When processors are locked in to using plastic trays, a switch to paper-based replacements to meet green packaging goals can face hurdles.

Harpak-ULMA is now offering paper-based packaging called PaperSeal to help the food industry rethink its packaging systems to reduce plastic use. The trays work with existing de-nesters and conveyors, and a tray sealer needs only a new tooling set to handle the change.

Structural impediments in the supply chain can impair sustainable packaging adoption, says Jerry Rundle, vice president of sales for Harpak-ULMA’s tray packaging lines.

“Entrenched producers are using hundreds of millions of plastic trays each year. They’re embedded in long-term supplier contracts and vested in the associated packaging equipment. To say that changing direction is difficult is a bit of an understatement—it’s like turning the proverbial aircraft carrier. There’s just too much industry resistance.”

New market entrants don’t have the same constraints, Rundle points out. “For example, new plant-based meat companies are adopting sustainable paper-based tray packaging materials and methods out of the gate because they’re not embedded in the status quo."

The trays use 80-90% paperboard made of “renewable fiber sourced from sustainably-managed forests” and 10-20% plastic film, Harpak-ULMA says. They limit base tray waste to 2%. People can easily separate the plastic film from the paperboard to recycle to paper portion.

The sealing surface strength and consistency are equal to plastic trays because of a reinforced, one-piece flange design, with the seal providing up to 28 days of shelf life. The trays are suitable for applications including cheese, fresh or processed meat, ready-made products, frozen foods, snacks, salad and fruit.

PaperSeal is an alternative to plastic clamshell packaging for produce, says Carlo Bergonzi, Harpak-ULMA’s product manager for tray seal.

“It’s extremely adaptable to your existing equipment and no more expensive to produce than plastic trays. Also, PaperSeal trays are formed with precut film—there’s no flop or film hanging over the tray—it’s a very clean look that also reduces film waste.”

Trays can be stacked flat in transit and storage. The G. Mondini Trave has a “Platformer Plus” option that accommodates a PaperSeal stacker unit.

G. Mondini collaborated on the trays with Graphic Packaging International, which launched the line in Europe in 2019 and completed 10 line replacements for customers in Europe and Asia within the first year.

Harpak-ULMA plans to trial the technology with some North American customers that own Mondini Tray sealers. “It’s a low risk, low cost scenario,” Rundle says. “We can re-tool a line in 10-12 weeks, and they can be producing a new, sustainable package style at moderate volumes pretty quickly.”