Outside Insights | June 2012 | By Guest Author

What to Know About Sustainable Packaging

Ask your paper suppliers these questions if you want to offer a more sustainable paper product.

Sustainable paper packaging options can be used throughout an operation.
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We live in an eco-conscious world. Sustainability is no longer just nice to have, but rather essential for this generation and generations to come. And today our definition of sustainability must encompass several different concepts, including environmental, operational, and economic sustainability.

Using paper-based packaging in your operation is one way to meet the sustainability demands of consumers. It has some compelling advantages from a recycling standpoint; data shows that paper-based packaging is reused and recycled more than any other packaging material. In fact, paper and paperboard represent 75 percent of all packaging recovered for recycling in the U.S., according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

But operators should pose several questions to their packaging suppliers to make sure the paper materials they use are truly sustainable.

Is the supplier using lightweight papers? Lightweight papers are advantageous because, by lowering the basis weights, you are inherently reducing the environmental impact. At the same time, they offer the same performance as a heavier paper.

Are the papers grown, managed, and harvested in a sustainable way? It is important that the supplier procures fiber from controlled or certified wood sources, and can validate this through third-party sources such as FSC or SFI.

Are the materials compostable and recyclable? The packaging materials should be compostable and degradable material that can enrich the soil and return the nutrients to the earth. They should also be recyclable and have the ability to be turned into something else. In the paper industry, paper not suitable for sale is called “broke” and is simply reused to make paper. Look for paper suppliers that efficiently use and reuse raw material. Look for the suppliers that optimize their energy usage by using cogeneration plants and recovery boilers to turn carbon-neutral biomass and liquor into steam to power their mills.

The packaging materials should be compostable and degradable material that can enrich the soil and return the nutrients to the earth.

Do the materials comply with CONEG regulations? In 1989, the coalition of Northeastern Governors (CONEG) drafted model toxics legislation aimed at banning the use of lead, mercury, cadmium, and hexavalent chromium in packaging. Be sure your packaging supplier complies with this important regulation.

Are the materials FDA-compliant and BPA-free? FDA compliance is one of the gold standards for packaging. BPA stands for “bisphenol A” and is an industrial chemical that has been used since the 1960s to make certain plastics and resins. Since some researchers have raised concern that BPA can seep into food or beverages from containers made with BPA, it is important to ask your supplier if the materials are free of this chemical.

It is important that you purchase materials from suppliers who “walk the talk” when it comes to sustainability. Sustainability needs to be ingrained in the operational and manufacturing DNA of the company.

Check to see if the material supplier has dramatically reduced its greenhouse gas emissions, decreased its reliance on fossil fuels, and increased its use of carbon-neutral energy sources. In the paper industry, you can see this in the use of biomass and heavy liquor. Inquire if your supplier is reducing its use of water or creatively reusing water. Finally, ask if it’s beneficially reusing its process waste. For example, how has it diverted process waste from a landfill to composting?

There is a term bandied about in the industry called economic sustainability and it revolves around the strategies that make it possible to use resources to their best advantage. How can a company promote the usage of resources so that it is both efficient and responsible? In the paper industry, one of the ways of doing this is through having an integrated fiber energy supply.

Having an integrated fiber energy supply means that a paper company is less susceptible to market volatility and can bring this cost stability back to the end customer. Another way to do this is to continue to come up with ways to make the packaging lighter, while preserving its performance. By producing lighter-weight papers, you can get more with less and bring the cost savings back to the customer.

Sustainable materials are the foundation for sustainable packaging. By identifying innovative sustainable materials and sustainable management practices all along the manufacturing chain, we can all work together to foster a greener world.

Marcel Fortin is the business development manager for Twin Rivers Paper Company and has been in the paper-making industry for 27 years. Bruce Wellman is the director of product development and has 23 years of industry experience. Louise Merriman is the communications manager for Twin Rivers Paper Company and has 15 years of marketing and public relations experience.