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From Plastic to Paper: The Eco-Conscious Evolution of North American Packaging Trends

Submitted: Two Sides North America May 5, 2024

In recent years, there has been a significant shift in the packaging industry. First in the UK and Europe, and now US and Canadian brands are moving towards paper-based packaging solutions. This transition reflects a growing corporate commitment to environmental sustainability, increased regulations and penalties for using plastic, and a desire to meet consumer demand for packaging that is both sustainable and easier to recycle, knowing it is not going into landfills.

All of these motivators drive a growing movement to support a more circular economy, which is one based on the reuse and regeneration of materials or products, especially as a means of sustainably continuing production.

Environmental Consciousness Drives Change

One of the primary reasons behind the shift towards paper-based packaging is a heightened awareness of environmental issues, particularly the impact of plastic pollution on the planet. While plastic packaging is convenient and versatile, it poses significant environmental challenges. Plastic is made from non-renewable petroleum-based materials – it is non-biodegradable, contributes to litter and marine pollution, is difficult to recycle and is harmful to humans and wildlife.

Paper-based packaging offers several environmental benefits, making it an attractive alternative to plastic. Unlike plastic, paper is renewable, biodegradable, and recyclable, making it a more sustainable option from a lifecycle perspective. Additionally, advancements in paper packaging technology have led to the development of innovative products that offer the same functionality and protection as traditional plastic packaging, further driving the adoption of paper-based materials.

Consumer Preferences Lead the Way

Consumer preferences play a crucial role in shaping the packaging choices made by brands. Surveys have consistently shown that most consumers prefer paper-based packaging over plastic for its perceived environmental benefits. This shift in consumer sentiment has prompted brands to reevaluate their packaging strategies and prioritize materials that are perceived as more eco-friendly. Additionally, market trends indicate a significant increase in demand for paper-based packaging, driven by concerns about plastic pollution and a desire for more sustainable alternatives.

survey commissioned by Two Sides North America revealed that 55% of US consumers would buy more from brands and retailers who remove plastic from their packaging, up from 49% in 2021. Half said they are actively taking steps to increase their use of paper packaging, up from 41% over the past two years, and 47% said they would consider avoiding a retailer that is not actively trying to reduce their use of non-recyclable packaging, up from 39% in 2021. In addition, disposal decision fatigue is real–consumers preferred paper/cardboard packaging for being home-compostable (59%) and easier to recycle (43%).

Corporate sustainability goals driven by consumer demand are a primary motivator in the shift from plastic to paper. Wayne Towle, sales manager at fiber-packaging supplier Planet Paper Box Group, recently told Packaging Digest, “All the major players in all the major CPG companies have some form of sustainability goals factored into their business model. It is becoming more of a necessity for companies to do that.”

Government Regulations Hasten Shift

Recent data from pulp and paper business intelligence company Fisher International cites several market factors driving the switch to paper packaging, including legislation in the U.S., Canada, and across the globe.

“Certain single-use plastics (e.g., drinking straws, coffee stirrers, plastic bottles, plates, cups, utensils, shopping bags) have been identified as leading contributors to plastic pollution and are the target of most legislation.”

Twenty-three states in the US have some form of plastic bag legislation, and several cities have banned plastic straws. In Canada, the Single-Use Plastics Prohibition Regulations (SUPPR) were introduced as a larger comprehensive plan to achieve zero plastic waste by 2030 and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Big Brands Make the Switch

Several brands based or prominent in North America have embraced paper-based packaging as part of their commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship. These include L’Oreal, Zappos, Pringles, Absolute, Apple, Nestle, Samsung, and Amazon. Although these are U.S.-based business giants, packaging innovation has often been initiated in Europe due to stricter penalties and regulations around plastic-based packaging. But North American roll-outs have picked up steam.

Iconic fast-food chain McDonald’s announced plans to phase in more sustainable, recycled, and recyclable alternatives to their current packaging, including paper-based materials. According to the company, which serves 69 million people worldwide each year, McDonald’s has set a goal of sourcing 100% of its primary guest packaging from renewable, recycled, or certified sources and expanding the reduction and recycling of guest packaging by the end of 2025.

An Amazon facility in Ohio uses machine learning to customize box sizes to eliminate plastic packaging fillers. The research was launched in Washington State’s Amazon innovation center, and upgrades will roll out in North America this year. Technology like this could skyrocket the use of paper and cardboard packaging across industries.

Paper Fits the Bill

In so many ways, paper has become the ideal packaging material, offering businesses, manufacturers and consumers a simplified experience that cuts cost and time and is naturally sustainable.

Consumer preference. Consumers prefer goods packaged in materials that are easy to recycle or safe to compost. They don’t want the inconvenience of stripping off labels or driving to a retail store to recycle plastic bags and clamshell containers.

Circular economy. Paper is a bedrock of a circular economy as it promotes the reuse and regeneration of packaging. Paper can be recycled five to seven times, on average, before fibers become unusable. Paper is biodegradable and compostable. In fact, clean cardboard adds valuable dry materials to the composting process.

Sustainable forestry. The US paper industry promotes sustainable forestry and depends on sustainable forest growth to provide a reliable wood fiber supply. By providing a dependable market for responsibly grown fiber, the paper industry encourages landowners to continue managing their forestland instead of selling it for development or other non-forest uses. In the United States, we grow more trees than we harvest, and US forests are a renewable natural resource and are not shrinking. Net forest area in the United States increased by approximately 18 million acres between 1990 and 2020 – an area equivalent to approximately 1,200 NFL football fields every day.

In Canada, all areas harvested on public land must be reforested through replanting or natural regeneration, and about 90% of Canada’s forests are on public land. Canada leads the world in third-party sustainable forest certification.

Energy consumption. According to the American Forest and Paper Association (AF&PA), purchased energy is the third highest operating cost for the paper and wood products industry, motivating the industry to increase energy efficiency and use less energy overall. In 2020, AF&PA member pulp and paper mills self-generated 58% of the electricity needed to power their mills. They surpassed their collective goal for energy efficiency by reducing purchased energy by more than 13% between 2005 and 2020. Among the sustainability goals outlined in AF&PA’s Better Practices, Better Planet 2030, one is reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50%.

Similar efforts are being made in Canada to become more energy efficient. Most of the energy used at Canadian pulp and paper mills is generated using renewable, carbon-neutral biomass. Since the early 1990s, the Canadian forest sector has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 70%.

Choosing Paper

The shift towards paper-based packaging among US and Canadian brands reflects consumers, governments, and corporations’ broadening commitment to sustainability and environmental responsibility. By choosing paper, these brands are not only meeting consumer demand for more eco-friendly products but also contributing to the preservation of the planet for future generations.

View the original post on Two Sides NA website blog.


The Importance of Forest Stewardship Council Membership in the Paper Business

In the era of heightened environmental consciousness, businesses across industries are recognizing the need to adopt sustainable practices. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) offers a viable solution for paper companies to showcase their commitment to responsible forest management and sustainability. In this blog post, we will explore the importance of FSC membership in the paper industry, focusing on its relation to paper coating, lamination services, and sustainable packaging.

Understanding the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Membership

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is a globally recognized non-profit organization dedicated to promoting sustainable forest management practices. Established in 1993, the FSC provides a credible certification system that ensures responsible sourcing of forest products. Becoming an FSC member allows paper companies to demonstrate their commitment to environmental preservation, ethical practices, and social responsibility.
FSC membership also provides companies with access to responsibly sourced paper from FSC-certified forests. This not only reduces their ecological footprint but also protects biodiversity and meets Eco-Conscious Consumer Demands. Consumers are increasingly demanding eco-friendly products and are more likely to choose items with eco-certifications. As sustainability becomes a primary concern for consumers, the demand for FSC-certified products continues to rise. By acquiring FSC membership, paper companies position themselves to cater to the growing market of eco-conscious customers seeking responsibly sourced paper products. FSC membership allows paper companies to align themselves with this growing market trend.

The Power of Forest Stewardship Council Membership in the Paper Business: Advancing Sustainability through Paper Coating, Lamination Services, and Sustainable Packaging

As more consumers prioritize eco-friendly choices, it has become imperative for packaging companies to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability. The paper business, including paper coating and lamination services, plays a crucial role in meeting the global demand for replacements to non-sustainable plastic packaging. Paper is the base raw material in many consumer and packaged food products. As part of the package manufacturing coatings or lamination can be an important part of making a package work and protect the product. The process of coating and lamination enhances the quality and durability of paper products, making them suitable for various applications. By using eco-friendly adhesives and coatings, packaging companies ensure that their products retain their premium quality while adhering to environmentally responsible practice.
By incorporating FSC-certified materials into their coated and laminated paper products, companies demonstrate their dedication to sustainability. This commitment resonates with eco-conscious consumers and enhances brand reputation, creating a positive image in the market.

Sustainable packaging is a crucial aspect of these responsible business practices. As part of FSC membership, paper companies can source FSC-certified packaging materials, ensuring that their entire supply chain adheres to environmentally sound principles. By choosing sustainable packaging, these companies contribute to reducing deforestation and promoting ethical sourcing.

Conclusion

FSC membership serves as a powerful tool for paper companies engaged in coating and lamination services to position themselves as environmentally responsible industry leaders. By embracing FSC-certified materials and sustainable practices, these companies can cater to the increasing demand for eco-friendly products and packaging. FSC membership not only benefits the environment but also expands market opportunities, enhances brand reputation, and fosters long-term business sustainability. By making a conscious decision to join the FSC and embrace sustainability, paper companies can contribute to a greener future while solidifying their position in the competitive market. Sustainable business practices are no longer just a choice; they are a necessity for a thriving and responsible paper industry.


Brand Owners Spending More on Packaging — and Don’t Plan To Stop

Spending on packaging by consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands has grown over the past two years — and will continue to do so over the next two years, according to a recent study of CPG brand owners by global strategy consulting firm L.E.K. Consulting. In fact, the increased spending on packaging is expected to grow well in excess of inflation.

View the original post on Brand Packaging from Packaging Strategies here.


Paper, Climate Change and Common Sense

Submitted: Kathi Rowzie August 18, 2021


The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released updated projections about the effects of human activity on our planet, warning that inaction to immediately address climate risk will yield dire consequences. The IPCC’s conclusions and recommendations will no doubt be the subject of continuing debate, but there are three things that most people agree on: the climate is warming, humans play a role, and we need to do something about it.

However, without broad-based public understanding of how the environment works, there is an unfortunate tendency to believe that all manufacturing industries and processes must be part of the problem, a misconception that some in the ENGO community and the news media are only too happy to exploit. They push the thoroughly unscientific narrative that paper contributes massive amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) to the atmosphere, a byproduct of tree harvesting, manufacturing processes and paper waste. Far from mitigating climate change, it’s a narrative that could stifle an industry that is, in reality, a part of the solution.

Mitigating climate change demands a common-sense approach that is grounded in sound science, embraces proven strategies, and invests in driving continuous improvement. This approach, in a nutshell, is why the North America paper and paper-based packaging industry is a climate mitigation leader.

Paper’s Carbon Footprint

A look across the life cycle of paper shows that its carbon footprint can be divided into three basic elements: carbon sequestration, greenhouse gas emissions and avoided emissions. Each of these elements is influenced by important characteristics that distinguish paper from other products: it’s made from a renewable resource that stores carbon, it’s manufactured using mostly renewable, carbon neutral energy, and it’s easily recyclable.

Sustainable Forestry and Carbon Sequestration

 Sustainable forest management, the cornerstone of the North American paper and paper-based packaging industry, helps increase the ability of forests to sequester carbon while also protecting and conserving other forest values like soil, air and water quality, wildlife habitat and biodiversity. An infinitely renewable resource, healthy forests sequester carbon by capturing COfrom the atmosphere and transforming it into biomass through photosynthesis. The carbon stored in forests helps to offset releases of CO2 into the atmosphere from sources like the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation (the permanent loss of trees).

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that sustainable forest management practices resulted in net carbon sequestration each year between 1990 and 2018. As reported in the agency’s Inventory of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions and Sinks, U.S. forests and wood products captured and stored roughly 12% of all carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions in 2018. CO2e is a measure of the global warming potential of all GHGs compared to CO2. The Canadian government reports that forestlands captured and stored around 19% of the country’s total CO2e emissions in 2018.

Planting new trees and improving forest health through thinning and prescribed burning are some of the ways to increase the uptake of forest carbon in the long run. According to the U.S. Forest Service, the perpetual cycle of harvesting and regenerating forests can also result in net carbon sequestration in products made from wood and in new forest growth. In its 2020 Global Forest Resources Assessment, the U.N Food and Agriculture Organization reported that net forest area in the U.S. increased by approximately 18 million acres between 1990 and 2020, while net forest area in Canada remained stable at around 857 million acres during those same years.

The Paper Industry and Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The North American paper and paper-based packaging industry was among the first industries to take voluntary action to reduce GHG emissions. Between 2011 and 2019, the U.S. industry reduced greenhouse gas emissions from 44.2 million metric tons to 35.2 million metric tons or 20%, according to the US EPA. Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) reports that between 2007 and 2017 the Canadian industry reduced GHG emissions from 22 million metric tons to 13.1 million metric tons or 40%.

These reductions are attributed to the predominant use of carbon-neutral, wood-based biofuel (which accounts on average for around 60% of energy generation at North American mills), the switch from coal and oil to less carbon intensive fuels such as natural gas, and investment in equipment and process enhancements that improved overall energy efficiency. Contrary to the claim that the North America paper and paper-based packaging industry is a major contributor to GHG emissions, EPA and NRCan data show that U.S. and Canadian producers account for only 0.5% of total GHGs in their respective countries. A continuing increase in the use of biomass energy at North American mills has the potential to reduce GHG emissions even further.

Some in the ENGO community argue that because biomass releases just as much COin the atmosphere as fossil fuels, it isn’t really carbon neutral. But the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and other experts disagree.  As DOE explains: “Burning biomass releases about the same amount of carbon dioxide as burning fossil fuels. However, fossil fuels release carbon dioxide captured by photosynthesis millions of years ago – an essentially “new” greenhouse gas. Biomass, on the other hand, releases carbon dioxide that is largely balanced by the carbon dioxide captured in its own growth.”

In other words, biomass contains carbon that was only recently removed from the atmosphere by photosynthesis, and that same carbon is returned to the atmosphere as part of the natural carbon cycle when it is burned to generate energy. This inherent property exists whether or not trees are regrown. Sustainable forest management practices help make sure that biofuel use does not outpace forest regrowth. The IPCC concludes that, “Regardless of how carbon neutrality is defined and calculated, the use of forest biomass produced under conditions where forest carbon stocks are stable or increasing always yields long-term mitigation benefits.”

Avoided Emissions: Paper’s Recycling Success Story

When paper products are sent to landfills, they release GHGs as they decompose. When they are recycled, these GHG emissions are avoided. That’s a significant environmental benefit when you consider that around two-thirds of all paper and paper-based packaging is recovered for recycling in the U.S. and Canada, more than plastics, glass and metals combined. When you single out corrugated cardboard, the recovery rate jumps to nearly 90%. The US EPA reports that the amount of paper and paper-based packaging that was recycled instead of going to landfills lowered U.S. GHG emissions by 155 million metric tons of CO2e in 2018, an amount equivalent to taking over 33 million cars off the road for an entire year.

The North American paper industry continues to invest billions of dollars in technology to increase the types of paper products that can be recycled as well as infrastructure investments that expand recycling capacity. For example, U.S. producers have announced or planned $4.5 billion in manufacturing infrastructure investments by 2023, more than $2.5 million per day. The industry also is focused on “recyclable by design” innovations that help brands, retailers and other end users develop fully recyclable paper packaging by eliminating non-recyclable elements.

Paper producers’ commitment to sustainable forest management, the use of renewable, carbon neutral energy, and strong support and investment in recycling has transformed the circularity of paper products from vision to reality, and will help to drive further GHG emission reductions.

For more facts about the sustainability of print, paper and paper-based packaging, click here.

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Metalized Film to Board Lamination Boosts Product Visibility

Sierra Coating metalized film to board lamination
MET-PET Helps Brand Managers Develop Attractive Packaging

Catching the consumer’s eye on crowded store shelves with a memorable look that conveys quality is the goal of every brand manager. Sierra Coating Technologies LLC, a Wisconsin-based coater laminator, supplies printers with packaging stock that helps their customers’ products shine.

Sierra uses metalized film to board lamination (MET-PET) technology that helps brands leverage the high-profile packaging that on-shelf advertising offers.

“Our metalized film to board lamination products help brand managers differentiate the shelf appeal of their products,” says Paul Smale, national sales director at Sierra Coating Technologies. “We are a great partner for printers that need to provide a cost-effective way for brands to tip the visual scales in their favor.”

MET-PET Packaging Stands Out From the Crowd

Sierra has developed a silver folding carton grade made with MET-PET film laminated to SBS board stock. This film proves an exceptionally high surface shine and lamination quality.

Metalized film to board lamination gives packaging stock a unique look that brands and printers often use in making folding cartons for retail packages. Board thicknesses can range from 8-point to 24-point, that is sheeted to size.

“All of our products are made to order, and we also work with stocking distributors to provide ready inventory for their customers,” notes Smale. “Our focus is on delivering high-quality products on time and at a good price.”

About Sierra Coating Technologies LLC

Sierra Coating Technologies LLC, based in De Pere, Wisconsin, is a coater laminator that works with brand managers and printers to create eye-catching stock for use in retail products and packaging. For more information on Sierra Coating Technologies or to request a quote, go to https://www.sierracoating.com/ or call 920-983-8008.


How Major Retailers are Redefining the Sustainable Packaging Game

As consumer preferences continue to shift, with more people seeking eco friendly, sustainable packaging in the products they buy, some of the world’s biggest retailers are taking note. Both Walmart and Amazon, for instance, have launched comprehensive packaging sustainability initiatives.

Walmart’s Packaging Scorecard

Just over a decade ago, Walmart introduced their proprietary Packaging Scorecard to companies throughout their supply chain.

RELATED: Biodegradable vs. Compostable vs. Recyclable – How to Choose the Right Packaging

Working with guidelines established by the Packaging Sustainable Value Network, a group of leading companies in the packaging industry, Walmart’s Packaging Scorecard identified nine key metrics to consider when designing and creating eco friendly packaging:

  1. Greenhouse gas/CO2 generation per ton of packaging produced
  2. Material value
  3. Product-to-package ratio
  4. Cube utilization
  5. Transportation
  6. Recycled content
  7. Recovery value
  8. Renewable energy use
  9. Innovation

Each of these environmentally relevant metrics is represented as a percentage of 100 possible points for rating existing packaging, developing new packaging, and comparing one’s own environmentally friendly packaging solutions to those of other companies.

Walmart doubled down on their sustainable initiatives in 2016 when they released their Sustainable Packaging Playbook — which focuses on optimizing packaging design, securing sustainable material sources, and supporting recycling — to help guide companies toward methods for improvement.

Amazon’s Certification Guidelines

Walmart is not alone in recognizing the importance of sustainable packaging, both for the environment and manufacturer ROI. In 2008, Amazon, the world’s largest online retailers, introduced their own eco friendly packaging initiative, the Frustration-Free Packaging Program.

Frustration-Free Packaging takes a more consumer-oriented approach — its main goal is to ease “wrap rage,” the frustration that consumers often feel when faced with excessive amounts of packaging materials or difficult-to-open designs.

The program aims to drastically reduce the number of boxes used in shipping, as well as packaging materials in general, such as clamshells, wire ties, and plastic bindings. By putting a focus on material reduction and recyclability, Frustration-Free Packaging is also eco friendly packaging.

Taking the Eco-Friendly Packaging Leap

Manufacturers large and small, and from all types of industries, are increasingly adopting the sustainable packaging requirements set into motion by mega-retailers like Walmart and Amazon.

These practices are often considered to be cost-ineffective for manufacturers, but with the right amount of research and analysis, environmentally friendly packaging practices can actually lead to significant cost savings.

Have you been considering making the switch to eco friendly packaging? Download Sierra Coating Technologies’ free eBook, “Taking the Eco-Friendly Packaging Leap,” to learn how to take the first steps and explore the unique benefits of various types of packaging, such as recyclable and compostable. Or, to discuss your unique packaging needs with an expert, contact the team at Sierra today.

Download the eBook


The Rise of Single-Serve Food Packaging

As consumer preferences shift and technologies advance in both the food and beverage and the food packaging industries, smaller-sized packages are becoming more popular. Thanks to an increased focus on health, convenience, and environmental sustainability, single-serve and miniature food packaging solutions are in high demand.

RELATED: Taking the Eco-Friendly Packaging Leap

With consumers now placing more importance on dietary intake — having a better understanding of what they’re eating and how much they should be eating — single-serve packaging is becoming the go-to choice for many health-conscious consumers.

Ease of use is another factor; in today’s fast-paced world, consumers desire portability, the ability to eat on the go, kid-friendliness, the ability to meet TSA regulations, and so on.

And finally, as environmental and sustainability concerns mount, steps are now being taken to reduce the risk of food spoilage while minimizing waste.

Companies Driving Demand for Single-Serve Food Packaging

The fast food industry has long depended on miniature packaging for on-the-go, portable condiments, salt, pepper, and other items. More recently, changes to kids’ meals, such as the inclusion of fruit as a side-dish option, are necessitating new miniature packaging solutions.

Traditional retail food producers are also beginning to require single-serve food packaging solutions. Yogurt and beverage producers are introducing portable standup pouches, while producers of items like jam and nut butters are increasing the number and variety of single-serve cup options. Companies in the spice industry are also expanding their product offerings to include individual and premeasured retail options.

Meal-kit services like Blue Apron, Plated, and HelloFresh are some of the largest — and newest — drivers of the single-serve trend in food packaging, as these companies depend on miniature and single-serve packaging to effectively portion out ingredients for consumers. Using this type of packaging for meal-kit services allows for optimal portability and intuitive consumer use.

How Companies are Meeting the Demand for Single-Serve Packaging

Salt, pepper, and sugar packets.Food and food packaging companies are now pursuing various methods to meet consumers’ desire for conveniently packaged food. The specific solutions used, however, depend on the food product itself.

For instance, creating snack-sized packaging — or “snackifying” products — is an increasingly popular technique.

Snack-style packaging designs can be used for a range of products, such as single-serve spices and condiments for at-home use. This type of packaging is novel, convenient, and can help with portion control for consumers with health and dietary concerns.

Nutrition information labeling is also becoming more and more important; in addition to meeting FDA labeling guidelines, food packaging must also appeal to consumer sensibilities — a recent report showed that 61% of grocery shoppers believe that reading food packaging labels is an important step in maintaining health.

The “rightsizing” or downsizing trend in food packaging makes it easier for consumers to portion control and understand the nutritional value of the foods they’re purchasing.

Because producing miniature and single-serve packages inevitably increases the volume of packaging material used and ultimately disposed of, many companies are also focusing on environmentally friendly packaging initiatives.

To reduce waste and meet the growing consumer demand for sustainable business practices, many food packaging companies are offering compostable and even biodegradable packaging products, which are commonly produced using polylactic acid (PLA) based materials.

Partnering with an Experienced Contract and Toll Manufacturer

As demand rises for convenient, sustainable, and healthy food options, food and beverage producers and packaging companies are consistently working on innovation solutions to meet those demands.

To do so, companies often must partner with experienced contract or toll manufacturers; these experts can offer a wide range of services to help food-industry and food-packaging businesses create reliable miniature and single-serve packaging products.

Sierra Coating Technologies is proud to provide industry-leading contract and toll manufacturing services for the food packaging industry. To learn about the cost-saving benefits of working with a contract manufacturer, download our free eBook, “The Financial Case for Contract Manufacturing.”

The Financial Case for Contract Manufacturing


Recycled Packaging & How it Impacts the Food Industry

Walmart Scorecard’s Impact on Packaging

During a PACK Expo keynote in 2006, Walmart launched the packaging scorecard initiative. Since then, brands have been continuing to update and revise their packaging to create a more environmentally-friendly solution. Below is an outline of how the sustainable initiative has impacted the food industry across various package types, including paper-based, plastic, glass, and aluminum.

RELATED: Taking the Eco-Friendly Packaging Leap

Recycled Packaging & How it Impacts the Food Industry

Paper-Based Packaging and Poly-Replacements

Paper and paper-based products, such as cartons and paperboard, are easy to recycle, and the resultant recycled material is extremely versatile. More than half of Americans have easy access to paper recycling — an amount which is expected to increase rapidly — and there are far fewer restrictions on recycling paper than plastic.

For applications such as food safe packaging and high-end brand displays, coatings are utilized to provide the appropriate properties. To achieve a recyclable, paper-based package for these types of applications, water-based coatings are often required.

To address this, Sierra is working with nationally-recognized chemical companies to qualify reliable eco-friendly coatings. Our water-based, eco-friendly coatings can meet biodegradable, compostable, and fully recyclable requirements. These coatings also possess important properties to aid in brand awareness efforts; they are easy to print over and allow for optimal packaging aesthetics.

Plastic Brand Packaging

One of the biggest challenges with recyclable, plastic packaging is the restrictions involved with recycling plastic material. It is estimated that 95% of recyclable plastic packaging, amounting between $80 and $120 billion worth of packaging material, is wasted on an annual basis.

While outreach, recovery, reclamation, and recycling efforts can be effective for multinational corporations, they may be cost-prohibitive for smaller or regional brands. For these businesses, investing in eco-friendly packaging is often a more practical, actionable solution.

Recycling plastic presents a three-fold problem:

  1. Public access to plastic recycling facilities or programs is surprisingly limited;
  2. Different municipalities levy often confusing recyclability restrictions based on plastic type, size, and shape; and
  3. The recycling process is costly in terms of money and energy use.

Aluminum, Glass and Plastic Bottles

As demand rises for sustainable products, brands are prioritizing green initiatives, such as eco-friendly packaging and packaging recovery.

The Coca-Cola Company, for example, has established an extremely ambitious recycling initiative — by 2020, they aim to recover and recycle a full 75% of the beverage containers, bottles, and cans they produce annually. Working with The Recycling Partnership, Coca-Cola has already recycled 59% of their output.

This is just one example of the growing sentiment in favor of environmentally conscious initiatives; worldwide, consumers are looking to brands to lead conservation efforts with sustainable, environmentally friendly packaging options.

To learn how to make your food packaging eco-friendly without sacrificing your unique brand identity, contact our chemical experts.


Biodegradable Packaging Options

Investing in environmentally-friendly packaging is quickly gaining momentum in many industries, including food and beverage. From a product development perspective, our paper experts have seen biodegradable packaging become increasingly popular.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a material can be described as biodegradable when it is “capable of being decomposed by the action of biological processes.”

In other words, a material is biodegradable if it will decompose within a reasonable amount of time when left outside in natural conditions.

RELATED: How to Choose Between Biodegradable, Compostable, and Recyclable Packaging

Packaging Materials and their Biodegradation Process

Glass, commonly used for packaging beverages and various high-end products, is not biodegradable. In fact, it can take up to 1,000,000 years to biodegrade. Plastics are not biodegradable, either; polyvinyl chloride (PVC), often used in food and beverage applications, is capable of physical breakdown but never truly decomposes. Polyethylene (also known as polythene or simply “poly”), another popular food packaging plastic, takes up to 1,000 years to biodegrade. Other plastics can take various lengths of time to biodegrade, averaging at about 450 years.

Biodegradable packaging

These packaging decomposition rates are untenable when striving for increased sustainability. Paper, on the other hand, is an ideal biodegradable option, taking anywhere from two to five months to decompose.

Biodegradable vs. Compostable

Because the terms are often incorrectly interchanged, biodegradability and compostability are frequently conflated. Adding to the confusion is the fact that the processes involve the same action — decomposing a material into an organic state. This decomposition occurs in two very different ways, however.

Compostable materials decompose only when in a carefully controlled environment, where factors such as source material, moisture content, temperature, oxygen levels, and acidity are all closely monitored. Biodegradable materials decompose through a chemical process where micro-organisms break down the materials resulting in carbon dioxide, methane, and biomass.

Paper Biodegradability

Paper is much more biodegradable than plastic or glass. Some paper can decompose faster than fully organic products. For example, paper towels often biodegrade quicker than thick fruit rinds such as orange or banana peels. However, it’s important to keep in mind that not all paper products biodegrade at the same rate.

Less processed papers, such as mechanically pulped products, biodegrade at slower rates than more highly processed papers. Paper containing mechanical pulp has higher amounts of lignin — very complex phenolic polymers found in the cell walls of trees — which interferes with biodegradation.

Designing Eco-Friendly Packaging

The right coating can provide resistance to grease, oil, water, oxygen-exposure, or a combination of these food-safe properties for paper-based packaging; while maintaining the eco-friendly standard. However, these types of properties are often provided by poly- or PVC-based substrates, thereby negating any of the potential environmental benefits of using paper in packaging.

To counter this issue and create truly environmentally friendly packaging, Sierra Coating Technologies has partnered with some of the nation’s most accomplished chemical companies to develop several biodegradable coatings.

As a leading contract and toll manufacturer of eco-friendly coating and lamination solutions, including poly and PVC replacements, Sierra is proud to be a part of the push toward sustainability. The benefit of working with Sierra is that we run tests on our production equipment to ensure the materials and substrates will run efficiently during a full-line production. If you’re ready to make the switch to environmentally friendly packaging, contact our chemical experts.


How to Choose the Right Eco Friendly Packaging –
Biodegradable vs. Compostable vs. Recyclable

For many years, plastic has been the standard in packaging. As concerns mount over environmental issues, however, there’s increasing demand for sustainable alternatives.

In some cities, such as San Francisco, governments are passing legislation that bans the use of plastic bags, while many retailers are proactively taking steps to “go green.” Popular food retailer Whole Foods, for instance, no longer uses plastic bags, and 60% of Apple’s paper packaging is now made from recycled wood fibers.

Vector illustration of green recycle symbol isolated on whiteAccording to a recent survey, over half of American consumers said they would choose green products over conventional options if given the choice.

Green packaging is no longer just a niche marketing tactic; with long-term benefits easily outweighing the added costs, they’re imperative for remaining competitive in today’s changing landscape.

Making the decision to go green is simple. Understanding the various packaging options, costs, and marketing claims is often a challenge for brand owners.

Sierra Coating has been researching and working with poly replacement alternatives for years. Our team can shorten the product development stage by having already screened and tested a number of market-ready alternatives.

When developing an eco friendly package, it’s important to consider the specific usage standards that your application requires as well as material disposal methods.

The Ideal Solution

When choosing between biodegradable, compostable, and recyclable packaging; it’s important to ensure the chosen material does, in fact, reduce waste efficiently and effectively.

At current standards, there are three optimal solutions for creating an eco friendly package:

  1. Make the package smaller to reduce your footprint
  2. Utilize recycled materials to create the package
  3. Create a recyclable package that can be disposed of in a sustainable manner

For many packaging applications, paper is an ideal solution. Folding cartons are ubiquitous; they are used to ship everything from electronics to pharmaceuticals and provide a sustainable, customer-friendly experience.

Folding cartons can be made out of recycled materials and coated with environmentally-sustainable barrier coatings. Not only is folding carton sturdy, lightweight, and customizable; it’s also cost efficient.

Eco-Friendly Packaging and Disposal Options

Compostable Packaging’s Geographic Limitations

When disposed of properly, compostable products will break down through microbial digestion into humus, providing valuable nutrients to the soil without releasing toxins or metals.

Under the right conditions, this process takes approximately 180 days. However, this is rarely the case. According to ASTM standards, compostable products must be disposed of at a municipal or industrial facility that uses heat to properly break down the product.

Retailers rarely have control over consumers’ disposal methods. Compost facilities are usually located in major cities, limiting the impact and effectiveness of a brand’s sustainability effort.

More often than not, materials end up in trash cans and eventually in landfills, which are not conducive to the sustainability goal of the compostable package.

Biodegradable Packaging’s Greenwashing Association

Biodegradable packaging materials are broken down by bacteria, fungi, or other microorganisms. This occurs through either anaerobic (without oxygen) or aerobic (with oxygen) degradation.

Unlike other sustainable products, biodegradable materials are not required to meet any specific industry standards or regulations.

And because virtually everything is biodegradable, whether it happens in one year or 100, marketers often exaggerate claims of biodegradability. In fact, the ubiquity of the term has come to be associated with “greenwashing,” misleading consumers about the true environmental impact.

To combat this, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has set forth the Green Guidelines as a benchmark for marketers.

These guidelines state that a biodegradable product “will completely break down and return to nature within a reasonably short period of time after customer disposal.” However, the FTC has yet to pinpoint what is considered a reasonably short period.

Recyclable Packaging: The Most Eco Friendly Option

Recyclable packaging, on the other hand, can be remanufactured into something new after its initial use. Similar to composting, the efficacy of recycling depends on a number of factors.

First, the end user must make the decision to recycle the product, and their recycling center must have the capabilities to recycle that specific material. (Recycling guidelines can vary greatly by region). Also, the product cannot contain any food contamination.

When these requirements are met, recyclable packaging is often the most eco friendly option, since it allows the material to be reused for the same purpose.

Although recycled material requires energy, it still increases the overall product lifecycle. Manufacturers can also take more responsibility themselves by using recycled material as an input of the base product, rather than relying solely on the consumer to recycle.

Additional Resources for Packaging Engineers

At Sierra Coating Technologies, our team of experts can work with you through the development process and customize packaging solutions for your unique needs. Interested in learning more about green, paper-based packaging options?

Further your search and gain a clearer understanding of industry-specific applications with our Glossary of Top Misunderstood Terms in the Paper Industry, or contact our team directly to discuss your next project.

DOWNLOAD Glossary Guide


https://www.sierracoating.com/blog/author/sierra-coating/ > July 17, 2024 > Total pages: 1