Private Sector Making Inroads on Sustainability
Volume 3, Issue 1
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Private sector works to increase PP recycling
With polypropylene (PP) packaging often excluded from municipal recycling programs, several firms have banded together to collect and use the material. The Gimme 5 program established by Recycline, Inc., Waltham, MA, with the support of Organic Valley Family of Farms, LaFarge, WI; Stonyfield Farm, Londonderry, NH; and Whole Foods Market, Austin, TX; puts bins in Whole Foods outlets to collect yogurt cups; margarine and ice cream tubs; medicine bottles; and other containers with PP’s #5 recycling code.
Collecting PP gives Recycline the 1 million pounds of material it cleans, grinds, melts, repelletizes and molds each year in production of its Preserve brand 100%-recycled-content toothbrushes, razors, colanders, cutting boards and tableware. To close the recycling loop, if a Preserve item can’t be recycled locally, Recycline supplies a postage-paid mailer so it can be returned for recycling. Diversion from landfills or export to Asia shrinks PP’s environmental footprint and gives consumers an affordable way to reduce their environmental impact. In addition, Recycline’s U.S.-made products ship shorter distances further decreasing their environmental footprint.
“This program will save thousands of pounds of #5 plastic from being sent to landfills,” predicts Jeremiah McElwee, senior Whole Body coordinator for Whole Foods. With a successful pilot completed, McElwee believes the program will be popular with shoppers.
Stonyfield, a partner since 2000, has supplied Recycline with millions of post-consumer yogurt cups, as well as pre-consumer waste from its packaging lines. “Our long association…has been beneficial in so many ways,” says Gary Hirshberg, Stonyfield Farm president and chief executive officer. “Not only does it give new life to our cups and excess plastic, it also serves to remind our consumers of the need to ‘reduce, reuse, recycle,’ all of which are key to minimizing our impact on the planet.”
Consumers act on concerns about the environment
A number of recent studies indicate a majority of consumers like buying “green,” practice recycling and look for minimally packaged goods. However, doing what’s best for the environment has to be both easy and cost-effective. Consumers also are wary of “green claims” and seek credible information.
According to the 2009 National Green Buying Research commissioned by Green Seal, Washington, DC, and EnviroMedia Social Marketing, Austin, TX, 87% of consumers recycle, 82% buy green and 69% are buying the same or more green items than before the economic downturn. The survey of 1,000 consumers by Opinion Research Corp., Princeton, NJ, also indicates 60% want minimally packaged goods. In fact, minimal packaging should be a priority for brand owners because more than three-quarters of the respondents in another survey, the American Grocery Shopper Study by Brandspark International, New York, NY, believe that manufacturers could reduce packaging a lot more.
When it comes to green claims, 75% of the 50,000 respondents in the American Grocery Shopper Study believe that some companies are exploiting environmentally friendly claims for marketing purposes. In addition, there’s uncertainty about how to confirm claims. More than one-third of the respondents in the Green Seal/EnviroMedia survey don’t know how to verify claims with 24% looking to the packaging for information and 17% doing research online or elsewhere. “There’s a real opportunity for authentic green marketing, despite the tough economy,” says Valerie Davis, principal and chief executive officer of EnviroMedia. “Companies should be clear about the environmental benefits of their products and services and make sure what they claim…is backed up consistently on product packaging and on the website,” she concludes.
Beverage industry joins forces with Climate Group
The beverage industry receives a lot of criticism about the social and environmental impact of its products but is taking steps to formulate more healthful products as well as reduce waste. To aid in this effort the American Beverage Association (ABA), Washington, DC, has become a founding member of Recycle Together, an initiative undertaken by The Climate Group (TCG), New York, NY, to identify ways to increase recycling and share best practices through a model city recycling program.
Much work remains to be done. According to a report entitled Waste & Opportunity by As You Sow, a nonprofit social change organization based in San Francisco, CA, 19 out of 23 firms score Ds or Fs on its US Beverage Container Recycling Scorecard. Three firms receive a C-. Only one firm, Coca-Cola Co., Atlanta, GA, earns a C, reflecting its source reduction commitments and achievements, recovery goals and investment in recycling programs. In addition, Coca-Cola offers what is believed to be the lightest 20-ounce polyethylene terephthalate bottle for carbonated beverages and the highest percentage of recycled content in its aluminum cans.
As You Sow wants beverage companies to commit to source reduction, improve container recyclability, use the highest possible levels of post-consumer recycled content, set measurable national and company-specific goals to recover at least 70% of beverage containers, support public policies that increase beverage container recycling, budget resources to deliver on recycling commitments and publicly report on beverage container recycling progress each year.
These goals dovetail with both the Recycle Together initiative as well as ABA’s Full Circle Plan, which calls for lightweighting, higher percentages of recycled content, use of 100% recyclable containers, support of recycling with preference for single-stream curbside collection and motivation of consumers to recycle.
“The beverage industry has come a long way by designing its packaging to be easily recycled, and is the only industry to make a public commitment to doing so,” says Kate Krebs, director of Sustainable Resources at TCG. “With this initiative, the industry is pledging to use its marketing power to encourage consumers to recycle.”
PepsiCo embarks on sustainability journey
PepsiCo, Purchase, NY, takes sustainability seriously. A recent report, Our Sustainability Journey, highlights 2007-2008 accomplishments. For example, a 20% lighter half-liter polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottle with a 10% smaller label for Aquafina flavored waters, Lipton Iced Teas and Tropicana juice drinks saved nearly 6 million kilograms of packaging in 2008 and cut annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 18,000 metric tons. The report also describes progress in energy and water conservation, transition to PET soft drink bottles with 10% recycled content and partnerships with schools and businesses to collect and recycle more than 70 million PET bottles.
However, the company’s global sustainable packaging policy calls for the development of even more environmentally friendly packaging, while a newly formed Sustainable Packaging Council helps develop guidelines “toward achieving packaging systems that are environmentally responsible throughout their entire lifecycle.”
Toward that end, PepsiCo has begun mapping the carbon footprint of each product to establish a benchmark to gauge progress in reducing GHG emissions. In fact the company is the first to receive independent certification from the Carbon Trust, London, UK, for a consumer brand in North America. The certification process involves mapping the product lifecycle from growing the ingredients to disposal or recycling of the packaging and quantifying the energy consumption at each stage to determine carbon dioxide emissions. The first certified product, Tropicana Pure Premium Orange Juice in a 64-ounce gabletop carton, generates a carbon footprint of 1.7 kilograms with 15% attributable to packaging, 3% to consumer use/disposal, 22% to transportation and distribution, 60% to agriculture and manufacturing. The Earth Institute at Columbia University, New York, NY, used Publicly Available Specification (PAS) 2050 guidelines from BSI British Standards, London, UK, to perform the calculations.
“Everything we do or buy has a carbon impact and establishing a globally recognized method of measurement is an important step in tackling climate change,” says Tom Delay, chief executive of Carbon Trust.
Collating system creates tighter multipack
A collating system from Morrison Container Handling Solutions, Glenwood, IL, creates more compact groupings of containers, saves packaging material, reduces waste and enhances production efficiency. The system with a single-lane infeed and double-lane discharge positions containers in an alternating pattern. Arranging containers one up, then one down, back to front, results in a tighter pack, which occupies less space or increases the number of containers that fit in a particular area.
NatureWorks improves carbon footprint of PLA
An improved production process for lactic acid has reduced the carbon footprint of Ingeo polylactic acid (PLA) from NatureWorks LLC, Minnetonka, MN. The new process for the corn-based bioresin cuts energy consumption 30% and carbon dioxide emissions 60%.
Lifecycle analysis shows PLA made by the new process offers environmental advantages over PLA made by earlier processes. Compared to polyethylene terephthalate (PET), PLA made by the new process emits 77% less carbon dioxide per kilogram of resin and consumes 56% less energy. It also scores lower in greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption than recycled PET.
Dairy offers composting system for its PLA bottles
To overcome the widespread lack of commercial composting facilities, Naturally Iowa, Inc., Clarinda, IA, a dairy pioneering use of compostable polylactic acid (PLA) bottles, now offers composting systems to its foodservice and institutional customers. The ORCA Green™ composting system from GreenGuard Associates, Inc., Austell, GA closes the loop for the PLA containers the dairy uses for its spring water, dairy products and drinkable yogurt.
“The exclusive agreement “with GreenGuard Associates helps to fulfill my dream of building a true environmental solution for the ‘end of life’ issues associated with used water and dairy bottles,” says Bill Horner, founder and chief executive officer of Naturally Iowa.
The electrically powered ORCA Green bioreactor converts up to 2000 pounds of PLA bottles, food waste and organic material per day into gray water. The low-temperature, aerobic system fits in an 84 x 50 x 60-inch space, operates silently and generates no sludge or odor. Automated composting not only minimizes waste, but also reduces energy costs associated with recycling and trash hauling. “Additionally, the system cuts landfill waste and reduces carbon footprint,” concludes Bob Humberstone, sales director for GreenGuard.
About the author
Hallie Forcinio has covered packaging-related environmental topics for more than 20 years, first as an editor on Food & Drug Packaging magazine (now Food & Beverage Packaging) and more recently as a freelance packaging journalist. “My interest in the environment dates back to a high school government class,” she notes. “I was collecting glass, newspapers and aluminum cans for recycling long before my community had a curbside recycling program.”
In addition, to preparing the TricorBraun Sustainability Times, she contributes articles to numerous trade publications including Packaging Machinery Technology, Pharmaceutical Technology, Managing Automation and Ben Miyares’ Packaging Management Update, the weekly e-newsletter that posts each Monday on Packexpo.com.