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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Naked bottles
Monrovia, Calif.-based Naked Juice Co., which makes all-natural products, continues to green its packaging. The company announced in November that it would start filling its 10-, 15.2- and 64-oz. juice and juice smoothies into the reNEWabottle, which is made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled polyethylene terephthalate (rPET).

The company started using the recyclable reNEWabottle in 2009 for 32-oz. products; Naked Juice claims to be the first nationally distributed beverage to do so. Previously, the brand used high density polyethylene (HDPE) bottles for its 10- to 32-oz. products.

According to the company, switching to rPET bottles will reduce Naked Juice's virgin plastic consumption by 7.4 million lbs. per year, save more than 12,000 cubic meters of space in landfills and reduce the company's packaging-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 35 percent.

In contrast to the old, opaque HDPE bottles, the rPET bottles offer a clear view of the brightly colored Naked Juice products. The company prides itself on being "transparent" about the ingredients it uses in its products, and the high-clarity bottle reinforces that message. Using rPET packaging also aligns well with the company's brand mission of making superior products while minimizing environmental impact.

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.

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