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Leading by Example: A Q&A on Sustainable Packaging Trends

Posted: November 20, 2012

During the last decade, the paperboard industry has seen sustainable practices go from occasional application to the industry standard, achieving new benchmarks in packaging innovation. As beauty and other companies deliver on the broader promises of sustainability, the paperboard packaging industry is manufacturing packages that help reduce the product-to-package weight ratio, increase shipping efficiencies and introduce new more environmentally friendly materials.

True sustainability is a balance between environmental and social stewardship and economic practicality. Cost, performance, and environmental and social impacts must all be managed, beginning with packaging design and specifications, moving to manufacturing and distribution, and then the end-of-life of a material.

Discussing sustainability and packaging trends in this Q&A, PaperWorks Industries’ corporate sustainability directory Kyla Fisher shed some light on what the environment for paperboard packaging looks like now.

Sustainable Materials

Q: Are you seeing an increased demand for certain types of sustainable materials?

Kyla Fisher: Absolutely. Our customers are asking for higher percentages of post-consumer recycled (PCR) content in paperboard than ever before. Many of the Fortune 1000 have set the goal of increasing PCR content in their material and are looking for suppliers that can help them achieve a gradual increase over the next decade. In addition, some customers are looking for completely plastic-free and additive-free packaging solutions to address consumer concerns around estrogenic compounds leaching into food and beverage products as well as at end-of-life disposal.

We [also] are seeing more requests for biodegradable film in windows on cartons and in blister packs. However, the [packaging] industry is still exploring the limits of biodegradable materials, looking to see how these materials will be handled in the recycling stream, and if our current collection and waste systems are adequately set up to handle degradable materials.

Brands are also interested in sustainable package coatings and printing. PaperWorks’ Holobrite, for example, replaces printing directly on foil or holographic board while still providing the reflective nature of these materials. Typically, holographic effects render packaging non-recyclable, [but this] process maintains the packaging’s recyclability by micro-embossing a reflective coating onto CRB [coated recycled boxboard].

Q: What issues are currently on the materials regulatory front? Is there anything new on the horizon?

KF: One issue on the radar is in the European Union, where there is growing sensitivity over chemical use in consumer products. Recently, there has been concern regarding the potential risks associated with mineral oil in food packaging. It has been argued that mineral oil saturate hydrocarbons (MOSH), which may be found in recycled packaging, are migrating out of the paperboard into other products. Concern over MOSH is a relatively new development that is still being addressed; however, the science behind the claims is being contested. The E.U. has deferred regulating MOSH until they have developed a more comprehensive process to assess the true impact of chemicals in packaging.