Green Packaging at Pack Expo; Photos

Pack Expo took place this week in Chicago at the McCormick Convention Center. The annual event is produced by the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute (PMMI). The show covers packaging of all types, including beverages.

Lately, the beverage industry has been under pressure to lower its carbon footprint. Product packaging often receives a disproportionate amount of scrutiny relative to the product it contains or the processes that bring that packaged product to consumers.  The effect of this scrutiny has rippled back down the supply chain, resulting in an industry-wide effort among suppliers to provide greener packaging.

As one exhibitor explained, good packaging, at its most fundamental level, does three things:  it contains, protects and promotes the product within. Ideally,the greening of packaging shouldn’t overly compromise any of those three fundamental functions, he said.

Suppliers are greening their packaging in a variety of ways, but most commonly it involves the basic idea of using either greener material or less of the same material. Bottles made from corn-derived polymers arean example of the former, while shortened bottle caps or lighter-weight PET bottles exemplify the latter.

One example of using greener materials in a beverage package on view at the show was Zumbiel’s Tree Hugger fridge-pack. Zumbiel uses recycled paper instead of the virgin paper board that is the current standard for 12-pack containers to create Tree Hugger. According to Zumbiel representatives, the relative use of materials and energy to create 100 million Tree Hugger 12-packs, including wood, wastewater, net energy, and greenhouse gas and solid waste byproducts were all drastically reduced when compared to the same number of 12-packs made with the industry standard .018 inch virgin paper board.

But the greening is taking place in other product classes: even transport package manufacturers (pallets, boxes, straps, wraps) are under pressure to reduce their carbon footprint, despite the fact that such packaging is seldom seen by consumers. But the pressure is still there: Walmart, for example, requires vendors to fill in a carbon footprint “scorecard” for their products. This scorecard takes into account all aspects of the product, including packaging. Smurfit-Stone, which makes a machine that forms  eight-sided boxes (like astandard cardboard box but with rounded corners), explained that a major sell-point of its box is that it uses less material to make a sturdier product. Similarly, Smart Packaging Systems pallet/display system called The Cube allows companies to contain palletized product better than the standard plastic wrapping but converts easily to a display that would suit a Costco or Sam’s Club warehouse display.

BevNET’s favorite display item however wasn’t a green solution and, frankly, it wasn’t even a package. NAI’s Rototruck is a handtruck that uses a patented three wheel base which enables it to climb stairs. We don’t move a ton of cases here in Watertown, but the biannual beverage moving we do to set up our Sample Bar at BevNET LIVE events provides us with enough experience to safely say that Rototruck is an invention worth checking out.

Finally, PMMI set aside a section of the show floor for a showcase of consumer packaged goods that used notably innovative packaging. Many of these were beverage brands, such as Pepsi’s Ecofina or Ball’s resealable can.

For more photos from Pack Expo 2010 click here.