Manufacturers answer the call for more eco-friendly packaging

Greening the supply chain: manufacturers answer the call for more eco-friendly packaging

Stephanie Ricca

It’s not easy being green. The manufacturing sector is taking so many hits in economics and job loss overseas that it can be difficult to remain proactive with environmental policies. However slow, though, the push toward eco-friendly packaging is a steady one. Many manufacturers today are taking additional steps beyond incorporating recycled content–often at the request of important customers–to make the entire boardmaking process, from pulping to converting, better for the environment. In a climate where the paperboard manufacturer is competing for business at every level, diversification into eco-friendly services can make a difference.

One of these steps is removing bleach from the process. This can occur by eliminating chlorine bleaching of virgin or recycled fibre, or by eliminating hydrochloride compounds from the converting process. The motivation for most companies is to reduce dioxins from entering the waste stream. Dioxins, byproducts released with waste-water as a result of chlorine bleaching, have been the subject of EPA research studies showing them to be potentially carcinogenic.

Often, influential customers like IKEA, Starbucks and Ben & Jerry’s, set requirements for all their suppliers to comply with stricter environmental regulations including bleach-free processes. Other times, converting companies with popular, unbleached products in hand, like Huhtamaki, take advantage of a unique selling point.

Certification Ups Credibility

The trend toward processed chlorine free paperboard, while not a big one, is growing, according to Archie Beaton, executive director of the Chlorine Free Products Association (CFPA). “As this term, ‘processed chlorine-free,’ becomes more recognizable, companies and consumers are asking for it more,” he says. CFPA provides third-party certification for companies that manufacture PCF paper and board. To receive certification, mills must show that no chlorine or chlorine compounds are used in the manufacturing process, and meet other guidelines relating to recycled content. CFPA also offers a totally chlorine free (TCF) certification for virgin fibre papers and chlorine-free board.

To date, Huhtamaki Americas, headquartered in De Soto, Kan., is the only packaging company to carry PCF certification for its rough molded products. The company’s Waterville, Maine, and Hammond, Ind., plants are both certified. This is where production of the company’s line of rough molded fibre products is produced; each plant manufactures 50 tons a day. The beverage carriers, food trays and Serviceware[R] brand products, used by companies including Starbucks, McDonald’s and Wendy’s, are pre- and post-consumer recycled content items processed with no chlorine.

Huhtamaki first received certification in 2002, after a three-month review process conducted by TAPPI Fellows Norman Liebergott and Rudra Singh. This year, both plants will be audited again, part of CFPA’s process of conducting reviews every two years.

“We’re coming into an era where our customers are more concerned about the environment, and in particular, how that applies to manufacturing,” says Eric Brown, product development manager for Huhtamaki’s molded technical center. “I see an increased interest in how we make our product.”

“Often, national accounts want to know our environmental policies at the same time they want to know our financial policies,” says Autumn Beach, marketing associate for Huhtamaki’s Foodservice Division. “It’s become an industry standard. Companies want a corporate environmental policy and they write it into their contract with us. They want to know where our raw materials come from. The top priority is always price, but I see the trend turning that way.”

Division-wide, Huhtamaki Foodservice, Inc., has reduced its use of virgin pulp to 1 percent or less annually.

Brown says Huhtamaki is always researching ways to extend PCF manufacturing processes to its other product lines. “That, in part, is driven by more and more interest in the issue,” he says.

Power of The Pint

One success story of converting all company paperboard packaging to processed chlorine-free board belongs to Waterbury, Vt.-based Ben & Jerry’s Homemade, Inc. As a company known for its support of environmental causes, the decision to try to create a totally biodegradable pint carton was eco-motivated, but it had to make sound business sense for the company, which produces millions of gallons of ice cream products annually.

In the mid-’90s, Ben & Jerry’s decided to revamp its primary packaging, the ice cream pint container. “Our project goal was to design out sources of chlorine bleaching of the paperboard, and to make the container biodegradable,” says Andrea Asch, manager of natural resources for the company.

The company’s motive for switching to unbleached board was to reduce dioxins.

Thanks to a collaboration between Ben & Jerry’s, board supplier Graphic Packaging Corp., Marietta, Ga., and converter Sweetheart Cup Co., Owings Mills, Md., Asch’s goal is halfway there: All pint containers were switched to unbleached kraft board packaging by 2001. The company calls its revamped container the Eco-Pint.

The process required a lot of trial and error, especially since the new kraft board, with its softwood content, had to conform to Ben & Jerry’s strict specifications.

“The board is made from a Southern pine, and those are long fibres that don’t like to curl as much as the short hardwood fibres,” Asch says. “The lip curl at the top of the pint was rather hard. It took some work by Sweetheart Cup, our converter, to make the tools that would give us a tight curl at the top of the pint container. Without the curl, the pint would spring back.”

Sweetheart Cup custom-made tools to facilitate the lip curl, which Ben & Jerry’s worked into its business plan. “From a quality point of view, we had to work with it for awhile,” Asch says. “But once Sweetheart achieved that, we were ready to go for converting the pint.”

Ben & Jerry’s didn’t pass any of the cost of converting to Eco-Pints on to its customers. “What was interesting is that the new board was less expensive at the time than conventional board, but since it’s a commodity, it always fluctuates,” Asch says.

Ben & Jerry’s is the primary user of this board, called Kup-Kote[TM], which is produced at Graphic Packaging’s West Monroe, La., plant. According to Patti Gettinger, Graphic Packaging’s Paperboard Division market manager, Sweetheart Cup approached the company, then Riverwood International, in 1997, looking for a food-grade, chlorine-free board.

“Working together, [Sweetheart, Ben & Jerry’s and Riverwood] defined the product requirements,” Gettinger says. “Graphic Packaging developed a paperboard grade specifically to meet both Ben & Jerry’s needs for an environmentally sound cup and Sweetheart Cup’s manufacturing efficiency requirements.”

Kup-Kote is made from solid unbleached sulfate virgin kraft fibre with two layers of white clay coating for printing. It was developed with good stretch values for cup forming, and low bacterial count.

Currently, Asch says, she is investigating alternatives to the pint’s polyethylene coating, inks and adhesives in order to complete her goal of creating a totally biodegradable container. “This is a tough one,” she says, “We’ve been struggling to find a company that makes a replacement coating that is biodegradable and meets FDA requirements. If we could make this completely biodegradable, it would mean a lot less labor for people at our plants. Trashed-out pints wouldn’t go to the dumpster or landfill, but right to our compost facility.”

Ben & Jerry’s doesn’t consider this proprietary information. The company has shared its sources with other interested companies, and is always researching ways to extend its commitment to green packaging. “I call it my job security,” Asch says.

Green On Every Level

Adapting eco-friendly requirements to the entire supply chain is a formidable task, but Nestle Philippines and IKEA are two companies rising to the challenge. Both have established strict guidelines requiring all suppliers, including packaging suppliers, to comply with set environmental policies.

Nestle Philippines, Inc. started its Greening the Supply Chain program in 2002. The goal was to encourage all the company’s suppliers to commit to environmental protection by developing their own Environmental Management Systems (EMS). Nestle Philippines conducts training seminars for its suppliers and follows up with audits and reviews. As one of the first suppliers to join in, corrugated carton supplier Manila-based Unibox Packaging Corp. developed an EMS that resulted in cutting waste by 8 percent, water consumption by 15 percent and energy consumption by 8 percent. The company is now seeking ISO certification for its efforts.

IKEA, the Sweden-based home furnishings manufacturer, has a similar program in place, its Natural Step program, a company-wide environmental action plan that applies to all levels of business, including the supply chain. Seventy-five percent of the raw material for IKEA’s products and packaging is wood-based, and most of the company’s products are packaged in corrugated boxes.

“We have a number of requirements that apply directly to packaging materials,” says a representative in the company’s Sweden-based product development group. “We require no chlorine bleach, and no hazardous chemicals as per definition in an IKEA listing of chemicals.” IKEA monitors and audits its suppliers regularly for compliance.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Questex Media Group, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning