Lamb Weston unveils sustainably optimized food packaging

By Rick Lingle in Sustainable Packaging on January 31, 2018

Kraft paper bags of frozen french fries distributed through institutional markets that are now certified recyclable have the potential to annually divert up to 30-million pounds of packaging material from landfills to the recycling stream.

 

A successful partnership between Lamb Weston, Eagle, ID, and vendor Graphic Packaging Intl. Inc., yields sustainable packaging benefits that are no small potatoes.

They do, however, literally involve small fries, as in french fries and its packaging destined for foodservice and institutional markets. The fries are distributed in environmentally-friendly Tite-Pak packaging, which is now recyclable in established Old Corrugated Container (OCC) and mixed paper recycling streams.

“We’re committed to finding new and innovative ways to help our operators reduce waste, cut costs and ensure everyone is doing their part to protect the environment,” says Deb Dihel, vp innovation for Lamb Weston. “The optimized Tite-Pak packaging will reduce the environmental impacts of our product packaging by enabling the diversion of this material to be recycled in an already established recycling stream, with no increased cost to the operator.”

Lamb Weston’s packaging engineering team has been working to help customers meet their sustainability goals, and fry bags were identified as a primary target for reducing waste going to landfills.

When implemented at full capacity, Lamb Weston officials say the new Tite-Pak recyclable institutional french fries bag packaging initiative has the potential to divert up to 30-million pounds of packaging material from the landfill to the recycling stream annually.

 “The opportunity to remark with confidence that our Tite-Pak packaging can actually be recycled at the operator level sets the tone for a new standard of sustainability focused initiatives across our organization and the industry,” says Dihel.

Working alongside GPI, Lamb Weston developed, qualified and optimized recyclable Tite-Pak (Kraft) institutional french fry bag material. The process included material qualification at Lamb Weston plants, Fibre Box Association (FBA) certification for repulpability, OCC batch digester testing at GPI Santa Clara, continuous digester testing at KapStone Longview, and laboratory testing at International Paper to qualify Tite-Pak repulpability in the mixed paper stream.

Upon completion, Tite-Pak exceeded FBA’s repulpability standard (80% recoverable fiber), with an 89% recoverable fiber content. Pilot studies at Michigan State University and Washington State Universities proved the application practical on a small scale.

Kim Williams, director project management, research and development, responds to Packaging Digest’s questions about the optimized packaging.

How important is sustainable packaging to the company?

Williams: Lamb Weston’s mission is to create solutions that inspire and serve our consumers with a food they love and trust. Packaging and sustainability are critical components in our ability to deliver on this mission.

We have a sustainable packaging goal to develop packaging specifications that protect product integrity through the supply chain, and minimize environmental impacts, while remaining fiscally responsible. One of the methods Lamb Weston has pursued is an increased use of sustainable packaging technologies. As far as project ranking for overall company initiatives, this is one of the most exciting sustainable packaging developments Lamb Weston has achieved thus far. This effort was recognized with a top award in our internal Sustainability Awards program in 2017.

What’s the project’s timing?

Williams:  We completed the work in two phases. Phase 1 was material development and trial in our manufacturing plants when we started using the new Tite-Pak package material.

Phase 2 included confirming recyclability, obtaining certification, testing in recycling plants and completing case studies.

The idea of a recyclable version of the Tite-Pak material dates back to 2010, when Lamb Weston first approached GPI about developing and introducing a more sustainable version of this packaging material. During this time frame we had some small successes, although the package came at a premium cost and was not the most efficient material for GPI to make or Lamb Weston to use. These two obstacles, combined with a less mature recycle infrastructure, kept us from gaining traction on the project at the time.

However, as with most things related to sustainable development, persistence and patience paid off as GPI and Lamb Weston continued to seek innovative ways to continuously improve this important packaging component. In the summer of 2015 a reformulated version of Tite-Pak packaging passed the Fibre Box Association’s definition for repulpability/fiber recovery.

Commercial testing of the package occurred between late 2015 and early 2016. Tests were conducted in collaboration with GPI and KapStone Container and covered repulpability of the material in both a batch and continuous digester.

University pilots began in January 2017, and ran for six months. This methodical approach to testing and use of pilot programs helped ensure this new-to-recycle stream material was thoroughly vetted before entering the market.

What was the specific packaging format before and what was its end of life?

Williams: The paper has always been recyclable, but in the previous package format the poly coating did not easily and completely separate from the paper, which made it non-recyclable. The key change has been the optimization. The poly coating now separates completely from the paper, making fiber recovery in the re-pulping process possible.

Tite-Pak is natural Kraft paper from virgin fibers with a polyethylene blend coating on the inside, which easily separates from the paper during the recycle process. Tite-Pak has 88.7% recoverable natural kraft fibers, which is a high-quality material.

There has been no change to the weight or volume of the packaging materials.

 

What’s the current status system-wide for the packaging?

Williams: The packaging is used for customers around the world. That said, we have not vetted recycle infrastructure in all areas where this package is currently used.

 

What was the toughest decision to make?

Williams: Because recycling is not standardized regarding what is or is not recyclable, and because the logistics and markets change from location to location, it was not an easy decision to make.

 

Any differences in cost or performance?

Williams: There is no cost impact to customers. The packaging is made of Kraft paper bags, so they tear open easily.

 

Were any packaging production changes needed?

Williams: Our manufacturing facilities run this material regularly and the new film has not required any operational modification, nor were there any changes to primary or secondary packaging specifications.

 

What more can you say about the relationship with GPI?

Williams: GPI and Lamb Weston’s relationship dates back more than 30 years. The longevity of this partnership translates to GPI being well versed in the frozen potato packaging space and also having a keen understanding of Lamb Weston’s focus on continuous improvement and sustainable packaging. This factor, combined with GPI’s technical expertise, made our partnership a natural fit to bring this development to fruition.

Customer-University comments

“Michigan State University Surplus Store and Recycling Center has a goal of increasing our waste diversion rate to 70 percent by the end of 2017,” says Carla Iansiti, Residential and Hospitality Services Sustainability Officer at Michigan State University. “Incorporating the fry bag into our existing recycling stream allows us to reduce the amount of material sent to the landfill, which results in increased diversion and recycling rates.”

“Lamb Weston and Graphic Packaging are bringing us one step closer to our goal by creating a product that with minimal effort allows Washington State University to divert an item traditionally headed to the landfill to the recycling stream,” said Jason Sampson, Assistant Director, Environmental Health & Safety at Washington State University.

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