How would you describe your approach
to sustainable packaging?
Sandy (left) & Jamie Gott:
One thing it’s not is a knee-jerk reaction to a trend. We’ve been working on sustainability since we went into business. With this newest initiative, bottle-to-bottle recycling, it’s not just recycling. It’s how we recycle. We’re not trucking in100% RPET from California, where we’d be burning so much diesel we’d be creating as much carbon as we’re pulling out by using recycled content. Our trucks are within 15-20 minutes of the MRFs (Municipal Recovery Facilities) every time they deliver product. So they drop off a delivery, drive 15 minutes for a load of baled PET, and bring it to our facilities to be turned into a preform and then a bottle. It’s a closed loop. Our resin has 1⁄17th the carbon footprint of virgin resin. Also worth pointing out is that we’re not only recapturing our own bottles from the waste stream. We’re taking carbonated soft drink bottles, ketchup bottles, relish bottles, and so on. With this operation in full swing, we’ll take some of the peaks and valleys out of the supply situation where the MRFs are concerned. They can be more confident that we are a constant market for what they are collecting and baling.
You make your own caps, too?
Our goal in all our businesses has been to integrate vertically right off the bat. So yes, in addition to making our own preforms and bottles, we injection mold our own caps, too. Soon we’ll blow and print our own film for shrink bundling. Everyone is saying we can’t use recycled polyethylene in shrink film. But we’ve been told that before. We look at our facilities as one great big lab. We control it, we understand it, we learn from it. We make some mistakes. But at least we learn from it. With the PE shrink film, we think we can add at least 30% recycled post-consumer content. That’s important, because PE is a big problem. The MRFs collect this stuff because people are putting it into their blue boxes. But the MRFs can’t get rid of it. We are at the MRFs every day picking up PET. No reason they couldn’t put a couple of bales of PE on those trucks.
What other projects are afoot?
We’ve been making Prima brand PLA bottles in our North Carolina plant for two years now. PLA bottles are harder to make than PET. They’re heavier. But we’ve been able to cut half the weight out already. We’re also looking at solar panels on the roof. We’d like to get better at recapturing heat, too. Why exhaust heat into the atmosphere? We’ve created the heat, why waste it? We should use it. Why not put a greenhouse next door and pipe the heat into the greenhouse to grow hothouse tomatoes? For us this is a real passion. We’re trying to lead ourselves and others into a zero carbon footprint. Our customers, the retailers, love this. We’ve been asking them to get their other food and beverage suppliers to contact us any time so we can maybe help them get down this path. Why not ice cream tubs made from post-consumer material? Climate change is real, and it’s a problem. It needs to be addressed. If we can do something to drive this into other businesses, then we’ve been successful.
Editor’s note: A full, in-plant description of Ice River Springs’ bottle-to-bottle recycling operation will appear in our February issue.