John Kalkowski

January 29, 2014

5 Min Read
More companies turn to renewable packaging
Glass bottle recycling

It's not always what you make, but how you wrap it.

In an effort to drive sales and attract new customers, more and more companies nationwide are looking at ways to package their products using recycled or renewable materials.


Nestle Purina PetCare's Purina One Beyond will use a cornstarch-based lining in its bags and will be printed with soy-based ink. The product will roll out early next year. "Consumers are really looking to associate themselves with brands that have a cause beyond the product itself," said Nestle Purina Brand Manager Heather Scott.


After months of testing, St. Louis-based Nestle Purina found that trading the petroleum-based liner for one made from  polylactic acid, a polymer made from cornstarch, doesn't decrease the product's shelf life, Scott said. The brand will be produced at four plants nationwide, including one in Missouri.


Demand for degradable plastics in the United States is projected to increase 16.6 percent annually through 2014, due in part to increased consumer demand for environmentally friendly packaging, according to an August 2010 report by Cleveland-based market research firm The Freedonia Group.


The trick for companies will be to find ways to tap consumer demand for greener packaging without raising prices, said James Glenn president and CEO of Household Essentials, a Hazelwood company that makes laundry and storage products. "Our research says customers won't pay more for it," he said.

In a board room at Household Essentials' headquarters, dozens of laundry and storage products line the walls and show the company's efforts to reduce plastic packaging. The company stopped using polyvinyl chloride (PVC) in its packaging three years ago after Wal-Mart and other retailers set guidelines for its suppliers to reduce PVC, which releases dioxin when incinerated and can pose health risks.


"We have a company objective to eliminate plastic packaging in our products," Glenn said. "The primary reason is because of the environmental concerns." Household Essentials now uses cotton bags in place of plastic for its ironing board covers and has tweaked the packaging on other products to decrease plastic. Once the package is opened, the cotton bag becomes a pouch that can hold water bottles or other ironing accessories.


Household Essentials' success with using cotton packaging instead of plastic for its ironing board covers prompted the company to expand its use of biodegradable materials, Glenn said. Household Essentials' products are manufactured in China and distributed from Hazelwood.


After a significant sales increase, Glenn projects Household Essentials will reach between $35 million and $40 million in revenue this year.


Household Essentials's new Fibertech ironing board top launched this fall is made of ground natural grain fiber wastes, including rice and wheat, instead of steel. The top degrades in less than 180 days in a landfill, a claim that is independently verified by an outside firm, Microbe Inotech Laboratories in Shrewsbury.


Glenn said the new ironing boards, which will be available in early 2011, will be comparable in price to steel-based ironing board tops.


EnviroPAK in Earth City, which has provided alternatives to foam and plastic packaging since it was founded in 1996, has only recently started to see the packaging become popular in a wider variety of industries, said vice president Bill Noble.


EnviroPAK uses recycled newspaper mixed with water to create recyclable molds. Noble said the company was seeing increased demand from consumer product and medical device companies. EnviroPAK recently bought a new hot press machine that will allow it to smooth out the molded pulp packaging on both sides, instead of one side only, so it can be used in a wider variety of packaging applications. "We're seeing double-digit sales growth this year, and custom packaging is our biggest area of growth," Noble said.


Silgan Plastics in Chesterfield, which makes plastic bottles and tubes for major consumer goods companies, including Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble, is seeing requests from its customers to use post-consumer recycled plastics (PCR), said Marketing Manager Stacy Sheridan.


But Sheridan said customers' resistance to PCR was because of fluctuating prices compared with oil-based resins. When oil prices rise, PCR becomes more attractive. When oil prices drop, using recycled materials can be a higher-priced alternative.

"It all boils down to costs," she said. "It's been hard for customers to be able to justify it." Silgan Plastics recently completed testing on a new high-density PCR material for food applications that it will begin to offer to customers. "We just got the results back, and from a processing perspective, it's the same as any other PCR material." As more companies tout their use of recyclable and renewable materials, newly proposed Federal Trade Commission guidelines on the use of environmental marketing claims would provide better guidance for the packaging industry.


The proposed changes to the FTC's Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims, or Green Guides, were introduced in October and would require companies to provide scientific evidence to substantiate claims of being eco-friendly. The FTC is seeking comment on the revisions until Dec. 10 before the revisions are finalized.

"In the last couple of years, we've seen a lot of companies make environmental claims that were not substantiated, and these guidelines should decrease 'greenwashing' in the marketplace," said Minal Mistry, project manager at the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, a project of Charlottesville, Va.-based nonprofit GreenBlue.


Experimenting with new packaging materials isn't without its pitfalls. Dallas-based Frito-Lay, which is owned by PepsiCo, introduced a biodegradable bag in January for all six of its Sun Chips flavors. But the company reverted back to its standard packaging for most of the flavors in October because consumers complained the starch-based compostable bags were too noisy. Since October, the biodegradable bags have been available in only Sun Chips' original flavor.


Frito-Lay spokesman Chris Kuechenmeister said the company was developing a second generation version of its biodegradable bags, based on customer feedback.


"It's definitely going to be part of our plans in the future," Kuechenmeister said of biodegradable packaging. "We're not pulling back on it. We're still very committed to it."

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