Food and beverage consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies, along with their suppliers, long ago embraced a commitment to delivering high-quality products to customers and end-use consumers while pursuing more sustainable packaging solutions.

Specifically, millennials will help to push this trend further for the foreseeable future as they purposefully seek out products with recyclable or renewable packaging.

The demand for easily recyclable material (and machinery that can handle such material) in this sector is expected to continue growing, according to the State of the Industry – U.S. Packaging Machinery Report 2017 from PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies.

A structured, programmatic approach to sustainability delivers near-term gains while enabling long-term culture and process changes that will result in scalable efficiency advances. Both material suppliers and OEMs alike are delivering new and innovative solutions to meet this rising sustainability bar.

In the face of increasing competitive and economic pressures, sustainability presents an opportunity for food companies, whether responding to concerns of resource scarcity and population growth or intensifying consumer demands, to gain value and a competitive advantage.

Consumers are increasingly conscious and vocal about their desire to know the origins and fates of the products they buy. Today’s educated consumers also understand the connection between consumption and environmental and social impact.

Done well, sustainability catalyzes transformative change that can spur systemic innovation and strategic growth, delivering bottom-line value while addressing environmental and societal concerns.

Across different packaging, there has been an ongoing push to continue to improve sustainability, driven throughout the supply chain from consumers and retailers onwards. This is true for various packaging types; from the plastic used on bottle caps to polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles to the recycled corrugated card used in cartons and cases and recycled, high-density polyethylene (rHDPE) or recycled polyethylene terephthalate (rPET) film.

While before the 2008 economic downturn there had been a steady movement towards sustainability in general, and recycling in particular, during the economic downturn some machine builders indicated that this progress slowed as the demand for lower prices became of greater importance. However, PMMI’s State of the Industry – U.S. Packaging Machinery Report reveals that as the economy recovers, the emphasis on sustainable solutions is once again becoming a more critical factor in end-users’ considerations when selecting machinery.

Living in a Material World

Sustainability has spurred increased use of recycled materials over the last decade, e.g., recycled corrugated card used in cartons and cases, rHDPE, rPET film, etc. Recently, the trend has strengthened as the balance in importance between lowest cost and sustainability has shifted slightly back to sustainability.

Minimizing the use of material to reduce package footprint has also been a trend. This requires redesigning packages, careful monitoring of the amount of packaging used and production of thinner packaging. Machine functionality is improving to maximize production speeds while handling these thinner, more fragile materials.

Companies are starting to move toward smaller, lighter layers requiring less material. Additionally, consumer preference toward sustainably packaged products continues to drive a focus on optimization of packaging.

One example, Amazon, is working directly with manufacturers to reduce overall packaging with its Certified Frustration-Free Packaging Program. Amazon promises its customers that any item ordered with the certification will be recyclable without excessive use of materials.

The use of recycled materials also presents additional challenges to machine builders. While non-recycled products such as paperboard have a very consistent thickness and behavior, recycled materials have less uniformity.

Therefore, machines handling recycled materials are challenged to perform at the same level of performance as with raw (non-recycled) materials. For example, a cartoning device may have to operate at a slower speed, or risk breaking the material. Similarly, using recycled film for tray sealers may require a lengthier sealing process at a lower temperature to ensure correct sealing.

In addition to the use of recycled materials, reducing the amount of packaging consumed is another primary goal of sustainability.

Packaging reduction requires redesigns to decrease the footprint of the packaging, careful monitoring of the amount of packaging used to minimize waste and production of thinner gauge packaging, be that thinner carton walls or thinner film on a wrapping machine.

To facilitate this, OEMs are developing machines with improved functionality to maximize production speeds while handling these more delicate, more fragile materials.

Food manufacturers seeking sustainable solutions can look to PACK EXPO East (April 16—18; Pennsylvania Convention Center, Philadelphia).

The PMMI produced event is a mere drive from a third of the nation’s CPG companies. PACK EXPO East will draw an expected 6,000 attendees and 400 suppliers of advanced packaging equipment, automation, robotics and controls, materials, containers, printing and labeling technologies. Attendees can also benefit from exhibitor demonstrations and free 30-minute seminars on trends, thought leadership and innovations presented by industry professionals at the Innovation Stage.

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