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SPS 2012: Day one delves into LCA, recycling

With a stated focus of “Advancing Sustainable Supply Chains with Optimized Packaging,” the second annual Sustainable Packaging Symposium kicked off with discussions on Life Cycle Analysis and the challenges of recycling.

Dr. Bill Flanagan, GE Global Research
Dr. Bill Flanagan, GE Global Research

Sustainable Packaging Symposium 2012, the second edition of the event, organized by Greener Package and the American Institute of Chemical Engineers’ Institute for Sustainability, kicked off in Houston, TX, with an emphasis on packaging’s role in the sustainable supply chain and the importance of Life Cycle Analysis for optimizing packaging.

Day one keynote presenter Dr. Bill Flanagan, leader of the Ecoassessment Center of Excellence for GE Global Research, began the event by enumerating for attendees the benefits of the LCA. “The LCA is a qualitative assessment,” he said. “If we are going to be making decisions, we want to be sure that we are not shifting the burden.”

He added that a LCA allows a company to:

• Focus on the areas where they can make the most impact

• Communicate fairly complex product benefits to consumers

• Foster transparency with stakeholders

Dr. Flanagan advised that the LCA should be used strategically, undertaken only for those products where it provides the most benefit. He then outlined for attendees the four-step screening process by which GE determines those products that require a full LCA. “Overall, we want to make sure we are not distracting ourselves,” he said. “We want to make real changes. We don’t want to do anything that is a barrier to innovation.”

Following Dr. Flanagan, Lauran Flanigan, a consultant with PE International, Inc., opened the “Leadership and the Sustainable Supply Chain Session” by echoing many of the keynote themes, saying, “Transparency is the new sustainability.”

“You have to know what it is you are trying to achieve before you begin,” she said. “You have to determine your vision. That will help you determine the tools you will use. You have to plan long-term.”

Recycling challenges addressed
Two engaging presentations during “The Importance of Packaging in the Sustainable Product Supply Chain” spoke to the opportunities and the challenges faced by consumer packaged goods companies when looking at recycling. Jeff Meyers, Sustainable Packaging Program Manager for Coca-Cola Refreshments, outlined The Coca-Cola Company’s four-pronged sustainable packaging strategy for attendees. The “Reduce” aspect involves lightweighting its packaging; “Renew” involves the use of renewable resources in the form of its PlantBottle packaging; “Recover” means getting material back through recycling; and “Reuse” comprises using recovered materials in new packaging.

“We have to execute on each one of these strategies well in order to ensure they all work,” said Meyers. The biggest challenge for the company right now he added is the availability of recycled PET materials.

Ryan L’Abbe, vice president and general manager of Ice River Springs, a bottled water company in Canada that has successfully built a closed-loop system for recovering PET and manufacturing 100% rPET bottles, expressed the same frustration when it comes to material availability. “There is a breakdown in the collection system,” he said, adding that until packaging materials are perceived to have value, the problem will remain. “Once there is value to the material,” he said, “economies will develop to collect it.”

Stay tuned for more coverage of the Sustainble Packaging Symposium, via and the pages of Packaging World magazine.

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