Consumers are increasingly demanding recyclable and sustainable packaging, while at the same time, some cities and states are banning plastic bags and other forms of packaging that end up in landfills.
Because of these factors — in addition to cheaper prices on recycled materials compared to virgin resources used in packaging — a growing number of leading corporations such as Dell, Walmart, Unilever and Coca-Cola are using recycled and plant-based materials in packaging.
It’s a hot topic and a hot market: sustainable packaging is expected to increase from $132.4 billion in 2014 to $203.1 billion by the end of 2021, representing a compound annual growth rate of 6.2 percent. Here are some of the packaging stories we’re following.
Avery Dennison’s latest portfolio makes it easier for companies to choose recyclable packaging, or other products with a lower environmental footprint.
Xander van der Vlies, director of sustainability, Avery Dennison Europe, said that the ClearIntent portfolio covers a range of applications and helps converters and brand owners meet their sustainable packaging goals.
The materials have to meet at least one of three standards (pictured) to qualify for the new portfolio. The first is responsible sourcing, where it has been verified by third party companies that a significant amount of the product’s content comes from sustainably sourced materials. The second is reduction of material – a product must offer comparable or superior performance to a conventional alternative, while using less material. The third criterion focuses on recycling, requiring a label material to be recyclable itself, to be made of recycled content, or to enable or improve the recyclability of the container or packaging the label is on.
“All of our development work takes place with a central focus on sustainability, which is why so many of these products deliver not only sustainability improvements but also differentiation for converters who are seeking new business opportunities,” said Luuk Zonneveld, product manager of sustainability, in a statement. “For example, ClearCut adhesive technology combined with an FSC-liner offers improved sustainability with no compromise on performance or productivity. We have more than 1,100 FSC-certified label constructions offered at price and performance parity. Our bio-based PE film is made from a plant-based feedstock, which avoids the use of scarce petroleum resources and prevents pollution caused by fossil fuel extraction. Recycling-friendly options include facestocks made from 100 percent recycled paper, which offer improved GreenPrint performance vs similar paper facestocks made from virgin fibers. There is a choice here for almost any application you can think of.”
In other sustainable packaging news, Carbios has developed a recycling technology that the company says allows all PET plastics to be reused.
This will be especially useful for opaque polyethylene terephthalate (PET) products such as the new milk bottles, the company says.
Milk packaging made from opaque PET is widely replacing packaging made of high density PE (HDPE). This reduces packaging weight by 25 percent and eliminates the need for aluminum seals on bottle caps, leading to raw material savings and improved performances.
These new milk bottles, however, are not recyclable by conventional processes. Recyclers have to reject opaque PET bottles, sending them to landfills or incineration, Carbios says, adding that its technology announced today enables recycling of all PET products, including transparent, multi-layer, opaque and complex.
And finally, Ikea has drawn sharp criticism from the plastics industry for phasing out expanded polystyrene (EPS) and replacing it with fiber-based packaging.
Last month, Ikea said it had replaced all EPS foam in its packaging “with recyclable and more sustainable alternatives. Ikea hopes this will change packaging solutions throughout the home furnishing industry.”
In a joint statement the US-based EPS Industry Alliance and the Belgium-based European Manufacturers of EPS accused Ikea of greenwashing and said the retail giant “merely relied on the public perception that paper is uniformly a superior environmental choice.”
In the earlier press release, Ikea said the volume of EPS that it used before the phase out equaled 7,400 trucks filled with polystyrene foam or more than half the volume of the Empire State Building.
The plastics industry groups called this statement “environmental smoke and mirrors.”
“Ikea fails to offer any point of reference to what percentage of EPS in their distribution chain they are phasing out or what environmental improvements occur from using fiber-based packaging…IKEA is aware that all packaging materials – whether paper, plastic or reusable containers – have an environmental impact. The belief that paper is always better than plastic is not a scientific fact, but rather a misconception about how plastic products are made, how landfills work, the incidence of plastic litter and an inherent belief that all non-biodegradable products negatively impact the planet,” the two EPS trade organizations said.
In fact, an August report by Trucost found using plastics in products and packaging may be better for the environment that using alternatives such as paper or glass. This isn’t to say that plastics don’t have an environmental cost — the report puts it at $139 billion. Nor does it mean that there isn’t room for improvement and that manufacturers shouldn’t take steps to make plastics more sustainable. It does, however, indicate that there are some environmental benefits to using plastics.