By replacing its poly-coated carton for fabric softener sheets with an economical recyclable/repulpable alternative, Seventh Generation qualifies for the “Widely Recycled” claim on its How2Recycle label and gets a step closer to its 2020 zero-waste goal.
Yet this new carton—which marks its national debut in the first quarter of 2017 for the company’s 80-count fabric softener sheets in two fragrances: Free & Clear and Blue Eucalyptus & Lavender—offers better barrier properties.
How is this possible? The eight-month-long project began in March 2016 and the updated production specification was officially released in November. The packaging change did not require a switch in carton suppliers (Seventh Generation sources this carton from two companies but prefers not to identify them)—but it did require a change in paperboard for the cartons.
The new board stock is HiQ Eco(B) from Hansol Paper, the largest paper mill in Korea, and contains at least 60% post-consumer recycled (PCR) content and sometimes as much as 88%.
HiQ Eco(B) paperboard uses EarthCoating from Smart Planet Technologies as the liner. Hansol Paper began licensing the EarthCoating technology at the end of 2015. EarthCoating is created by blending low-cost calcium carbonate into polyolefin resin, which displaces between 40% and 60% of the plastic.
According to Smart Planet Technologies, EarthCoating is engineered for efficient processing in paper recycling systems. It fractures into small, dense particles in the pulping process, thereby avoiding the challenges found with traditional plastic coatings on paperboard. EarthCoating is repulpable and recyclable because of the blending in of the minerals, and it behaves differently in the pulper. That’s why the package qualifies for the “Widely Recycled” label.
The reduction of plastic is a bonus attribute, but highly appealing as well. Kelly Murosky, Seventh Generation packaging engineer, says, “That is important to us as we look to remove all virgin petroleum-based plastics from our packaging materials by 2020. Many of our bottles are already 100% PCR.”
The EarthCoating mineralized poly compound is extrusion coated onto the paperboard at high speeds. This alternative barrier coating is waterproof and grease-proof, as well as heat sealable. Although not needed in this case, EarthCoating is also compliant with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for food contact applications.
For the Seventh Generation dryer sheets project, the base paper is 400 grams per meter squared and the EarthCoating is 20 g/m2, applied on the inside of the carton. (EarthCoating can also be applied to a package exterior, providing barrier properties and a premium print surface.)
By making this change in packaging materials, Seventh Generation is able to upgrade its cartons from the less appealing “Check Locally” description on the How2Recycle label from the Sustainable Packaging Coalition to the coveted “Widely Recycled” category.
Murosky answers Packaging Digest’s questions about the project.
Why is it so important to qualify for the “Widely Recycled” claim?
Murosky: We try to reduce our packaging materials sent to landfill. Zero waste is one of our 2020 goals, so we strive to design products and packaging that is recyclable or biodegradable.
Did you make any other changes to the packaging at the same time (graphics, for example)?
Murosky: No other changes were made besides the paperboard substrate and coating. Our How2Recycle logo will need to be updated on the artwork, but we’re waiting to make that change because other artwork updates are in the pipeline for the fabric softener sheet cartons. [Editor’s note: All those updates will appear in 1Q2017.]
Was the change a cost-neutral solution? Was that an important consideration in your decision to make the switch?
Murosky: Yes, the change was cost neutral. As with any project, you want to keep cost increases to a minimum. However, as a company, we have an internal carbon tax that we use to fund packaging sustainability changes. Essentially that fund helps offset the price increase to new sustainable packaging components so that it does not affect margin. Luckily, in this case, we did not have a cost increase to offset.
What other solutions did you consider and why didn’t you go with them?
Murosky: No other solutions were considered. We would have stuck with our current poly coating if the project was not successful.
Did your manufacturing partner [which Seventh Generation asked not to be named] have to make any changes to the packaging line because of the new cartons?
Murosky: No line changes were needed. The new board substrate had no effect on packing line efficiencies or scrap.
What tests did you do to ensure the new box was compatible with the product and protected it?
Murosky: We have a vigorous qualification process at Seventh Generation. I put the product through a variety of tests to ensure that the new substrate preformed at parity or better to our current configuration. There was a:
• Graphics review to ensure the new board substrate had the same print quality;
• Box performance testing (carton drop tests, case drop tests, tear feature test, environmental chamber testing) to ensure that the board adequately protected the substrate (fabric softener sheets) and prevented oil migration;
• Substrate compatibility testing to ensure that the mineralized poly-coating did not interact with our fabric softener sheets in any way.
We also had each of our suppliers preform testing:
• Converting (printing/cutting) trials at the carton supplier;
• Packaging line trials and substrate compatibility evaluation at our manufacturing partner;
• Third-party lab testing to evaluate board performance (oil resistance, water absorption, water-vapor transmission rate/WVTR).
What did the results show regarding the package’s barrier properties?
Murosky: The barrier properties of the EarthCoating performed better than our previous packaging, allowing us to confidently make the switch.
Did you do any tests yourselves on the recyclability of the package or was that all handled as part of the How2Recycle label application process?
Murosky: That was all handled by Smart Planet to receive the “Widely Recycled” logo certification from the Sustainable Packaging Coalition.
How much did Walmart’s Sustainability Index, or the new Playbook, influence your decision to go with this particular package?
Murosky: It actually didn’t really affect our decision. The project was basically complete when Walmart’s Sustainable Packaging Playbook came out. As a brand, we are always trying to push the limit on packaging sustainability and meet our 2020 sustainability goals.
Where are your fabric softener sheets sold?
Murosky: Across the USA. Our top buyers are Amazon, UNFI and Kehe.
Do you plan to replace other cartons/boxes with this package?
Murosky: Yes, we are looking into it for our two other poly-coated paper carton packaging configurations used for boxed powders: Natural Powdered Laundry Detergent and Auto Dish Powder.
Learn what it takes to innovate in the packaging space at WestPack 2017 (Feb. 7-9; Anaheim, CA). Register today!