Monday, June 17, 2024

New sustainable concepts on the horizon

How innovative packaging technology creates solutions that go beyond traditional product protection

New sustainable concepts
New pack styles are likely to pave the way for modified products and even trigger new consumer habits in the long run. Packed in single-use portions as water-soluble tablets, dry shampoo could significantly help reduce costs and CO2 emissions alike

Inspired by ecologically aware consumers, food and non-food manufacturers are no longer focusing on product protection alone when deciding on their packaging material. Instead, aspects like the packaging’s end-of-life usage prompt them to increasingly rely on alternatives such as paper or fully recyclable mono-materials. Backed by innovative packaging technology manufacturers across industries are right on track to develop packaging concepts that might disrupt the future marketing, distribution and consumption of everyday staples. 

For decades, brand owners and consumers have chosen packaging material based on well-established parameters: production costs, appearance, protective properties, machinability and shelf appeal. However, in recent years, expectations of ecologically aware consumers and regulations have added another game-changing aspect to the mix: the material’s end-of-life usage. It has pushed manufacturers and brand owners to develop and apply novel solutions – without compromising on the abovementioned parameters. Among various sustainable materials, two successfully strike a balance between all these criteria: paper-based solutions and recyclable mono-material films.

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Paper – an asset among sustainable materials

While paper processing for secondary and end-of-line packaging is well established – largely due to its good machinability – there is still uncharted territory to explore when it comes to using paper as primary packaging. Currently, paper-based materials are widely used to produce well-known primary packaging styles for products with low barrier requirements, such as vertical bags for pasta, sugar or flour. These functional paper developments provide improved barrier properties but come with several challenges. Paper-based packaging must feature a very thin heat seal coating to be fit for recycling. However, these thin layers result in a much less robust material,  requiring gentle handling as well as specially developed sealing heads to create tight seals that will protect the product inside. That is why machine manufacturers rely on innovative horizontal flow wrappers and vertical baggers to process and handle sealable barrier papers, which can have a paper content of up to 90%. These machines fold and package all bag styles, including the attractive doy stand-up bag, without tearing or wrinkling the sensitive material. In addition, manufacturers do not have to compromise on efficiency, as they are able to achieve the same processing speeds with paper-based packaging as they do with conventional plastic film.

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Mono-materials – the ecofriendly alternative to composites

Mono-material films are another option for packaging products sustainably with less plastic content. Fully recyclable polypropylene or polyethylene can serve as primary packaging for sensitive food products with higher barrier requirements, such as bars, cookies and crackers. As these materials are heat-sensitive, they require modified sealing technology, especially in the high-output range. Due to its temperature sensitivity, the material’s outer layer can only tolerate short sealing times, resulting in much smaller sealing windows. At the same time, insufficient energy input will result in inadequate sealing. To create the perfect seam using mono-material films at different film speeds and constant energy input, the three sealing parameters pressure, temperature and time need to be optimally coordinated.

Staying competitive with flexible equipment

Since many manufacturers may choose to launch more sustainably packaged versions of existing popular products only gradually, their machines need to be flexible and be able to process a variety of materials – conventional composites, paper-based materials, and recyclable mono-material solutions. Choosing machine equipment that can be easily retrofitted ensures that manufacturers can switch between these packaging options flexibly and still meet the ever-changing industry regulations and consumer trends. Food and non-food manufacturers’ safest bet is to rely on strong partners along the value chain – mainly material suppliers and machine manufacturers to achieve optimal results.

Pushing the boundaries beyond product protection

Innovative packaging technology will also be key for developing sustainable packaging concepts that achieve much more than just product protection. Instead, the development of entirely new packaging styles for increased shelf appeal and sustainability is trending. Current innovations in paper forming are already offering ecological packaging alternatives for everyday staples in the supermarket:  paper-based blisters for nutraceuticals and sealed paper tray packaging for cheese have recently been launched. However, manufacturers are eager to push the boundaries even further. The goal is not only reach sustainability goals, but to offer added value at the same time, e.g. handier sizes, a premium look or a completely new packaging experience. Not only spreads and jams but also electronics, oral and personal care products and even cosmetics and nutraceuticals can already be packaged in paper-based, pod-shaped packs. With their firm structure, printability and shape flexibility they can eliminate the need for secondary carton packaging, thereby also positively impacting brands’ ecological footprint. These packs can be uniquely designed to attract consumers’ attention on-shelf while underscoring the brand’s sustainability commitment. 

Disrupting the status quo

In several cases, new pack styles like paper pods are likely to pave the way for modified products and even trigger new consumer habits in the long run. Everyday goods like liquid shampoos could reach consumers in dry form with only a fraction of the volume and weight throughout the products value chain. Packed in single-use portions as water-soluble tablets, a product like shampoo could significantly help reduce costs and CO2 emissions alike – and open up new distribution channels like e-commerce. Compared to their liquid variant, these dry everyday goods have a longer shelf life and can be more safely delivered straight to consumers’ doorsteps. To tap the full potential of the industry’s future packaging concepts, a new level of consulting and cooperation between brand owners, recycling companies and equipment providers – like Syntegon – needs to become the norm.

Author – Torsten Sauer
Director Sustainability at Syntegon Technology

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