Lightweighting Equals More Sustainable, Right?, Volume 11, Issue 2

Lightweighting Equals More Sustainable, Right?

Volume 11, Issue 2

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Lightweighting Equals More Sustainable, Right?



Single-serving polyethylene terephthalate (PET) water bottles weigh about half what they did in the early 2000s. With weights as low as 7.5 grams for a half-liter bottle, it sounds like a sustainability success story.


Not necessarily, according to a white paper published by Plastic Technologies, Inc., Holland, Ohio. The authors of the paper, Research Shows which PET Water Bottle Design Attributes Impact Recycling, examine water bottles purchased from store shelves in the U.S., Europe, Mexico and India. Although lighter weight means smaller carbon footprint, the study shows sustainability benefits associated with lighter weight are being offset by lower bale yields and contamination caused by poor label, ink, colorant and closure choices.

Contamination impacts sustainability by reducing the quality of the resulting recycled PET. Unfortunately, the study shows many brand owners do not adhere to generally accepted recyclability guidelines during the design process. As a result, contamination by label, ink, colorant and closure materials is widespread.

In addition, the researchers found lighter bottles increase the gross number of bottles in a bale, which in turn boosts the number of non-PET bottles in the mix. More bottles and more non-PET containers lower yields compared to bales of heavier bottles.

Lighter bottles also cause inefficiencies in mechanical separation processes. Thin and lighter flakes are lost with labels during elutriation, and sorting may divert flattened bottles along with sheet and film.

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More Packs Carry How2Recycle Labels

We’re seeing more packages carrying How2Recycle labels. This trend is likely to continue as several major consumer packaged goods companies, including Barilla, Northbrook, IL; Kraft Heinz Co., Pittsburgh and Chicago; and Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media, Glendale, CA, have joined the effort. In addition Target, Minneapolis, MN, plans to add the label to all packaging for its own brands by 2020 (if space permits).

How2Recycle, a project of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC), Charlottesville, VA, is a standardized on-package recycling label that clearly communicates recycling instructions to the public. How2Recycle labels also include a URL ( where consumers can go to find more information about recycling.

“Kids are amazing, open-minded learners; by putting How2Recycle’s accurate and easy-to-understand recycling labels on their toy packaging, Disney is demonstrating a commitment to empowering the next generation of recyclers,” says Kelly Cramer, senior manager at SPC.

The first Kraft Heinz brands to carry the How2Recycle label include Back to Nature, Philadelphia (cream cheese) and Cracker Barrel (macaroni and cheese). “How2Recycle’s simple and concise on-pack recycling instructions make it easier for consumers to do what’s right for the environment and support the sustainable health of our planet,” says Michael Mullen, senior vice president of Corporate and Government Affairs at Kraft Heinz.

Companies can join How2Recycle without being a member of SPC, but SPC members do receive a discounted membership.

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Repreve rPET Receives Clearance For Food Contact

Post-consumer-recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) produced by Unifi, Inc., Reidsville, NC, at its Repreve® Bottle Processing Center can be used to produce food-grade packaging such as clamshells, trays and baskets for fresh fruits, vegetables and shell eggs. Unifi recently received a Letter of No Objection for food contact from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The vertically integrated, custom-designed Repreve Bottle Processing Center can produce 75 million pounds of clean bottle flake per year. Unifi receives baled PET bottles from materials recovery facilities across the eastern United States and uses multiple processes to segregate and remove any undesirable materials such as non-PET containers, labels, debris and caps. The remaining PET bottles are chopped into flake, washed, dried and bagged for use in the production of Unifi’s recycled Repreve fiber or chip; flake also can be sold for use in a variety of consumer packaging applications such as thermoformed food-grade packaging, as well as non-food applications like strapping and film.

Since inception, Unifi has recycled more than 5 billion PET bottles into Repreve fiber for apparel, automotive, outdoor and home products.


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Keep Toys Out Of Landfills

The #LessWasteChallenge, organized by Tom’s of Maine, Kennebunk, ME, a supplier of natural personal-care products, and TerraCycle, Trenton, NJ, recycles old and broken toys.

“Toys are a waste stream people don’t think about that often, but the amount of broken toys sent to landfills is significant, and there hasn’t been a way to dispose of them,” says Tom Szaky, founder and CEO of TerraCycle. “Parents can now feel good knowing that broken toys can be 100% recycled or reused,” he explains.

“We want to show our kids there are better solutions [than throwing the broken toys away],” says Susan Dewhirst, goodness programs manager at Tom’s of Maine. She adds, “The act of recycling a toy together can be a way for parents to start a conversation with their kids about what we can all do to take care of the planet for generations.”

Recycling broken toys involves a four-step process:

  • Visit
  • Enter contact information to receive a free UPS shipping label via email that can be printed at home
  • Fill an old box with up to 10 pounds of broken toys
  • Attach the free shipping label to the box and drop it off at UPS

Tom’s of Maine also encourages families to participate in the #LessWasteChallenge and pledge to reduce their household waste by 1 pound per week. Since 2016, consumers have pledged to keep more than 200,000 pounds out of landfills. The #LessWasteChallenge website also offers fun do-it-yourself projects that involve the entire family in waste reduction.

Tom’s of Maine has made its own #LessWasteChallenge pledge: zero waste to landfill from its manufacturing facility in Maine by 2020. The company also has partnered with TerraCycle to create the Natural Care Recycling Program. Now with 8,590 participating locations, the program collects personal care packaging from any brand, and has diverted 700,000 pieces of packaging from landfills since it began in 2012.



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Alliance Develops 100% Bio-Based Pet Bottles From Biomass

Danone, Paris, France, and Nestlé Waters, Stamford, CT, the world’s two largest bottled water companies, join forces with Origin Materials, a startup based in Sacramento, CA, to form the NaturALL Bottle Alliance.


The goal is to develop and launch at commercial scale a polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottle made solely from bio-based material. The next-generation PET will be equal in weight, transparency, recyclability and protective qualities as conventional PET, but 100% renewable.

The exclusive use of renewable feedstocks which do not divert resources or land from food production is the Alliance’s main focus. Although R&D efforts initially center on cardboard, sawdust and wood chips, other biomass materials, such as rice hulls, straw and agricultural residue could be explored.

Origin Materials has already produced samples of 80% bio-based PET in its pilot plant in Sacramento. Construction of a “pioneer plant” will begin in 2017 with production of the first samples of 60+% bio-based PET to start in 2018 with an initial volume goal of 5,000 metric tons. Further commercial scale process development should deliver PET bottles with at least 75% bio-based content as early as in 2020, scaling up to 95% in 2022 and eventually reach 100%.

“Our goal is to establish a circular economy for packaging by sourcing sustainable materials and creating a second life for all plastics,” declares Frederic Jouin, head of R&D for plastic materials at Danone. He explains, “We believe it’s possible to replace traditional fossil materials with bio-based packaging materials. By teaming up and bringing together our complementary expertise and resources, the Alliance can move faster in developing 100% renewable and recyclable PET plastic at commercial scale.”

Danone and Nestlé Waters are providing expertise and teams, as well as financial support, to help Origin Materials make this technology available to the entire food and beverage industry in record time. “With the help of our Alliance partners, Origin Materials will be able to scale up a technology which has already been proven at the pilot level,” says John Bissell, CEO of Origin Materials.

“It’s incredible to think that, in the near future, the industry will be able to use a renewably sourced packaging material, which does not compete with food production and contributes to a better planet,” concludes Klaus Hartwig, head of R&D for Nestlé Waters.


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Oxo-Biodegradable Plastics Need More Study And Standardized Regs

The variety of formulations, toxicity fears and lack of regulations, test standards and suitable certifications block adoption of oxo-biodegradable plastics, according to a report prepared by Eunomia Research & Consulting Ltd., Bristol, UK, for the European Commission, Directorate-General for the Environment.

The report, The Impact of the Use of “Oxo-degradable” Plastic on the Environment, refers to the materials as “pro-oxidant additive containing (PAC) plastic” and concludes more study is needed to determine whether these materials biodegrade in real-life conditions, how long biodegradation takes and whether this timeframe is reasonable. It also stresses the need to develop standards if the materials are to remain on the market in Europe. Such standards should include toxicity tests that demonstrate the product does not have a negative toxic effect on the environment if it ends up as litter.

Other conclusions include:

  • PAC plastic should not be considered compostable
  • There’s no evidence that PAC plastic solves the problem of marine litter
  • PAC plastics cannot be identified and separated in collection systems and recycling processes and negatively affect the quality, price and marketability of recyclate.
  • More research is needed to determine whether biodegradability encourages people to litter

The report was mandated by an amendment to the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive, adopted in May 2015, after a proposal by the European Parliament to ban “oxo-degradable” plastics within the EU was blocked. Authors of the 150-page study, which is available for free download on the EU Bookshop website, reviewed existing scientific literature and gathered input from stakeholders.


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Attention Turns To Reducing Food Waste And Fighting Hunger

Reducing food waste and fighting hunger are receiving attention globally, regionally and locally. The efforts seek to reduce the amount of food that’s never eaten, currently about one-third of all food produced in the world. The goal is to mitigate the resulting economic, social and environmental consequences.

Champions 12.3, the global coalition of CEOs, government ministers, global institution executives and civil society leaders is working to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goal Target 12.3: Halve food waste and reduce food loss globally by 2030.

One focus is economics. A study undertaken for Champions 12.3 shows for every $1 invested to reduce food loss and waste, companies save $14 in operating costs – concrete evidence of the clear return on investment from food loss and waste reduction.

In a first-of-its kind analysis, The Business Case for Reducing Food Loss and Waste study evaluated financial cost and benefit data for 1,200 sites across 700 companies in 17 countries, finding that nearly every site realized a positive return on its investment to reduce food waste. Investments included:

  • Quantifying and monitoring food loss and waste
  • Training staff on practices to reduce waste • Changing food storage and handling processes
  • Changing packaging to extend shelf-life
  • Changing date labels
  • Other staff and technology investments

The 14:1 return on investment comes from

  • Not buying food that would have been lost or wasted
  • Increasing the share of food that is sold to customers
  • Introducing products made from food that otherwise would have been lost or wasted
  • Reducing waste management costs
  • Other savings 

The report recommends a target, measure, act approach:

  • Set a target to halve food loss and waste
  • Measure food loss and waste to identify areas of improvement and monitor progress
  • Implement programs and practices for reducing food loss and waste


Closer to home, the Food Processing Suppliers Association (FPSA), McLean, VA, has launched the 2017 Defeat Hunger campaign. It will conclude at Process Expo (Sept. 19-22, 2017, McCormick Place, Chicago).

The FPSA Foundation has made a commitment to contribute $75,000 at Process Expo and set up an online portal for donations. A food drive at Process Expo also will help the Greater Chicago Food Depository address food insecurity in Cook County.

“Over the past two shows, the Defeat Hunger campaign has…generated enough donations to provide over 560,000 meals to the people of Cook County,” reports Jeff Dahl, chairman of the FPSA Foundation. “Given the impressive participation of our exhibitors and other partners of the campaign, our goal for 2017 is to add another 400,000 meals to our total and continue raising awareness of this critical issue.”

Los Angeles-based Natierra® is feeding the hungry one package at a time. In its Feed a Soul Project, the company will donate one meal to a child in Haiti for each package of its Himalania® Himalayan Pink Salt and Goji Berries. It’s goal is to supply 1 million meals by 2018.

The meals will be distributed by Convoy of Hope, Springfield, MO, a nonprofit organization that feeds children in 11 countries. Children receive their daily meal in the classroom, because improving school attendance is key to empowering children and their families through education.

“The objective of our ‘Feed a Soul’ Project is to turn everyday purchases into lifelong impact on children," says Thierry Ollivier, Natierra founder and CEO. “We want to give customers a chance to play a part in changing a child’s life, one purchase at a time. Natierra’s mission is to offer innovative and high-quality Superfoods that give back to social and environmental causes, a mission reflected in our tagline, ‘Superfoods with Soul.’”

A more local effort is being undertaken by Perdue Farms, Salisbury, MD. A season-long campaign with the Salisbury-based Delmarva Shorebirds, the Class A Minor League Baseball affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles, will support three area food banks, Eastern Shore Branch of the Maryland Food Bank, the Food Bank of Delaware and the Eastern Shore Branch of the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia.

To jumpstart the 2017 Perdue Strike Out Hunger Challenge on Delmarva, the Franklin P. and Arthur W. Perdue Foundation — the charitable giving arm of Perdue Farms — has issued a $15,000 challenge grant. The first $10,000 will be divided equally and requires each food bank to raise the equivalent of 10,000 meals. In addition, Perdue will donate $10 each time a Shorebirds pitcher strikes out an opposing batter (up to $5,000). The $5,000 also will be divided equally. This year’s campaign continues a collaborative effort between Perdue and the Delmarva Shorebirds that began in 2011.

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About the author

Hallie Forcinio has covered packaging-related environmental topics for more than 25 years, first as an editor on Food & Drug Packaging magazine (now Packaging Strategies) and more recently as a freelance packaging journalist and principal of Forcinio Communications, an editorial services firm. “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 Pharmaceutical Technology, Dairy Foods and National Provisioner. She also serves as editorial director of the PACK EXPO Show Daily.

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