The price of sustainability

14 November 2005

Now that 'sustainable' packaging is flavour of the month at Wal-Mart, we can be sure that many more retailers and brand owners will find biopolymers and nano coatings far more acceptable. Converters are going to be asked what they are doing towards sustainability.

At the end of October the retail giant pledged to invest hundreds of millions of dollars a year to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As well as laying out targets to reduce gases from existing stores by 20 per cent within seven years and increase its transport fleet fuel efficiency by 25 per cent within three years, chief executive Lee Scott said it would also push for changes among suppliers. Guess what? It plans to replace PVC packaging for its own label brands with sustainable and recyclable materials within just two years, reported the Guardian newspaper on October 26.

At the 2005 Sustainable Packaging Forum NatureWorks, the producer of bio based plastics (from corn), and a division of Wal-Mart called Sam's Club presented the results of a year long programme to introduce PLA in fresh cut produce packaging at Sam's and Wal-Mart Super Centers in the USA. Matt Kistler for Wal-Mart said that just switching over four items to the biopolymer packaging would save "the equivalent of 3.03M litres of oil and reduce more than 4.99M kg of greenhouse gas emissions from polluting our environment. "The product was "price stable" whereas the price of oil needed to produce conventional packaging keeps climbing higher.

Early next month we are also to hear the results from the major EU packaging research project Sustainpack, in Stockholm (see news section). Initiated to establish paper and board packaging as the dominant player in packaging, the project will use the latest nanotechnology developments to formulate new materials. The project team comprises a consortium of 35 partners from 13 countries representing packaging research associations, academia and industry. These include such respected names as Ahlstrom Research and Services, Karlstadt University, Pira International, Sheffield Hallam University, Sainsburys Supermarkets, STFI-Packforsk and Stora Enso, Sweden. Michael Sturges, of Pira, has said that the conference will be a showcase for how research focused on nanotechnology and microtechnology breakthroughs will deliver a new generation of sustainable, competitive fibre based packaging solutions.

Amazing isn't it that when materials designed to improve our environment become "price stable" or "competitive" the end user interest soars. Or am I becoming even more of a cynic?

Pauline Covell

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