Ecological Awareness Challenges The Packaging Industry

Sunday, July 1st, 2018

In the packaging sector, one should never lose sight of the big picture: the overall goal is to produce packaging with low ecological impact over its complete product life cycle. By Jörg Sabo, marketing director of Greiner Packaging International.


Sustainability is the order of the day. Once scoffed at by many companies, environmental protection measures, socially responsible production conditions and responsible handling of resources are increasingly demanded by more and more consumers today. Anyone seeking to operate successfully in the market must take this trend into consideration—ever stricter food regulations and conditions are contributing to the growing importance of sustainable materials, products, and production processes in the packaging industry.

“I cannot imagine a society without plastic packaging. Ultimately, these help to protect the product, giving it a longer shelf-life and making it taste as it should for a longer period. We must consider, however, how we can use plastic most efficiently, where there is potential for improvement, and the conditions under which we can best protect people and the environment,” says Bettina Schrenk, director of research & development, Greiner Packaging International.

Ms Schrenk deals with the latest trends and developments that challenge and drive the plastic and packaging industry every day. In recent years, the concept of sustainability has moved more towards the centre of activity of the packaging industry, with consumers paying more attention to their shopping, wanting to know what packaging is made of and how it is being produced. Greiner Packaging’s approach is, therefore, a broad-based one—in it, all stages of the product lifecycle are examined and checked to optimise potential, from material selection to production process to recycling.


Cardboard-Plastic Combinations

Combining cardboard and plastic to minimise the plastic content and designing it to be more sustainable is one successful approach. K3 is a form of packaging that helps to cut down on plastic and impresses consumers at the very first glance with a natural look. Whenever possible, recycled cardboard is used for the cardboard wrap; this can be print-decorated on the front and back and offers a variety of options for communicating with consumers. The packaging is, therefore, not only environmentally friendly but also a win-win situation from a marketing standpoint.


Recycled Materials And Bio-Plastics

“We not only have to make packaging lighter but we also need to keep plastics generally longer in circulation. This is what I see as the big challenge for the coming year,” says Ms Schrenk. While in Europe, waste sorting systems function well—if somewhat imperfectly—many countries are still very far from having organised waste separation.

But it is precisely food packaging that requires 100 percent pure recycled materials—nothing from the packaging can be allowed to migrate to the food. One single shampoo packaging that is disposed of together with food packaging makes the processing of residues extremely complex and difficult. Recycled plastics are, therefore, currently being used primarily in the non-food sector. For the food sector, a new sorting system and a totally new approach are essentially what is needed. Moreover, it is not yet clear what percentage of recycling material certain products can tolerate, how machines will respond to the new raw materials, or exactly how they impact the properties of the packaging.

When using recycled material, it must be possible to guarantee the chemical safety of the packaged food, but this requires long-term studies and intensive research. It is for this reason that Greiner Packaging has been a

member of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation since 2016. As part of the ‘New Plastics Economy’, the company delves into the entire supply chain behind a packaging type together with other companies worldwide—from raw material to manufacturing to the retail market and to collection and preparation. The goal is to complete the packaging cycle and develop systems together in order to achieve the maximum recycling ratio. If the entire lifecycle assessment of a packaging type is considered, recycled materials are the best fit, but it is still very difficult to ensure common worldwide standards.

There is also still a long way to go where bio-plastics are concerned: many are very sensitive in their processing and can, therefore, not be used for all applications. It is also not clear what significance the materials themselves have for the process and equipment. Therefore, in order to have access to all the information at any time and to be able to quickly respond to customer requests, Greiner Packaging has set up its own materials database: tests on new materials are stored here and relevant data can be accessed worldwide.


Ecological Footprint

What requires a great deal of cooperation and persistence worldwide can already be done within the company

in many areas. Greiner Packaging is paying close attention to reducing its CO2 footprint. Here, greater efficiency in handling resources and in production are designed to reduce energy consumption. The company takes this issue into account in its entire infrastructure—for example, when new cooling or compressed air systems are being installed—as well as in production, where the goal is to produce greater quantities using less energy. In the packaging sector, in particular, one should never lose sight of the big picture.

Under the heading of “Life Cycle Assessment”, Greiner Packaging deals with the entire life cycle of a product—that is, with the entire ecological footprint. For example, water and land consumption, air pollution, use of resources, working conditions and much more. Here, the experts need to decide which advantages prevail; with the keyword being bio-plastics, it is not always the CO2 consumption alone that is the main determining factor.


Want more insider news? Subscribe to our e-book now!