PACK EXPO Innovations Report: Sustainable Packaging

PMMI Media Group editors fanned out across the many booths at PACK EXPO Las Vegas to bring you this Innovations Report. Here’s what they saw in the sustainable packaging category.


Quick hits:

  • With plastics under fire (rightly or wrongly), fiber- and paper-based packaging solutions are becoming increasingly available and adopted by brands.
  • Meanwhile, plastic-based solutions are themselves are becoming more sustainable via a trend moving away from harder-to-recycle multi-layer films and materials, and toward more easily recycled mono-material films and materials that can accomplish the same functional tasks as their predecessors.
  • For plastics, recycling and circularity are nuanced and can have different meanings. For instance, instead of recycling a film or container into a new version of the same film or container, it can be upcycled into a durable good, like outdoor furniture or flooring. 

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Hello, I’m Matt Reynolds, chief editor of Packaging World, back with another edition of Take Five.

The dozen PMMI Media Group editors who searched PACK EXPO Las Vegas for new developments in packaging materials found that one topic was everywhere, and that’s sustainability.

Maybe this should come as no surprise, considering how outspoken consumers, retailers, and NGOs have become about sustainable packaging. Still, it’s worth mentioning how dominant just one aspect of the packaging materials space has become. Also worth pointing out is that developments in the paper and fiber sectors are getting more abundant.

For instance, editors saw an all-paper blister pack machine at the Starview booth, part of an initiative developed jointly by Starview and paperboard converter Rohrer.

On the machinery side, it’s possible for existing customers, already running Starview automated blister machines, to get in on the all-paper blister action by simply adding an auxiliary feeder. With this tooling in place, a flat paper blister is picked from a magazine feed, and thanks to precision scoring done by Rohrer, erected and made ready to receive whatever product the customer happens to be packaging. Then it’s just a matter of applying the blister card and heat-sealing card to blister.

As for the paperboard components from Rohrer, the blister at the booth was a 20-point SBS, and the blister card was a 14-point SBS. The virgin board is FSC certified, and the company noted that as a member of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, it worked to make it possible for customers to easily get permission to use the Coalition’s How2Recycle logo on their package. Moving along on the paper packaging theme, AR Packaging, recently acquired by Graphic Packaging, used PACK EXPO to launch a paperboard tray concept intended for modified atmosphere packaging, (or MAP), of ready meals, processed meat, fresh fish, and other chilled foods. The company told our editors at the booth that the fully recyclable TrayLite® solution provides an efficient and convenient alternative to full plastic barrier trays, and reduces plastics by 85%.

Alternative formats using recycled or renewable plastics are available today, but many brand owners, retailers, and food producers have set targets for fully recyclable packaging with maximized fiber content. By combining its expertise in both cartonboard packaging and flexible high-barrier materials, AR Packaging was able to develop a tray that has an Oxygen Transmission Rate lower than 5 cubic centimeters, per square meter, over 24 hours.

Made of sustainably sourced cartonboard, the two-piece paperboard tray is lined and sealed with thin, higher-barrier, mono-material films to ensure product protection and extended shelf life. The cartonboard tray, liner, and lidding film—a multilayer PolyEthylene with a thin EVOH layer for gas barrier purposes—are easy for the consumer to separate from each other and recycle in separate, established recycling streams, where available. 

Paper and fiber-based packaging was a big trend at PACK EXPO Las Vegas, but so was the shift to more easily recyclable, mono-material plastics.

One example was from UFlex, partnered with Mespack and Hoffer Plastics, who developed a sustainable solution that addresses the complexities of recycling with hot-fill pouches.

The three firms jointly developed a turnkey solution that, not only enables 100% recyclability of hot-fill pouches with its new mono-material structure, but also the recyclability of the spout caps.

The newly designed recycle-ready single-material polypropylene-based hot-fill pouch combines the strength of Oriented PP, with Cast Unoriented PP in a layered, laminated structure. It offers enhanced barrier properties, easy heat seal-ability, and longer shelf life for unrefrigerated food storage. 

Finally, when it comes to plastics, recycling can mean different things. One unique piece of news on the sustainability front came from Glenroy, which announced its a certification in what’s called the NexTrex program, a circular economy-minded initiative whose output is durable goods. 

Glenroy says it is the first flexible packaging manufacturer to offer store drop-off pouches certified by Trex for its NexTrex program, whom brands can work with for their own, consumer-facing certifications. 

If the brand’s product is certified by Trex to be clean and dry when the pouch is empty, they can put the NexTrex logo on their packaging. And when the packaging gets sorted, if it has a NexTrex logo on it, it goes directly to Trex to eventually become durable goods, like Trex decking or Trex furniture.

These few examples were just the tip of the iceberg for sustainability-minded innovations at PACK EXPO, read about all of them in the January issue of Packaging World, which should be arriving in mailboxes soon, if it hasn’t arrived already. 

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