Sustainable Efforts, Volume 1, Issue 2

Sustainable Efforts

Volume 1, Issue 2

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Sustainable Efforts

What is sustainable packaging?

It’s easy to equate sustainable packaging with a single attribute like renewable material, source reduction, recycled content or recyclability. In reality sustainable packaging involves a complex interaction of characteristics.

Sustainable package design should consider economic and social factors as well as environmental.* In other words, a package made from renewable resources, for example, should not be described as “sustainable” if it isn’t cost-competitive or doesn’t provide the functionality the product/consumer needs.

Wal-Mart Stores, Bentonville, AR, which is pushing its suppliers to adopt sustainable packaging to help it reach its goal of zero waste by 2025, understands the multifaceted nature of sustainability. “If it’s not sustainable financially, then we shouldn’t be doing it,” Matt Kistler, vice president, Package and Product Innovations at Sam’s Club, told the audience at PACK EXPO 2006 during a keynote presentation introducing the retailer’s Packaging Scorecard, which compares each package against others in its product category.

On 1 February 2008 after a year-long phase-in, the retailer plans to begin measuring suppliers with the Packaging Scorecard. With the deadline approaching, it’s imperative that consumer packaged goods companies know where their packaging stands currently and how it could be improved. Otherwise, even the package ranked best in a category could quickly slip in the standings if a competitor introduces a design that scores better due to reduction in greenhouse gas/carbon dioxide generation per ton of production, better product/package ratio, improved cube utilization, higher levels of recycled content or higher recovery value.

To help suppliers compare designs, Wal-Mart offers Package Modeling software ( developed in collaboration with Thumbprint Ltd. and Efficient Collaborative Retail Marketing, related firms based in Solon, OH. An annual subscription sells for $900 with additional seat licenses for $75. The retailer also advocates right sizing of packaging to reduce cube and material usage and replacement of nonrecyclable materials with recyclable.

Several other software programs support sustainable package design. For example, the MERGE package design screening software from the Sustainable Packaging Coalition rates package designs according to seven criteria and provides an immediate comparison. Tops Pro software from TOPS Engineering Corp., Richardson, TX, and Cape Pack software from Cape Systems, Inc., Allen, TX, help optimize designs at all levels from primary package to pallet stacking pattern.

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Sustainability theme underlies PACK EXPO Las Vegas

Sustainability: the New Manufacturing Imperative served as the theme for the PACK EXPO Las Vegas trade show and co-located Conference at PACK EXPO, 15-17 October 2007. In addition to a track dedicated to sustainability, speakers in the other conference tracks touched on the topic.

On the show floor, exhibitors discussed environmentally friendly products/processes, including biopolymers and energy savings.

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Source Reduction

Beverage makers commercialize lighter bottles

Two major players in the beverage market, Nestlé Waters North America Inc., Greenwich, CT, and Coca-Cola Co., Atlanta, GA, have introduced lightweighted bottles.

Nestlé Waters boasts that it has the lightest polyethylene terephthalate (PET) water bottle on the market. The half-liter Eco-shape container weighs 12.5 grams, about 30% less than half-liter PET bottles used by other bottled water companies. The smooth-shouldered container with low pinched waist combines strength with grippability. It uses the same 26.7-millimetre closure as its predecessor, but the label is 30% smaller to provide additional material savings.

Conversion to the container required some minor filling line modifications to handle empties more gently and some fine-tuning of secondary packaging.

Consumers like the new bottle and respond even more positively to it after learning about its improved environmental profile. Already in use in the United States for Ozarka and Arrowhead brands and in Canada for its Pure Life brand, Nestlé Waters plans to adopt the Eco-shape design for other brands and sizes.

The pressure of the carbonation means carbonated soft drinks require a heavier container. However, source reduction still is possible. Coca-Cola has redesigned its 20-ounce contour bottle to cut resin consumption 5%.

The new design, which will be used for all of Coca-Cola’s carbonated soft drink brands, incorporates enhanced texture and gripping features, plus an embossed Coca-Cola logo and signature ribbon. Most of the weight savings comes from use of a shorter cap, which reduces the amount of material needed in the neck finish.

Marketing emphasizes the container’s grippability and portability rather than lighter weight with the tag line, “Get a Grip on Your Thirst.”

Coca-Cola also has introduced a lightweighted, yet impact-resistant contour glass bottle. Used primarily outside the United States, the lighter container saved 89,000 metric tons of glass in 2006.

Two more firms introduce short-skirt closures
The availability of source-reduced short-skirt closures appears to be accelerating on a global scale. At least three cap makers now offer short-skirt styles: Corvaglia, Eschlikon, Switzerland; Global Closure Systems (GCS), Paris, France; and Alcoa Closure Systems International, Indianapolis, IN (see TricorBraun Sustainability Times, July/August 2007).

The PCO Corvaglia short-skirt cap is about 1 gram lighter than standard designs. Since it matches the three-start 26.8-millimeter (mm) Alaska finish and maintains the distance between the neck ring and tamper band, few filling line modifications are needed to convert to it. Application requires two full turns, which reportedly improve sealing and release performance versus short-skirt designs that seat in fewer turns. Three versions accommodate still, lightly carbonated and high carbonated beverages.

Similar weight savings are possible with one- or two-piece 28mm closures from the Obrist division of GCS.

Meanwhile, a sub-committee organized by the International Society of Beverage Technologists ( is working to finalize a voluntary standard for the short-skirt PCO 1881 finish, a potential replacement for the standard PCO 1810 finish.

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Recycling/Recycled Content

Coca-Cola advances recycling, use of recycled content

A few years back, Coca-Cola Co., Atlanta, GA, promised to incorporate 10% recycled content in its polyethylene terephthalate (PET) containers. It achieved its goal in 2004 and managed to maintain 10% recycled content for about a year. However, it quickly realized that to consistently incorporate recycled content at 10% or higher levels meant increasing the number of PET bottles being recycled and improving bottle-to-bottle recycling technology. 

Since then the company has continued to invest in technology development and improving recycling rates. It also recently committed to recycling 100% of its containers with an interim goal of 30% by 2010. 

In August 2007, it announced a $60 million investment in recycling technology and recycling programs. Most of the $60 million will be used in conjunction with United Resource Recovery Corp., Spartanburg, SC, to build the world’s largest PET bottle-to-bottle recycling plant in Spartanburg. Scheduled to be in full operation in 2009, the plant will produce 100 million pounds of food-grade recycled PET (RPET) per year, the equivalent of 2 billion 20-ounce Coca-Cola bottles. Coca-Cola plans to blend the recycled resin with virgin resin to make new containers. Replacing virgin PET with RPET saves energy and reduces waste and greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, during its first decade, the Spartanburg facility will eliminate 1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, the equivalent of cutting the population of cars by 21,500. 

Plans call for construction of additional PET recycling plants in the United States. Coca-Cola also supports recycling facilities in Switzerland, Mexico, Austria and The Philippines. 

Coca-Cola invests in curbside recycling programs and has formed Coca-Cola Recycling LLC, a joint venture with Coca-Cola Enterprises, the company’s largest bottler. Its mission is to improve recycling rates for all packaging formats used by the company – glass, metal and PET. 

To make consumers more aware of the importance of recycling, Coca-Cola has created a line of Coca-Cola merchandise made from RPET. It soon will be available in retail outlets nationwide as well as at the New World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta and from its online store,

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Renewable Materials

Metabolix commercializes compostable biopolymer

It’s taken several years to arrive at this point, but Metabolix Inc., Cambridge, MA, is on the verge of full-scale commercialization of its family of Mirel Natural Plastic biopolymers. The compostable polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) biopolymers are derived from renewable resources like corn sugar via an aerobic fermentation process.  

Production relies on green energy so the only petroleum associated with Metabolix Natural Plastic biopolymers is in the cultivation, transportation and processing of the corn. As a result, petroleum consumption is cut 90% versus traditional plastic and greenhouse gas emissions are 66% lower. 

The resulting biopolymers process on existing injection molding and extrusion equipment, are ultraviolet resistant and exhibit relatively high barrier properties. 

Three grades of resin, two for injection molding and one for paper coating, have been introduced by Telles, a joint venture formed by Metabolix and Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), Decatur, IL, to manufacture, market and sell Mirel resin. The injection molding grades, Mirel P1001 and Mirel P1002, are designed to replace, respectively, styrenics such as polystyrene and polyolefins such as polypropylene. Mirel P2001 delivers the high heat resistance needed for coated paper hot cups and microwaveable packaging.  


Metabolix, Inc. is founded. Metabolix and ADM form strategic alliance to commercialize natural plastics. Metabolix and ADM form Telles joint venture. Metabolix completes an initial public offering. Metabolix begins working with Australia’s Cooperative Research Center for Sugar Industry Innovation through Biotechnology to develop plastics from sugar cane. Telles plans to start up first commercial-scale Mirel resin manufacturing plant in Clinton, IA.

PE doesn’t have to be hydrocarbon based
Polyethylene that’s derived from sugar cane, but molecularly equivalent to conventional hydrocarbon-based resin, will be produced by a joint venture between Dow Chemical Co., Midland, MI, and Crystalsev, Sao Paulo, Brazil.

The facility to be built in Brazil will use Dow’s Solution technology and ethanol made from sugar cane to produce 350,000 metric tons of Dowlex linear low density polyethylene (LLDPE) per year. Rigid containers and flexible packaging made from the resin will exhibit the same performance characteristics and recyclability of conventional LLDPE. However, it’s predicted the ethanol-based resin production process will generate fewer greenhouse gas emissions. The plant is expected to start up in 2011.

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 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



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