Sustain Yourself


Sustainability – the simple principle that everything needed for survival and well-being depends directly or indirectly on the environment and how humans interact with it – may be the steepest challenge facing any business today. And while the lubricants industry has undertaken a number of initiatives to ensure that its packaging is produced, reused and recycled in a sustainable fashion, even more will be required of it in the years ahead, according to Paul Rankin, president of the Reusable Industrial Packaging Association.

Sustainability is a growing business priority, and packaging is a key component of corporate sustainability programs, says the Rockville, Md.-based executive. The reuse of industrial packaging reduces a companys carbon footprint, and the savings from reduced CO2 emissions, energy use and waste can be measured.

Addressing the Petroleum Packaging Councils Spring meeting in St. Augustine, Fla., last March, Rankin highlighted the main goal identified in the Vision for 2050 report from the World Business Council for Sustainable Development: to create a world in which the global population at mid-century is not just living on the planet, but living well and within the limits of the planet. With the worlds population expected to grow to 9 billion by 2050, the WBC laid out a four-part agenda to ensure the goal is met. These four Cs are carbon footprint, costs, consumption and collaboration.

To meet the Councils goal by 2050, CO2 emissions need to be one-half of 2005 levels, and agricultural output must double, Rankin pointed out. This means increasing agricultural productivity by around 2 percent per year. In addition, more than 3.5 billion people are likely to be considered middle class by 2030; therefore, consumption demands must be met while protecting the environment.

A Basket of Needs

Sustainable packaging has many goals, agreed Mark Troxel, vice president of national accounts at RockTenn Recycling, which is headquartered in Norcross, Ga. First, of course, is to manufacture a package that effectively markets the product and communicates its intended use – in other words, promotes a sale, he reminded the PPC attendees. The packaging also must survive the most abusive distribution channels

without appearing to be over-packaged, so that consumers feel the company is sensitive to the environment.

He added that other goals for packaging are to meet functional needs during manufacturing and at the retailer, and to meet economic needs so the product can be competitively priced. Finally, the materials must be eligible for reuse in a second life, he said.

To produce an effective, sustainable package, suppliers, producers, retailers and their end users need to collaborate during product development. This consultation should result in a list of packaging requirements and specifications that meet distribution needs, marketing needs and manufacturing capabilities.

Selecting a material for the package must consider which material is most efficient and cost effective, and which can be easily reclaimed, recycled or reused, Troxel said. Another consideration is whether the consumption of raw materials can be reduced by improving the manufacturing process.

According to Troxel, these goals are best met when teams are aligned, including the manufacturers product development group and brand management team, as well as the packaging suppliers design team. This latter group includes bottle, closure, label, carton, pallet and drum vendors. Troxel emphasized that one of the most important things to do is balance the capability of the packaging manufacturer with the needs of the retailer.

Am I Sustainable?

There is no widely accepted definition of sustainable packaging, said Rankin. But in May 2012, the International Standards Organization adopted six standards aimed at creating a roadmap to minimize the impact of all kinds of packaging on the environment.

ISO found that effective packaging makes a positive contribution to a sustainable society in a number of ways, Rankin said. First, it meets consumer needs and expectations for protecting goods, ensuring safety, providing efficient handling and disseminating information. Second, it uses resources efficiently and limits environmental impact. Third, it saves costs in the distribution and merchandising of goods.

Rankin noted, It is important to understand that ISO does not consider used (empty) packaging to be waste. Rather, empty packaging is a resource that should be reused, recycled or converted to energy.

As a result of this initiative, RIPA launched a program to define industrial packaging, develop a definition of sustainable packaging, and compare the environmental impact of reused vs. single-trip packaging. It found that the American National Standards Institute defines industrial packaging as a package used to transport or store commodities, the contents of which are not meant for retail sale without being repackaged.

According to ANSI, sustainable industrial packaging is constructed in accordance with a recognized international standard, such as ANSI MH 2 or JIS Z-1601. It also is capable of withstanding the reconditioning process and of being used more than once after initial use (i.e. filled and refilled).

In addition, sustainable packaging can transport both hazardous and non-hazardous materials initially and in each reuse. It must also withstand anticipated storage and handling conditions, and be able to be cleaned and safely recycled after its useful life.

A 1999 Franklin Associates study found that industrial packaging that is used once and then disposed of contributes significantly more pollution to the environment than packaging that is used more than once, Rankin said. For example, atmospheric emissions (including greenhouse gas emissions) for multi-use steel drums are about one-fourth those of comparable single-trip drums.

The study concluded that every 1.0-millimeter-thick steel drum that is reused saves about 35 pounds of CO2 compared to a single-use drum, he said. Similarly, a 2010 study by the European consulting and engineering company Tauw showed that reconditioning a steel drum emits 15.3 kilograms of CO2, versus 30.7 kg CO2 to manufacture a new drum.

Packaging Initiatives

Troxel said, The industry has introduced a number of initiatives in an effort to produce sustainable packaging. First, there is an effort to reduce the amount of packaging material through lightweighting of primary and secondary materials.

A related effort is the use of multi-material packaging; that is, adding a reusable component to the packaging to achieve lightweighting goals.

He also sees the lubricants industry adopting bulk vs. individual product packaging. An excellent example of this is the growth of bag-in-box packaging in the motor oil segment, Troxel said. Holding about six gallons of engine oil, the bag-in-box option is now in use at many U.S. quick lubes and other installer outlets. It takes up less space than the equivalent 24 single quart bottles, drains almost completely with minimal residue, and reduces the plastic material going to landfills by almost 90 percent. Plus, the corrugated carton itself is fully recyclable.

As well as adopting such practices, Troxel emphasized, it is important to track recycling efforts to quantify the environmental impact. For example, packagers can develop a baseline for current waste and recycling volumes, calculate their recovery rate – a ratio of reuse/recycle volume to total waste – and establish program goals. Then, report the results of waste diversion efforts by keeping an environmental impact scorecard, and use the results to identify future opportunities, he suggested. Items that might be tracked in such a scorecard would include trees saved, water not used, emissions reduced and more (see table at left).

Technological Advances

Troxel noted, To encourage recycling, industry has developed new processing technology, such as less expensive and more compact densification equipment for waste generators. In addition, material recovery facilities are implementing highly automated separation technology as well as material cleaning and separation technology that end users can employ.

A number of reuse opportunities are becoming more common, such as returning packaging to the supplier, reusing the packaging by the end user and developing alternative applications for the packaging, Troxel said. Material consolidation also is extremely important. On-site segregation and collection at a central area provides the opportunity to densify and market a higher volume of material to increase revenue.

Recycling is not without its challenges, he went on. First, materials come in a complex variety of grades and forms. This complicates collection and separation efforts. Second, the volume and density of each grade or material type may not be sufficient to make recycling cost-effective. Third, a companys proximity to a recycling center can affect costs. Can the recycler pick up the materials or must the collector deliver the collected waste?

Contamination can sometimes be an issue because some recyclers wont accept them or pay less for contaminated products, pointed out Troxel. Problems can arise if the collection area is exposed to contaminants, or the product leaves a residue in the package, or multi-material packages are involved.

Finally, he stated, sufficient resources must be made available for effective recycling, mainly in the form of capital and labor.

Recycling Best Practices

Successful recycling programs are based on a balance of resource cost and financial impact. Direct labor costs include collection, segregation, densification and handling. Equipment costs vary depending on the type of machinery needed, its capabilities, space requirements and handling volume.

Potential revenue depends on the value of material collected and market conditions, Troxel said, which is based on supply and demand. For example, old corrugated prices in 2012 were the lowest since 2009; however, theyre forecast to increase through this year. In addition, prices for Grade A plastic film and high-density plastics are trending slightly higher than in 2012. Another source of revenue is savings from reduced landfill diversion costs.

Material separation is an important cost-saving (and value-boosting) step. It makes combining recyclables easier and saves labor in the long run. For example, knowing how much of each type of recyclable you have makes it easier to assess the market for individual commodities, Troxel said. It also significantly reduces processing costs. However, the up-front labor and potential equipment costs must also be factored into the consideration of whether or not to sort on site.

Widespread operations can try to eliminate contamination by using remote collection points that are clearly marked by the type of material in each bin, he said. Then, using a central consolidation point allows material to be segregated by grade, and compaction or isolation helps ensure cleanliness.

The Final Analysis

Sustainable packaging is designed to be easily broken down, so that the various components can be removed and sorted quickly. Also, Troxel suggested, whenever possible the packaging should be designed so it can be completely emptied without leaving a residue.

Having the ability to densify material can be helpful because loose material can be bulky and take up a lot of space. It can also be difficult to handle and be costly to transport. Compacted material is easier to handle and can help maximize revenue.

Recyclable material can be compacted, baled or shredded.

Compaction requires the least labor and allows for external storage of equipment and material. And many haulers provide compaction equipment at no cost.

Baling requires additional labor and capital for equipment lease or purchase.

Shredding provides optimal material densification but requires additional labor. Noise and dust can also be an issue.

In the lubricants industry, Troxel commented, a major challenge is to find a way to dispose of containers that held oil. A number of programs have failed due to lack of support on the recycler side. They often are unwilling to put in the effort because they do not see benefits.

He cited the example of a company that implemented a program to recycle containers that previously held oil. The program involved collecting containers in a branded 55-gallon drum. The containers were to be bagged and collected by their supplier.

Bags were placed in a dumpster corral; however, the supplier ran out of room to store containers prior to collection. They then found it most likely was not worth enough to their service provider to schedule more frequent pickups. As a result, the program fell apart.

The lesson: For a program to be successful, it is important to enroll your supplier teams during the product development phase to ensure that the most effective package will be accepted by the environmental community, Troxel concluded. Packaging concepts often involve capital equipment that can lock in a design. Therefore, communicate to ensure that goals align with retailers and their distribution channels.

Related Topics

Packaging    Packaging Containers    Sustainable Packaging