Sustainable packaging: eco-friendly and unbreakable

A study by the Dutch research institute DE Delft shows that paper and cardboard, for example, have a smaller carbon footprint than most other packagings, due to factors such as efficient production and lower transport emissions. The carbon dioxide equivalent of paper and related materials is 676 kilograms carbon dioxide per metric ton of material, whereas that of other conventional packaging materials is at least 1,000 kilograms.

Glass, on the other hand, cannot boast a very low weight, but is returnable, recyclable and absolutely safe. “Glass is inert, so that practically no interaction can occur between contents and packaging,” explains Johann Overath, the Managing Director of the Federal Association of the German Glass Industry [Bundesverband Glasindustrie e.V.]. In addition, it is made almost totally from raw materials that occur in sufficient quantities in nature. This appeals to consumers who value pure taste and want to consume products from a ‘healthy’ packaging. According to a survey by the European Container Glass Federation [Fédération Européenne du Verre d'Emballage (FEVE)], 75 percent of Europeans prefer glass as a packaging material, as it contributes to a healthy lifestyle.

Tinplate and aluminium also protect food products and can be easily recycled. The recycling rate of aluminium is 82.3 percent and that of aluminium cans is an impressive 96 percent. “This rate will be boosted still further by closing the gaps in recycling loops,” says GDA Managing Director Glimm. The sector also wants to cut the consumption of materials. According to Glimm, “The aim is to protect more products with less aluminium.”

Manufacturers of established packaging materials must, however, expect increasing competition from bioplastics. These may not be as versatile as conventional oil-based plastics, but they make up for this with ever improving properties. The British company Innovia Films recently launched a biodegradable plastic film for food products: known as Natureflex, it is 100 percent compostable. According to head of marketing Andy Sweetman, this multilayer biofilm forms an excellent barrier against moisture and gases, so that packaged products such as biscuits retain their crispness over a long time.

The German bioplastics producer FKuR Kunststoff also focuses on excellent barrier properties. The company’s products include multilayer biofilms that also prevent leakage from eco-nappies. A new development from FKuR is biopackaging suitable for very low temperatures, which is used for frozen food. The rapid advance of bioplastic packaging is also reflected at interpack. Whereas only a special display of 250 square metres was devoted to this theme in 2005, in 2011 there will be about 2,000 square metres of regular exhibition area.

Manufacturers of packaging machinery can also contribute to further rapid cuts in the cost of packaging. The Food Processing and Packaging Machinery Association of the German Engineering Federation VDMA [Verband Deutscher Maschinen- und Anlagenbau] sees opportunities for achieving savings not just in packaging materials. A major contribution to sustainable production can be made by reducing the consumption of energy and operating materials by packaging machinery through the use of modern technology. For instance, decentral servo technology, which functions more dynamically and efficiently than large drives, could be used.

Although the purchase costs for these machines are high, VDMA claims that the expenditure can easily be recouped during the life cycle of a modern system through its lower energy consumption. Product manufacturers who put their faith in sustainability therefore profit first of all at the production stage, even before their products reach the point of sale.