also is co-packing organic Trader Joe's yogurt in 4-oz. PLA multipacks.
Stonyfield makes the PLA multipacks on the same Arcil form-fill-sealer it used, until last October, to make polystyrene multipacks. Stonyfield "is the first to do it," says Harry Marovskis, director of sales at Synerlink USA, referring to running PLA on the form-fill-sealer. Synerlink, Cincinnati, supplied Stonyfield with the Arcil equipment.
Switching from polystyrene to bioplastic is consistent with Stonyfield's overarching commitment to sustainability, which spans products, employees, the environment and the business itself. Stonyfield reports that by switching to PLA it has reduced its carbon footprint by 1,875 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, which equals the carbon dioxide emissions from 4,360 barrels of oil.
Although the PLA multipacks look identical to the old polystyrene packaging, Stonyfield wants consumers to know that the new packages are greener than the old ones. Marovskis reports that if you look at the bottom of the cups, "they all say ‘this package made from plants.' "
In collaboration with Novamont, Zip-Pak has developed a cellulose-based, 100 per cent compostable profile for resealable packaging made of Mater-Bi resin. Also under development is a zipper using PLA for use with PLA films. These developments not only offer the benefits of resealability for reduced food waste, but also have the potential to substantially reduce packaging waste.