Form, Functionality and a Greener Focus
From the bag-in-a-box and the anti-glug bottle to the plastic pouch and tetra pack, packaging for lubricants and greases in recent years has proven every bit as innovative as the formulations inside them.
Gone are the days when generic bottles filled the shelves. Depending on application or product type, countless designs have been introduced, each boasting their own unique form, function and footprint to cater to the ever-changing market.
Designers continue to adapt and enhance industrial lubricant packaging to offer not only better protection and greater aesthetic appeal but additional features like anti-counterfeiting measures, clearer and more durable labeling, as well as advanced track-and-trace capabilities.
Sustainability has also become part and parcel of lubricants packaging. Growing awareness about the environment and the need to be more efficient and generate less waste means it is no longer just the product itself that is being closely scrutinized.
“There are many different ways in which customers are driving for improving sustainability,” said Jennifer Dally, director of global strategic marketing at Greif. “The range of what customers are doing is widespread, from using recycled or less raw material in packaging to establishing or supporting alliances to determine end-of-life solutions. While these latter efforts are primarily focused on smaller plastic packaging, there are many things related to end of life for industrial packaging on which we continue to partner with customers.”
The onset of COVID-19 had a marked effect on all industries and sectors, including lubricants. Consumption suffered as the pandemic took its toll, particularly on core end use markets such as aviation, marine and automotive.
The disruption heaped pressure on the supply chain and stretched the availability of raw materials. As short supply forced up prices, especially in steel, this provided additional impetus for packaging providers to consider changes in terms of size, design or material.
“We are seeing some shifts from steel drums to intermediate bulk containers for faster moving products, and for slow moving products a move from large to small steel drums,” said Dally. “There are also some cases where customers are migrating to plastic where there is product compatibility and other safety or transport criteria that can be accomplished.”
In a highly-competitive marketplace, players are always striving to develop increasingly innovative options to store and ship lubricants and greases. Some are considering using more post-consumer resin in their products, looking at light weighting, or finding ways to minimize waste for more eco-friendly and cost effective solutions.
“I believe COVID-19 showed the key role digital plays in supply management, awareness of inventory and communication,” Dally added. “When people were not able to be onsite or managing certain tasks, it expedited the impact on technology. As we continue to learn about various environmental impacts, efforts around sustainability will only accelerate.”
The challenges surrounding plastic waste, such as our reliance on landfill or the impact of microplastics on our oceans, were again in the headlines when leaders of the G7 countries convened in June. The annual meeting, held this year in Cornwall, United Kingdom, saw them stand united as they reaffirmed their pledge to tackle climate change and increase contributions toward more sustainable growth.
The lubricants sector is keen to play its part, too, according to Tristan Steichen, a sustainability consultant and director of the newly formed National Lubricant Container Recycling Coalition. Launched in March 2021, the industry-led technical initiative is a grassroots movement that aims to shine the spotlight on the need for better solutions to recover and recycle plastic containers.
“There is an overwhelming push from society to do something,” he said. “Based on feedback we’ve been getting from retailers and their customers, there is a clear desire to reduce the amount of virgin plastic packaging being used. There is interest from the lubricants producers to work closely with packaging manufacturers to come up with recovery and recycling solutions.”
Oil and lubricant residues are notoriously tough to clean and remove, so lubricant packaging is often considered contaminated after use and is rejected by many recycling processes, said Steichen. He estimated that around 4.5 million tons of plastic lubricant containers—largely made from high-density polyethylene—heads to landfill each year.
The NLCRC plans to launch several pilot projects across the United States over the remainder of the year to try to better understand consumer behavior and assess current collection procedures. It also hopes to establish some small-scale recycling schemes.
“There is interest from the lubricants producers to work closely with packaging manufacturers to come up with recovery and recycling solutions.”
— Tristan Steichen
National Lubricant Container Recycling Coalition
“Product and packaging manufacturers are taking the lead on this,” added Kevin Whitehead, vice president of the Petroleum Packaging Council and manager for industrial automotive products at Plastipak—one of the founding members of the coalition.
“We felt this had to be done as a coalition. You see people trying to solve the problem independently, but it just doesn’t work. You can’t impact a transformation and industry shift with just your company alone; you need to have a collective action,” he said.
“You have to be willing to work with your peers to solve this problem. This is a hot topic right now and we all need to start getting ahead of these sustainability issues rather than reacting to them.”
Whether pouch, pail, carton or container, society’s push for greener packaging solutions has rapidly accelerated in recent years.
With this growing awareness, environmental, social and corporate governance strategies are becoming more mainstream and have become a key pillar of most forward-looking companies’ plans.
Castrol, for example, is looking to halve its plastic footprint by the end of the decade. To help achieve this, it recently unveiled plans to work with packaging specialist Pulpex to create paper bottles made from wood pulp for its lubricant products.
It said that this innovative technology using renewable feedstocks offers a carbon footprint up to 30% lower than polyethylene terephthalate and glass.
A container has become far more than simply a means of safe storage and a way to ensure longevity and minimal leakage or contamination.
Ziggy Garcia, managing partner at consultancy Inevitable Solutions, is also leading a project that aims to both reduce emissions and help companies reach their sustainability goals.
Its new lubricant packaging made from HDPE and PCR will boast a traditional profile, be load bearing and be easy to stack and ship, he said. It also incorporates a unique design feature—a containment area that stops any leakages that may cause damage to surrounding products during transit.
These have been in development for 15 months and are soon to start trials, with launch expected in early 2022. The intention is to expand to larger plastic containers that range in size from one quart up to 2.5 gallons.
Lubricant and grease suppliers no longer have to ensure their products are improving only in terms of performance; the outer packaging has become just as important.
In this Spotlight, Biederman Enterprises highlights how its products combine both functionality and
Biederman Looks to the Future
No matter the obstacles and pressures facing the lubes and greases sector this past year, the need for quality packaging has been unwavering.
While it has certainly been a challenging period, Biederman Enterprises–North America’s leading supplier of plastic grease cartridges—has enjoyed robust and steady demand throughout.
Elizabeth Wagg, vice president of operations and sales, is proud the business has not only demonstrated its resilience but is confident of emerging from the gloom in a better position than ever.
“Just like the Biederman grease cartridge, our people and operation have proven very durable,” she says. “We really believe we’re going to emerge from this stronger.”
“Order levels are high, and we’re seeing unprecedented levels of demand for our cartridges. We’ve never had sales like this before,” she says. “A lot of new and existing customers seem to be building their inventories and protecting themselves in case there are any more supply chain issues.”
Before the pandemic, the Ontario-based manufacturer had been focused on expanding its output, investing in new printing capabilities and developing an innovative non-leak cap design. Yet while the crisis meant its plans to fully capitalize on these advances had to be temporarily put on hold, Wagg insists the disruption has not dampened Biederman’s ambitions.
“Now that we’re seeing some light at the end of this, we will revisit those opportunities,” she says. “Increasing capacity is still a priority, and we continue to focus on becoming even greener and more sustainable.”
Biederman has recently completed several projects to enhance its cartridge and production systems to improve productivity and efficiency.
It has enhanced its direct offset printing process by making significant equipment investments to allow for more intricate designs and greater flexibility, and has also been looking at how best to further minimize waste.
While functionality is key, customers are increasingly looking for greener alternatives, notes Wagg. Recycling, waste reduction and sustainability therefore remain a key area of focus for the business, she says.
Biederman already uses up to 10% post-industrial resin (PIR) in its cartridges but is looking to incorporate more scrap plastic moving forward. The business is also eyeing opportunities with post-consumer resin (PCR) after initial trials proved successful. Wagg says the business will look to work closely with its customers to see whether it can explore this further in the future.
Find out more at www.biederman.ca/grease-cartridges/