Sustainable Packaging TODAY: Food and Beverage Trends

Tired of food and beverage packaging increasing your carbon footprint and eco-shame? Discover sustainable options available now, all explained by U.K. sustainable packaging expert Paul Jenkins of the PackHub and Packaging World’s Matt Reynolds.

Want to view the rest of this pertinent conversation? Find the full free video here: Sustainable Packaging TODAY — Full Webinar

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Matt Reynolds: Hello and welcome to today's webinar. I'm Matt Reynolds editor of Packaging World Magazine and I'm here with Paul Jenkins, Managing Director of the PackHub.  

Paul Jenkins: That leads very nicely into a new area to explore which is around sort of bio plastic wraps and packaging format. So this is a German based supermarket chain called Norma and they're moving their own label Excelsior, magic chocolate, premium chocolate range to a bioplastic prep and we've seen quite a few confectionery and chocolate brands go down this route. The new packs will use the cellulose based NatureFlex, which you may have heard of from Fujimura, and NatureFlex is designed to be a direct replacement for fossil based plastics and can be processed using the same form fill and seal equipment as NatureFlex is a bioplastic it does not need to be disposed of in the plastic waste stream. Rather, it can be safely recycled in a household composter. NatureFlex is said to have a number of properties suitable for perpetual application. So Long gone are the days where there's sort of a big compromise in terms of functional performance. So it's got high water vapor, gas, and aroma barrier performance, strong seals, parent excellent printability on pack, including gloss and clarity. So new packaging will be used on a range of the brands products for their 100 gram browse bars in the in the German market. And indeed normal app stores across Germany, Austria, France and the Czech Republic. So really good example of bioplastic packaging being applied to a German chocolate brand. 

Matt Reynolds: Okay, good. Now bioplastic material is really on trend and important. But I wanted to take a brief detour here, back to a paper product. And that's Balisto and what was important—Paul and I spoke offline, the previous pack was able to, they were able to use existing equipment in you know, basically a flow wrappers and so on that were in already in use and twist switch over to a different film material and still use with some tinkering and retrofits, I'm sure, they're able to use the same equipment to put that chocolate into a completely different style of film. This is another case of that is Balisto. So they decided to traditional film flow wrapper, this is still flow wrapped on the same machines, but they went to a paper packaging. So imagine the difference in material handling for a machine between paper and traditional film wrapper. So I felt like this was a good opportunity for a quick detour to think upstream that these brands and the OEMs that are selling to these brands, you know that they're not necessarily going to be capable of running the new material and a one to one type of, you know, exact replacement they need to be there needs to be some sort of, you know, retro fit, and most brands aren't going to want to be doing the capital expenditures to buy a whole new million dollar piece of equipment to make these changes. So it's important to know in the case of Balisto you know, it's Mars Wrigley, they worked with their their longtime supplier syntegon formerly Bosch Packaging, to be able to add on a retrofit to existing machineries to be able to put that you know, the the existing chocolate into a whole new different flow wrap pack without major material or excuse me without major equipment outlays. So just wanted to take a quick brief detour there back to the compostable materials. In this case, this is on the right we have our Arbor Tea's they've moved to a backyard compostable material that's also using the future more material nature flex. In this case, they were really happy with an existing pack that was that did the job well, but they noticed that over time as it sat on shelf in retail situations, there will be some degradation of the pack. And then you would end up with a more brittle pack that didn't work so well with the with the tea's and often depending on the types of teas that they had, some might sell more quickly than others. So they actually worked with the brands, Eagle Flexible Packaging, Futamura, and PolyCar together to put together a multi layer material that is still backyard compostable, so they're using different types of inks and sealants and so on that allow this to look beautiful and stay on shelf and still be radiant on shelf for quite a bit of time without any degradation on shelf. But then still, as soon as you use the tea within you can still have that certified it's a backyard compostable. Along the lines of bio plastic material. This I think was a big win for Arbor Tea's in Michigan.

Paul Jenkins: Absolutely. Good examples. So recycled packaging and recycled content, a bit of context here. Of all of the innovations that we're tracking in the PackHub Innovation Zone platform—we track over 1000 a year—a majority are either to do with improved recyclability, or increased recycled content. I mentioned earlier about many brands, retailers, and packaging suppliers working to this 2025 self-imposed directive of 100%, recycled, compostable, or reusable packaging. So that is very much driving the amount of recycled and/or recyclable packaging that we're tracking. But also the amount of recycled content in plastic packaging has also seen a significant increase, particularly in Europe, and specifically the UK, who have gotten a plastic packaging tax coming into play in April, which means that there will be additional charges on any packaging that has less than 30% recycled content. 

Here we have a fresh fish range with 34% recycled content. And this is from Sainsbury's, which is the second largest retailer in the UK. And they've the new initiative sees the retailer recycling rescued plastic from coastlines for its fresh fish packaging range. The move is in conjunction with an organization called prevented ocean plastic (POP). And it could save nearly 12 million plastic bottles from entering the ocean each year. Sainsbury's fresh fish range will contain, as I said, 34% recycled plastic in its packaging. The packs have been created by Sharp Pack UK, and a company called Bantam materials—the supplier of the prevented ocean plastic. Now, as I said, we've seen lots of recycled content coming to market. But what's particularly interesting about this one is the use of plastic that would otherwise enter the oceans. So this is quite a clever scheme that's going on with prevented ocean plastic. I know they help local communities in terms of job creation and helping the local economy. And we've seen a number of examples of this type. So specifically using plastic that would otherwise enter the oceans through streams and rivers, such that this specific scheme will contribute to the creation of almost over six and a half thousand days of employment for plastic bottle collectors. So it does seem like a win-win in terms of helping the local economy and also helping the environment.

Matt ReynoldsThat does sound like a win win. And in the US, it bears noting that we don't have regulations yet that are pushing the hand of brands to make sure they're 30% or 33% recycled material. We do have companies that are doing it, you know, they're just early adopters. One of which is Zen water. There's some celebrity backing on this one. But again, it's the first (according to the brand) 100% certified ocean bound PET plastic beverage bottle launched. Every single bottle that you see here prevents five bottles from reaching and polluting the ocean. This plastic resonance source from a California company called Carbon Lite and that specializes in processing used bottles into PET gray pellets. And that was an important point that you made, Paul. The degradation that happens to plastic in the ocean renders it say less than ideal and sometimes unusable for food. Now defining ocean bound plastics, according to the certifying body, it's a plastic waste that is not collected correctly initially, and is abandoned in the environment where it will be transported to the ocean either by rain, wind, tides, river flow, or floods. It also has to be collected within 50 kilometers of the ocean or a major tributary to qualify as ocean bound plastic. And Paul, you make a great point about developing nations. A lot of this is happening in developing countries that can use the employment and there are you know teams of people that are at work in these countries collecting bottles before they get to the point of the ocean, where they become microplastics and unrecoverable completely, or the ones that are recoverable are degraded and of lower value. So all really interesting things that are going on.

Paul Jenkins: Absolutely, absolutely. And another point about the use of recycled plastic is that sometimes it's actually quite hard to get to 30% recycled content point. In some cases, the format is moving from plastic into other materials. And that is actually accelerating moving in plastic into substrates, because it's just too hard, or literally impossible to get that 30% recycled content. So I think that's an interesting byproduct of that sort of packaging tax that we're experiencing. 

And next up is lightweighting. So this is something that has been going on for a number of years. Basically, it has a sort of double benefit of improving or reducing environmental footprint through lighter packaging, which has an on an ongoing benefit in terms of reducing costs. So here we have Spanish clear brand Estrella Galicia and they've launched a new glass bottle for its Cerveza Especial beer, which includes a 12% reduction in glass content, so the human eye wouldn't be able to detect such a change. But it has been estimated that this will cut the company's carbon footprint by almost 10,000 metric tons per year. So, it would seem like a modest reduction of 12% can actually have quite a significant impact on the on the environment. The brand identity has been revamped too—as you can see in the visual, it includes packaging with sustainable features such as FSC, forestry stewardship, and council certified labels. So the redesign bottle will initially be available at over 300 Sainsbury's stores across the UK. But eventually it will be rolled out across the board, the redesign packaging will feature the style used on the original packaging, and it will be available across the whole format. So some of the Sustainable examples that we've shown, you know, seemingly are, you know, incredibly exciting. There's not like a new packaging format, or a new way of doing things like with reusable packaging, it can just be a standard lightweighting exercise that just moves the dial a little bit further down the line in terms of improving the environmental reducing the environmental impact of packaging, and this is another good example.

Matt ReynoldsYes, and, and even though you're saying this is just a minor thing of a small thing that can make a big impact. That's true. But even these minor changes, these small changes for the bottle shape can have a big impact upstream. For example, these big brands want lighter weight bottles, they definitely want to spend less and when shipping the bottles they want to use less carbon dioxide. But what's the point if the bottle becomes so flimsy or so lightweight that it can't withstand the supply chain and all the rigors of many touch supply chain issues as it goes from distribution to to retail to last mile. Even bottle breakage would be an issue in the supply chain.

Matt ReynoldsSpirits giant Diageo, they do Bacardi amongst many other brands that I'm sure you recognize. We spoke to Dr. Christine McIntyre. She's the head of sustainability at Diageo. This is back in November 2021. And she said that they're really looking into different treatments of glass that will enable them to really lightweight and still keep it as strong as possible to go through the high speed fill lines. Even further up the supply chain is actually getting the beer or the spirits into the bottle, and how much machinery is handling these. So there's a delicate tension there between lightweighting as much as possible, but still make making sure that these bottles are usable on existing equipment. We remember that Balisto example earlier on—it's always easier to get a brand on board if they're able to use existing equipment without having to make these massive new capital outlays. 

Matt ReynoldsAgain, this is sustainability that you can do today, not part of this massive long term strategy. But something that you can do is tweak to make a bigger impact as of today. So the photo that you're looking at right now, this is an older, it might even be two or three years old image of an OI bottle from Owens, Illinois. They do a lot of glass in the United States. But again, you're doing a lightweighting, that could probably have gone to 50%. But that 50% might not have been able to handle filling in an existing packaging, filling, and capping line or it might not have been able to handle all of the touches and the many touch supply chain. So that kind of wraps a bow on everything that we're talking about. There's there's there's a lot of different tensions. There's a lot of different pressures coming in all different directions, from the consumer perception to what's practical, what's doable, what can the supply chain handle. We're seeing elements of all that and all those different pressures and all of the different packs, new packs and new pack styles that we just saw in the presentation today. That brings us to the conclusion of the webinar and all the time that we have. Naturally. If you'd like to learn anything more about what we've discussed or like to discuss more with us, visit the websites that you see on your screen right now use the email addresses to contact Paul or I. That's all the time that we have for today.

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