Food Processors Beginning to See Benefits of Going Green With Packaging

From Heinz to the Girl Scouts, everyone wants packaging with less environmental downside.

By Kate Bertrand Connolly, Packaging Editor

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The term "green packaging" is a bit of an oxymoron. The very existence of a package presumes impact on the environment during the package's life cycle and perhaps beyond. But, recognizing that we need packaging to protect food between the point of manufacturing and the point of consumption, processors are focusing on greener packaging.

The initiatives include virtually all package formats, from glass jars to plastic bottles and paperboard cartons to flexible packages. Brands attached to greener-packaging projects include the iconic; pantry standards like Heinz Classico and Frito-Lay Tostitos; natural foods brands like Naked Juice, CalNaturale and Stonyfield Farm; even seasonal favorite Girl Scout Cookies.

This year, for the first time, the Girl Scouts are selling cookies packaged in a film-overwrapped tray rather than in a paperboard carton containing a tray. The organization is testing the new, greener package for Thanks-A-Lot cookies. By eliminating the carton, the switch will reduce the use of paperboard by 150 tons, enough to fill 14 garbage trucks.

ABC Bakers, Richmond, Va., which bakes the Thanks-A-Lot cookies, initiated the packaging changeup after receiving queries at its website from scouts asking about the environment and best use of natural resources.

"The reason ABC is trying this out is because girls were asking for it," says Molly Smart, director of public relations and marketing with the Girl Scouts of Southern Alabama, Mobile, Ala. "And they've certainly been excited about it."

It's becoming increasingly important to look not just at the package but at the entire life cycle of the package – and that includes the manufacturing practices of the package's supplier. Eagle Flexible Packaging, Batavia, Ill., for example, lays out a menu of green options for customers, which includes the use of water-based inks and adhesives, renewable films from plant starches or corn and compostable materials – as well as the company's own recycling of its ink waste and film scrap.

"Water-based inks and adhesives contain less than 5 percent volatile organic compounds, compared to solvent-based inks and adhesives that can contain 45-65 percent VOCs," says Millie Nuno, director of marketing. That reduces the carbon footprint of whatever is the end product.

Glass goes lighter
Glass packaging also is getting greener. When H.J. Heinz Co., Pittsburgh, decided to introduce a 44-oz. "value size" version of Heinz Classico pasta sauce, the company worked with its glass supplier to develop a lighter-weight glass jar.

Standard glass jars for products of this magnitude weigh 17.5 oz. Heinz's greener jar, which weighs 16.3 oz., delivers a 7.2 percent weight savings. The lighter weight yields more efficient shipping and a reduced carbon footprint.

"We worked with Heinz to come up with this lightweighted design," says Angela Luring, marketing manager, food category, O-I North America, Perrysburg, Ohio.

"Sustainability is a high priority for Heinz as it is for us."

But not all greener glass packages are custom designed. Frito-Lay, Plano, Texas, uses a lightweighted stock jar for 16-oz. Tostitos quesos, salsas and dips. The original weight of the stock jar was 9.17 oz., but O-I was able to reduce that weight to 8.17 oz. Saving an ounce on each jar adds up quickly for high-volume items like these.

O-I also has come out with a line of lighter weight wine bottles that look the same as conventional wine bottles. The so-called Lean+Green bottles are available in weights ranging from 11.6 to 16 oz. (weight of the unfilled bottle), and they are up to 27 percent lighter than standard wine bottles. In addition to being lighter to ship, the new bottles require less energy and a reduced amount of raw materials for manufacturing.

Bronco Wine Co., Ceres, Calif., is using O-I's 11.6-oz. claret and burgundy bottles for its Charles Shaw wines to reduce weight and improve the brand's carbon footprint while protecting flavor and maintaining a traditional look and feel.

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