Sustainability drives packaging growth

Green Packers

16 October 2008 19:05  [Source: ICB]

Sustainability is the name of the game in packaging. How do chemicals fit in?

BIODEGRADABLE, COMPOSTABLE, recyclable, reusable, lighter-weight, renewable-based, eco-friendly, sustainable. That's just some of the jargon in the packaging industry. Packaging has become one of the hot spots of green revolution.

Green packaging has not only become a new profit source but a cost-saving solution for the long term, especially with the growing need to cut costs in feedstocks, operations, materials and transportation.

In a 2007 survey by nonprofit group Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) and trade magazine Packaging Digest, both US-based, 73% of 1,255 respondents who are involved in packaging reported that their companies had increased their emphasis on sustainable packaging.

The largest number of respondents were from the consumer product goods companies (CPGs), followed by materials manufacturers, converters, machinery manufacturers, packaging services and retailers.

US chemical giant DuPont also cited in its Sustainable Packaging fact sheet a survey by compatriot trade body the Flexible Packaging Association (FPA) that reported that 62% of CPGs expected to change their packaging within the next year with sustainability being a key consideration.

The FPA said key changes for CPGs include weight reduction, cube improvement and use of recycled content.

"A major change is taking place in packaged goods and the industry is at a tipping point," DuPont said. "Consumer goods companies are in fact embracing packaging with reduced environmental impact. According to the Grocery Manufacturers Association, 85% of US consumer businesses surveyed recently have active sustainability initiatives focused on recycling and energy conservation."

DuPont expects growth in sustainable packaging to reach 25-30%, compared with the packaging industry's current growth of 4%. "Packaging is a $2bn [€1.5bn] market for DuPont and sustainable packaging is a growing focus, supporting the company's goal of improving the sustainability of value chains where it participates," the company said.

Some of DuPont's sustainable packaging offerings include its line of Biomax Thermal modifiers that improves the processability, durability, strength and flexibility of polylactic acid (PLA)-based plastics weight-reducing Surlyn resins and solvent-free Cyrel FAST flexographic printing plates.

PLA-based plastics accounted for 26% of the US biodegradable plastic demand at 350m lbs (170,000 tonnes) last year, according to US-based Freedonia Group. The consulting firm expects PLA demand to expand by around 20%/year through 2012 because of capacity additions and broadened applications of PLA brought about by resin improvements.

Freedonia also adds that packaging accounted for nearly 75% of all US biodegradable plastic use last year.


DuPont is not the only one eagerly cashing in on the green packaging trend.

US-based specialty chemical company Rohm and Haas is also working on the improvement of PLA bioplastics with the introduction of its Paraloid BPMS-250 melt strength enhancer additive late last month.

The new additive builds on the success of the company's Paraloid BPM-500 acrylic impact modifier for PLA packaging, which was launched in 2007, says John Channon, Rohm and Haas's North American marketing director of packaging and building materials.

"The current push for greener materials appears to be a permanent market/consumer desire and one that needs to be addressed," he says. "As environmental issues are becoming more clear and consumers are more aware of these issues, companies are now able to bring these green technologies and products to the market and in turn make a reasonable profit in the process."

Sustainability is not a new area for Rohm and Haas's packaging technology, says market manager for EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) packaging Dana Mosora.

She cites the company's ROBOND line of water-based acrylic adhesives as an example, which was acknowledged last month by the American Chemical Society (ACS) as a chemical historic landmark.

"Solvent adhesives once dominated the packaging tapes and label market. Today, water-based adhesives are the choice for bonding adhesives, such as those used by FedEx and UPS who use them for their nearly 20bn packages sealed and shipped each day," Mosora says.

Early this year, Rohm and Haas launched a new solventless laminating adhesive for packaging, and in late August, announced a collaboration with equipment suppliers Nordmeccanica and Paperplast International, both Italian, to help food packaging converters meet their sustainability goals.

Another additive important for packaging is colorants, and Swiss specialty chemical company Ciba says it is already providing them for biopolymers such as PLA. In paper packaging, the company says its Raisabond Plus helps improve dry strength of paper and board products while using less substrates.

"There is a strong demand for environment-friendly products and we expect this to be an increasing trend," says Chris Wells, Ciba's head of marketing, office packaging. "If we can reduce energy and waste costs, clearly both our customers and us benefit."

Another development Ciba is working on, adds Wells, is the replacement of wax treatments in corrugated packaging as it is said to be hard to recycle.

German chemical major BASF, meanwhile, increased the production capacity of its nonphthalate plasticizer Hexamoll DINCH last year from 25,000 tonnes/year to 100,000 tonnes/year, in Ludwigshafen, Germany. BASF says demand for nonphthalate plasticizers, which are used in medical devices, toys and food packaging, has been increasing.

Among the top five nonphthalate plasticizers on the global market, BASF claims its Hexamoll DINCH has the highest eco-efficiency, especially in terms of toxicity and risk potential, energy use and emissions.

Nonphthalate plasticizers commercially available on the market include diethylhexylterephthalate, alkylsulphonic phenyl ester, acetyltributyl citrate, and acetylated castor oil derivative.

Industry sources say the majority of the innovation focus in packaging today is in the sustainability design of the materials, whether they're naturally sourced, made from recycled products, or have lighter-weight/reduced packaging features.

Meanwhile, their end-of-life cycle should also be compostable, biodegradable or recyclable. "For material producers, they are recognizing that there is a huge demand for new and innovative materials such as bio-based polymers," says SPC director Anne Johnson. "However, there are larger questions as to whether many of these engineered materials disintegrate under certain circumstances. There are a lot of misleading claims right now on certain materials and there should be a harmonization between claims and consumer perception," she adds.


Bioplastic producers are enjoying the benefits of the green packaging trend, despite some industry uncertainties on the end-of-life claims for biodegradable and compostable packaging materials.

US-based bioresin producer Cereplast has several joint ventures (JVs) with firms such as France-based food company Danone for the development of bio-based food packaging, and US-based plastic packaging manufacturer CSI/Cosmolab for bioplastic cosmetic packaging materials. The firm is building a 500m lb/year bioresin facility, which is set to be fully operational in 2010.

US packaging giant MeadWestvaco is also using the PLA-based polymer from NatureWorks, a biopolymer JV between US agribusiness company Cargill and Japanese chemical company Teijin. MeadWestvaco is using the biopolymer on its NatureSource visual packaging for cosmetics and personal care. MeadWestvaco spokesperson Alison von Puschendorf says its green packaging offerings are more than just the packaging itself but a complete solution, from the design of the product to distribution.

"Our customers can sit side by side with our consumer researchers, materials scientists, packaging designers, machinery experts and marketing professionals to develop sustainable packaging solutions that are fully integrated with the product, even before it comes off the assembly line," Puschendorf adds.

Because biodegradable plastics are still in their infancy, post-consumer and recyclable materials are easier and cheaper for packagers to implement. According to the survey by SPC and Packaging Digest, the use of recycled materials is the highest rated criteria among the respondents' sustainable practices, followed by careful consumption of materials, controlled energy consumption, and packaging manufactured without the use of toxic or harmful chemicals.

One recent offering is shampoo bottles with post-consumer recycled content, says Jeff Schuetz, vice president of global technology, consumer packaging at US-based global packaging service provider Sonoco Products. "There are a number of factors that play into optimizing sustainability of packaging, whether they include source reduction, right sizing, material selection, recycled content, or recyclability/biodegradability," says Schuetz. "Facts will become clearer in the long run whether some of today's new materials are truly more sustainable than traditional materials."

US-based ConAgra Foods started using post-consumer recycled plastic in the company's frozen meal trays last June. The company said the initiative will eliminate 8m lbs/year of plastic waste in landfills.


TerraCyclefinds a niche

From Doris de Guzman's ICIS Green Chemicals Blog "Recycling in Fashion" July 22 post.

Here's one tip on how food/beverage and consumer product goods (CPGs) companies can have the best giveaways in trade shows and conventions.

New Jersey, US-based start-up firm TerraCycle is upcycling used food wrappers, drink pouches, empty yogurt containers, corks and soda bottles into pencil cases, umbrellas, pouches, bags, garbage cans and shower curtains.

The company has signed deals or is in talks with corporations such as Kraft Foods, Kellogg's and Coca-Cola to collect some of their packaging waste into these products and sell them to retailers such as Target, Walgreen and, potentially, Wal-Mart and Home Depot.

Using sponsorships from various food manufacturers, TerraCycle also set up thousands of trash-collecting brigades, who will be paid a couple of cents per wrapper or pouch. The company covers the cost of collection and sends the trash to its factories in Mexico to upcycle them into new retail products.

"We're able to retail at the store for the same price as a normal Hanna Montana backpack, except ours is made from garbage collected by American kids and each pouch represents a little donation," says Tom Szaky, TerraCycle cofounder and CEO.

TerraCycle expects $8m (€6m) in revenue this year, with 20-30% coming from the upcycled products.

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By: Doris de Guzman
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