Combined Technologies Inc. (CTI) is a small to midsize business (SMB) with its eye on sustainability. The contract packager offers value-added services that include developing sustainable packaging that meets its customers’ needs while providing personal service for better program management quality.
Based in Bristol, Ind., this contract packager uses scales, counters, check weighers, metal detectors, bottling machines, vertical and horizontal form, fill, and seal; sleeve/band applicators with radiant heat and steam tunnels, and cartoners to provide packaging services to customers.
As a packager for the vitamin, nutraceutical, and confectionery industries, CTI must uphold cleanroom standards and food safety requirements. The contract packager has five enclosed rooms applying positive air pressure to ensure each remains free of unwanted dust and other particles. Upon entering the facility, each employee dawns personal protective equipment (PPE) and cleans their shoes on a semi-automatic cleaning mat. An additional room is reserved for manual machine washdown.
If not sustainable packaging then a sustainable facility
CTI believes it is important for contact manufacturers and packagers (CM/CPs) to contribute to the wellness of our planet as much as is within their power and never take their foot off the pedal.
Most CM/CPs have very little say in the sourcing of ingredients and packaging materials, especially when working with an established brand or consumer packaged goods company (CPG) that has restrictive specifications. This makes sustainability goals challenging to achieve in the traditional sense.
However, CTI has turned to what it can control: the sustainable features of its facility. Now, with 480 solar panels on the roof , CTI supplies 60% of its power from the sun and plans to reach 100% when the shortage in the solar supply chain allows.
“Our corporate objective is to eliminate waste wherever possible, or recycle it from the plant,” says Jerry Thompson, president at CTI. “And we would love to get to that plant zero waste. That's always our goal and we’ll get there — even if it takes baby steps.”
Solar Edge, CTI’s solar power inverter, tracks the production of energy and its impact on the environment. According to Solar Edge, CTI has saved 882,829.1 lb of CO2 emissions—the equivalent of planting 6,671 trees—this month alone through its solar energy production. CTI is also encouraging other companies to make the switch to clean energy.
Develop sustainable packaging offerings
Beyond solar and CTI’s recycling efforts in plastic, paper, and aluminum, the contract packager offers value-added contract packaging services that allow its customers to bring either a concept or a food product, for which the company will then develop a packaging solution, offering guidance from inception to completion. Services include sourcing of materials and linings, graphic design, and regulatory aspects such as child resistant packaging.
CTI sources and manages the design of the packaging and procurement of materials, manages inventory, and organizes processes and reporting. The program management service extends to brands and CPGs who already have set graphic design, packaging design, and suppliers. Thompson said CTI prefers working that way as it is an additional motivator to avoid waste.
“It helps us be more responsible as well [on the sustainability front], because if we bought it, we're going to try not to be wasteful with those materials,” he said.
Customer service first
Along with each project or service CTI provides, one to three employees are assigned per customer to ensure the contract packager stays aware of its customer’s needs.
“We don’t want to let anything go to voicemail, or emails and things of that nature,” says Thompson. “We strive to make it personal. You can't always interpret everything from a text, instant message, or a quick email.”
That approach comes with an added benefit, he says. When several team members are involved on customer calls, the group can provide each other with feedback to determine the main concerns of the customer.
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CTI is developing a 100% disposable, water soluble packaging solution with one of its customers, an emerging packaging material company. The packaging has a very minimal barrier, which means many things need to be considered, such as the kind of product that could go inside the packaging—food, cleaning products, on-the-go products, or vitamins—and on which machines the packaging could run on successfully.
CTI is helping the company research machine compatibility and potential uses of the water soluble packaging as well considering the properties of the packaging as it will be entering the waste stream.
“Is this something that you could take and use under water, with water, without water, etc.? How will it work on the machinery? What if they have to change the DNA of the product? These are things to consider and test,” says Thompson. “With a focus on the future, we are working towards more compostable packages for our pouching machines as well as water soluble solutions that will benefit future generations.”
Compostable packaging for the future
End-of-life of packaging is a growing concern among customers and manufacturers alike and compostable is an up-and-coming solution in the United States.
Many companies have been trying to develop compostable products, but progress into the market has been slow.
“We have current customer who has a new product to bring to market and we have started the testing phase. We are very excited to show it to all customers and ask them, ‘Instead of X, have you thought of using a compostable material and marketing it to call out that their consumers can put this in their compost bin after they’re done,’” says Thompson.
CTI launched its new compostable offering in October at the PACK EXPO International show 2022 at the McCormick Place convention center in Chicago. The packets are available in two different samples—one that is biodegradable and the other compostable. The oxygen and moisture barriers in the packages are highly efficient so products don’t risk becoming stale or changing texture. Uses range from bottle replacement to travel and sample packs. All three samples are ASTM 6400 certified.
Compostable materials do cost more than regular packaging, Thompson says, but CTI seeks innovation that can be used to decrease the price. Consumers are also proving more willing to invest in sustainable practices for future generations.
As the packaging is white, it may not be preferable for some graphic branding, but Thompson compared its current state to the early versions of the electric car. When first invented, it was unpopular and the idea was cast aside until Tesla and others came out with their own version which skyrocketed the electric car to popularity.
“While composting your used packaging materials may not be top of mind now, it may become the next large step in reducing environmental waste,” says Thompson.