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Sustainability helps advance molded fiber packaging

Philips Consumer Lifestyle is one company that’s using the newspaper/water material to improve sustainability, branding, and economics.

UFPT molded pulp
UFPT molded pulp

As trendsetters such as Walmart have shown, working with suppliers to create sustainable packaging is vital for retailers and manufacturers looking to reduce input, transport, storage, and disposal costs, as well as promote their concern for the environment to consumers. The issue of disposal difficulties with many non-renewable materials has only served to heighten interest in this field and accelerate adoption of sustainable packaging.

According to a 2011 DuPont global survey of consumer packaged goods companies and packaging converters, sustainability is the top challenge facing global packaging. Of the almost 500 packaging professionals surveyed, 39% cited sustainability as the number one issue, followed by 33% noting cost.  Of the survey respondents working on sustainable packaging, 65% said their focus was on design for recyclability or use of recycled content.

With sustainability as their mantra, packaging developers are expanding the possibilities available with molded fiber packaging applications. As a result, more retailers, manufacturers, and consumers in markets are adopting sustainable molded fiber packaging. Today, molded fiber’s packaging capabilities range from shipping wine bottles and retail packaging for cosmetics to protective packs for jarred candles, cushions for computers, and inserts for mobile phones.

Made from newspaper and water

Molded fiber packaging is made from 100% recycled newspaper that’s made into a slurry with water, then converted into custom packaging after it is vacuum-formed on screened molds. It is 100% recyclable, biodegradable, and sustainable. That reduces input and disposal costs compared to less recyclable, petroleum-based materials. 

Molded fiber’s benefits include resilience and blocking and bracing capabilities, economic costs, and little space to ship and store.

Although the demand for recycled packaging has been growing for years, molded fiber has traditionally been associated with items like box inserts, cup carrying trays, and egg carton packaging that had limited consumer appeal.

Recently, however, some packaging industry providers have added specialty equipment and techniques that have expanded the capabilities of traditional molded fiber packaging. For instance, UFP Technologies has added high tonnage presses capable of producing after-pressed parts with more aesthetic appeal than traditionally formed molded fiber.

Philips Consumer Lifestyle

When Philips Consumer Lifestyle, a business unit of Royal Philips Electronics, the global diversified health and well being company, chose molded fiber, the goal was to align the packaging with its EcoVison5 corporate sustainability target to “double global collection, recycling amounts and recycled materials in products by 2015 compared to 2009.”

Philips Consumer Lifestyle previously packed large protective PET blisters inside retail cartons for Norelco shavers and Sonicare toothbrushes. The change to smaller PET blisters combined with protective molded fiber packaging has improved sustainability and branding and reduced costs.

“The molded fiber packaging is made from 100-percent recycled newsprint, so it’s a more renewable, environmentally friendly material than petroleum-based plastics,” says Jeff Wood, senior commodity manager for Philips Consumer Lifestyle, Packaging and Print.

“Switching from large to small PET blisters, along with custom protective molded fiber packaging from UFP Technologies has reduced our use of plastic packaging content by 75 percent and saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in material costs,” he adds. According to Wood, after-press operations provide a smooth, precise finish to the molded-fiber, improving the aesthetic and the “out of the box” experience of the consumer.

UFP’s after-press capabilities allow for a smooth finish on two sides and the ability in manufacturing to closely hold a design’s tolerance, enabling the creation of retail-friendly packaging options like folding cartons and clamshells with high aesthetic appeal that convey a sustainable cachet.

Using color to accentuate branding is possible, as was done when dark purple was added to molded fiber trays for the BlackBerry smart phone. Other packaging applications that have fueled growth have been after-pressed trays, clamshells, and inserts featuring not only color but clearly embossed customer logos.

Award-winning packaging

Today molded fiber packaging is winning awards, and promoting the environmental concern and image of the manufacturers who use it. Recently, for instance, Grafcor Packaging, a Rockford-Ill.-based designer, developer, manufacturer, and distributor of packaging materials for the food, beverage, healthcare, and beauty markets, won an Ameristar in the Beverage category for a 12-bottle molded fiber wine shipper that passed UPS and FedEx tests.

To create a wine shipper that combines the sustainable, protective cushioning of molded fiber with the tough, vibration resistance of corrugated, Grafcor Packaging partnered with UFP. The wine shipper, called “Bottoms Up”™, allows wine bottles to be safely shipped cork-down to prevent cork drying (which prevents oxygen entry to the bottle). 

“Molded fiber is completely sustainable, recyclable, and biodegradable,” says Bill Hall, owner of Grafcor Packaging. “Because the molded fiber ships at about a 4-to-1 ratio by truckload compared to EPS, it can also save in transport and storage costs.

“In working with thin-walled custom molded fiber, getting the depth of the draw and the size of the part right was challenging, and we wouldn’t have succeeded without engineering and production help from UFP Technologies,” says Hall. “Their willingness to ramp up production in late October, in the midst of the busy holiday season, also helped us to meet strong demand in the marketplace.”

Based on the success of the molded fiber wine shipper, Grafcor Packaging is adapting designs to ship beer, spirits, and coffee syrup, which often must protect glass bottles from breakage. Hall also thinks that the material would work with health and beauty applications. He sees molded fiber applications expand to include folding cartons or clamshells that use after-pressing for a smooth finish, and embossed logos for enhanced branding.

Article provided by Del Williams, a technical writer based in Torrance, CA.

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