Packaging is always challenged to balance a number of competing priorities. On one hand is Marketing, and the desire for innovative packaging that acts as the "silent salesman," driving customer purchase intent and revenue. On the other hand is Procurement, which is frequently tasked with avoiding the introduction of any incremental supply chain complexity or incurring any cost increases as a result of packaging changes. Add Sustainability to the mix, and the challenge of balancing all of these competing objectives gets all the more challenging.
This article outlines three packaging material ideas that can positively impact sustainability metrics for resin-based packaging, with a neutral impact on appearance, and potentially lower costs and improve price stability.
1. Sustainable Calcium Carbonate Additives: Adding a small percentage of calcium carbonate (CC) into plastic packaging is not a new idea, but there is now a new twist that makes CC more sustainable. Traditionally, the CC used as a mineral plastic additive in packaging has been extracted from the earth through mining or quarrying from non-renewable resources. However, over the past few years, new, renewable, sustainable sources for CC have entered the molding additives market.
Calcium carbonate (in varying forms) is produced naturally in some bodies of water around the globe. The natural formation process has an added benefit of sequestering CO2 from the atmosphere through a photosynthesis process. Pricing for these naturally occurring CC additives has historically been lower than resin and offers more price stability.
2. Bio-Based Thermoplastics: Looking for ways to improve the sustainability profile of your resin-based packaging without impacting its appearance? A number of resin manufacturers now produce bio-based thermoplastics derived from ethanol made either from corn, sugar beets or sugar cane. Bio-based thermoplastics provide a positive impact on CO2 environmental emissions because they are produced from plant-based CO2 sequestering feedstocks. On the supply side, use of bio-based thermoplastics should improve price stability when compared to petroleum-based counterparts and their linkage to oil market price volatility (and related geo-political uncertainty).
3. Biodegradable/Compostable Packaging: Traditional resin-based packaging components can take anywhere from months to hundreds of years to decompose. Three different green resin technologies exist that can positively impact biodegradation or allow for the resin to be composted:
• One technology is to use a polylactic acid (PLA) bioplastic. In the U.S., PLA-based packaging is typically made from corn starch (a renewable resource). PLA is also a plastic that can be composted.
• Another technology is using an oxo-degradable plastic additive. The additives are essentially metal salts that act as a catalyst to speed up the natural degradation process, although the additives do not have much of an effect if they are in a low-oxygen environment such as a landfill. These oxo-degradable additives are commonly used in plastic bag applications and are a solution to help combat littering.
• A third technology is using biodegradable plastic additives. These additives increase the speed of degradation when they are placed in a biologically active landfill. Biodegradable plastic additives can be used in most thermoplastics to support a range of packaging products.
There are many ways to improve sustainability efforts for resin-based packaging that can also have a positive effect for procurement initiatives. These changes can be made without impacting the cosmetic properties of packaging-and therefore Marketing's objectives-and also allows for new labeling and sustainability bragging rights.
As with all packaging changes, these ideas may not be feasible in every industry and thorough package testing should be completed to validate that any changes will be acceptable for the specific use, end customers and supply chain constraints.
Author David Moszak is a sourcing lead in the global packaging practice at Procurian (www.procurian.com), the leading specialist in comprehensive procurement solutions. The company's built-out Specialized Procurement Infrastructure integrates with businesses to optimize spending and deliver real savings that equal a margin point or more.