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FLEXO Magazine : Sustainable Winter 2011
big companies such as Coca Cola, Kraft Foods and Unilever pursue comprehensive sustainability strategies. They support environmental, nature and aid organizations or provide de- velopment aid themselves. They also invest in more efficient production lines and packaging. "We will cut our materials consumption by a third by 2020," promises Polman. The packaging manufacturers help the industry to reduce its ecological footprint. They design new packaging and develop the associated production processes. This is no easy task. Raw material consumption needs to be reduced by using thinner and smaller amounts of resource-intensive materials, but this must not compromise the integrity and stability of the packaging. "The top priority is protection of the packaging contents," says Stefan Glimm, managing director of the German Aluminum Industry Association (GDA). There is a good reason for this. According to the European Organisation for Packaging and the Environment (EUROPEN), the value of the resources input into and held in food products is much higher than the value of the packaging that protects these products. Product losses resulting from inadequate pack- aging therefore account for more carbon dioxide emissions than are saved by eliminating surplus packaging. In develop- ing countries, food losses are a big problem: According to EUROPEN, 40 percent of the goods in the supply chain are lost. Better protection of products in these countries could therefore considerably ease the burden on the environment. SAFETY: A TOP PRIORITY The packaging manufacturers have come up with many innovations to demonstrate that safety and ecology need not be mutually exclusive. The U.S. company Sonoco, for example, offers efficient packaging solutions in the form of its new True Blue Line. According to company spokesman Jeff Schuetz, they are just as stable as their predecessors but contain less material or can be more easily recycled. The industry is already making appreciative use of this range. The German food conglomerate Kraft Foods recently started to use Sonoco-designed containers made of recyclable card- board instead of tins for its coffee brands Maxwell House, Nabob and Yuban. Another example is Unilever, which has redesigned the plastic bottles for its Suave brand hair care products with the help of Sonoco: the new containers require 16 percent less material, but thanks to their new curved form, are more stable than their predecessors. The German Plastics Packaging Industry Association (IK) views such innovations as a confirmation of its own position that plastic is eminently suitable for sustainable packaging. "It is very versatile," declares Isabell Schmidt, IK expert on the environment and sustainable development. Plastic provides protection, is transparent, and thanks to the low weight of the packaging, it enables savings to be achieved in transport costs and carbon dioxide emissions. The sector intends to increase its sustainability performance still further. "Its aims include even lighter packaging and even more recycling," says Schmidt. Besides plastic, which is the most frequently used pack- aging material in the world, conventional materials such as paper, cardboard, glass and metal (e.g. aluminum) are also candidates for a sustainable packaging strategy, as each of them offers its own individual advantages. A study by the Dutch research institute DE Delft shows that paper and cardboard, for example, have a smaller carbon footprint than most other packaging materials, due to factors such as efficient production and lower transport emissions. The carbon dioxide equivalent of paper and related materials is 676kg carbon dioxide per metric ton of material, whereas that of other conventional packaging materials is at least 1,000kg. Glass, on the other hand, cannot boast a very low weight, but is returnable, recyclable and absolutely safe. "Glass is inert, so that practically no interaction can occur between contents and packaging," explains Johann Overath, the managing director of the Federal Association of the German Glass Industry. In addition, it is made almost totally from raw materials that occur in sufficient quantities in nature. This appeals to consumers who value pure taste and want to consume products from a "healthy " packaging. According to a survey by the European Container Glass Federation (FEVE), 75 percent of Europeans prefer glass as a packaging mate- rial, as it contributes to a healthy lifestyle. Tinplate and aluminum also protect food products and can be easily recycled. The recycling rate of aluminum is 82.3 per- cent and that of aluminum cans is an impressive 96 percent. "This rate will be boosted still further by closing the gaps in recycling loops," says GDA Managing Director Glimm. The sector also wants to cut the consumption of materials. Ac- cording to Glimm, "The aim is to protect more products with less aluminum." BIOPLASTICS ARE ON THE ADVANCE Manufacturers of established packaging materials must, however, expect increasing competition from bioplastics. These may not be as versatile as conventional oil-based plastics, but they make up for this with ever-improving prop- erties. The British company Innovia Films recently launched a biodegradable plastic film for food products: known as Natureflex, it is 100 percent compostable. According to head of marketing Andy Sweetman, this multilayer biofilm forms an excellent barrier against moisture and gases, so that packaged products such as biscuits retain their crispness over a long time. The German bioplastics producer FKuR Kunststoff also focuses on excellent barrier properties. The company 's products include multilayer biofilms that also prevent leakage from eco-nappies. A new development is biopackaging suit- able for very low temperatures, which is used for frozen food. SUSTAINABILITY IN PRODUCTION Manufacturers of packaging machinery can also contrib- ute to further rapid cuts in the cost of packaging. The Food Processing and Packaging Machinery Association of the German Engineering Federation (VDMA) sees opportuni- ties for achieving savings not just in packaging materials. A major contribution to sustainable production can be made by reducing the consumption of energy and operating materials by packaging machinery through the use of mod- ern technology. For instance, decentral servo technology, which functions more dynamically and efficiently than large drives, could be used. Although the purchase costs for these machines are high, VDMA claims that the expenditure can easily be recouped during the life cycle of a modern system through its lower energy consumption. Product manufactur- ers who put their faith in sustainability therefore profit first of all at the production stage, even before their products reach the point of sale. 6 Sustainable FLEXO WINTER 2011 www.flexography.org