Packaging plays an important role in the lubricants and greases sector, but the drive to combine functionality and sustainability means an innovative approach is vital.
The launch of a landmark $1 billion initiative in January to eliminate plastic waste has once again thrust societys concerns about the environment into the spotlight. The global Alliance to End Plastic Waste, which includes some of the biggest names in the chemical sector, pledged to ensure that plastic is used, and disposed of, more wisely.
It is a sentiment shared by players throughout the value chain, the move demonstrating just how much attention companies large and small are now devoting to efficiency, recycling and reducing their overall environmental footprint.
Packaging suppliers and brand owners within the lubricants and greases industry are working hard to enhance their green credentials, too.
While the fundamental purpose of packaging is to protect and promote the product, forward-thinking companies are increasingly turning their attention to innovative ways of achieving both in a more sustainable way.
According to the Lubricant Packaging Market Report from Global Market Insights, around 3 percent compound annual growth rate is expected for lubricant packaging from 2019-2024. (The report can be found at http://bit.ly/2HvjgVc.) This is largely fueled by the power sector, which relies on lubricants for the operation of heavy equipment and machinery. Sales will also be boosted by automotive applications, which account for 54 percent of the total lubricants market worldwide.
Demand for plastic packaging is set to decline in the coming years, given mounting pressure to switch to greener alternatives, it said, yet plastic remains a hugely important and versatile material.
Companies are working hard to introduce packaging solutions beyond the conventional drums, bins and bottles. Recent developments include pouches, tetra packs and biobased packaging that may be lighter and easier to ship or cheaper to clean, reuse or recycle-resulting in far less waste.
Key market players are looking for alternative packaging material which is eco-friendly and cost-effective, and also complies with the rules and regulations by environment protection and conservation agencies, added the research firm.
For instance, Shell Lubricants and Scholle IPN came together to develop an eco-conscious bag-in-box solution providing a wide range of benefits to producers, retailers and consumers compared to traditional rigid bottles packaging.
The use of these types of packaging solutions decreases landfill waste, as it uses 89 percent less material compared to equivalent rigid plastic bottles. Additionally, such initiatives will create more room for semi-synthetic and bio-based packaging solutions.
Brand owners are now asking for innovative and sustainable solutions, said Yupos Mike Licata. Alternative packaging and labeling methods can mean significant improvement in terms of waste, performance and cost reduction, he said. Yupo specifically points to in-mold labeling as a preferred method, as it combines the bottle forming and labeling processes.
Biederman Enterprises is working to change mindsets, too. The company pioneered the plastic grease cartridge several decades ago and is gradually seeing buying habits shift away from the traditional paper version. The companys commitment to greener packaging has seen it incorporate reclaimed waste plastic into its production process and develop a unique printing technique that eliminates the need for separate labeling.
There are many studies detailing the misconceptions regarding the green-ness of paper versus plastic-from the energy expended to produce, to end-of-cycle or landfill stats, said Elizabeth Wagg, vice president operations and sales. We are always looking for ways to minimize the impact the cartridge has on the environment.
The digitalization trend is helping to unlock the true potential of reusable packaging, too, noted Arash Hassanian of Hoover Ferguson. The availability of new technologies is now allowing operators to track shipments, monitor returns and optimize distribution. The potential savings can be significant, he said, and should encourage more players in the lubricants sector to shift from their reliance on single-use drums and intermediate bulk containers.
Fluid-Bag has seen interest grow in its own returnable IBC, added Henrik Kass. Its sealed fabric container protected by a metal frame offers an effective storage solution for lubricants, and most of the components of the packaging can be reused, thus proving a more sustainable option. Unlike the wooden single-use version, which is suited to distant, hard-to-reach locations where return shipment costs can be prohibitive, its multi-trip container can be disassembled and sent back to the source, ready for use time and time again.
Attitudes are clearly changing and consumers and end users are becoming far more knowledgeable and demanding regarding the environment. Brand owners have to strike the right balance between offering a functional and effective product and one that meets the rapidly changing criteria of the marketplace. This in itself poses myriad challenges and opportunities.
In this Spotlight, lubricant packaging companies explain how they are contributing to the evolution of packaging.