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issue: June 2009 APPLIANCE Magazine

Cover Story
Sustainably Packaged


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Tim Somheil

Appliance OEMs want to shrink the cost and environmental impact of their packaging, but not at the risk of damaging their products.

The third-generation, fully automatic MSK Tensiontech F stretch hood applicator packages items of different sizes with stretch film. The understretch binds the product and the underpacking together into a stable load unit.

Appliance packages have to be multitaskers. As the International Safe Transit Association (ISTA) says, packaging has to be survivable, sustainable, and successful.

Survivability is a given. The most obvious purpose of a package is to keep its contents intact and unblemished on the journey from the factory floor to the consumer’s home. Considering what a long journey that is for some products, it’s no small accomplishment.

Sustainability is also understood. After all, the appliance industry has been putting a heavy emphasis on the sustainability of its packaging for decades. In the early 1990s, APPLIANCE magazine was reporting how producers like Mr. Coffee (now part of Jarden Consumer Solutions) considered recyclability one of its most important packaging concerns. That’s because packaging was one of the starting points of consumer awareness in green issues. A 1991 survey by the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) and the Good Housekeeping Institute showed that about two-thirds of consumers would consider switching to a different small appliance brand if their favorite choice wasn’t packaged in recycled or recyclable materials. Today, consumers are more knowledgeable about environmental issues and, more than ever, they’re choosing green products. That includes green packaging.

Successful packaging has to present the appliance in its best light. That might mean actually showcasing the product on a retail store shelf.

It’s a lot for producers to weigh as they look for new packaging systems that save them costs, or look to take costs out of their current packaging processes.

“Cost saving now is an even more relevant subject for manufacturers than ever,” says Uwe Jonkmanns, division manager and a member of the management of the MSK Covertech Group (Kleve, Germany; www.mskcovertech.com). “On the one hand, they aim at possible savings for packaging material and maximization of automation levels; on the other hand, they make a point of lower energy consumption. However, the demands for efficiency and achievement of the packaging systems stay the same.”

Appliance OEMs would also like to get more productivity out of their packaging equipment investment. “They expect their capital investment to amortize in a very short period of time,” Jonkmanns tells APPLIANCE.

In the appliance industry there is a broad spectrum of packaging technologies, but Jonkmanns sees cardboard boxes increasingly being replaced by film packaging. “Household appliances require a high degree of transport safety, stackability, and display effect, all of this as cost-effective as possible for all kinds of measurements,” he explains. “This is the reason the choice of appropriate packaging is crucial for economization of transport-, storage- and material cost, as well as for the presentation result at the point of sale.” Jonkmanns points out that BSH, Electrolux, Whirlpool, Candy, Smeg, Vestel, and other appliance OEMs have turned to MSK’s ClearView packaging system.

 

In addition to saving operator costs through automatic operation, this rotary turntable stretch wrapper from Phoenix Innotech (St. Laurent, QC, Canada; www.phoenixwrappers.com) is designed to save on material costs. While some other stretch wrappers may wrap the same amount of stretch film on the top and bottom, the PCTA 2300 allows the OEM to apply only the stretch film required at the top separately from the bottom. The materials cost savings can be as much as 15%. Time savings come from the separate up and down carriage speeds, which eliminate the time used and stretch film wasted when applied with a common speed control.

The EPS Challenge

Expanded polystyrene (EPS), although one of the most effective materials for keeping appliances and consumer electronics safe while in transit, took much heat from environmentalists for its bulky size in landfills and its inability to biodegrade. It’s also difficult to recycle compared with other plastics—so much so that many community recycling programs won’t take EPS.

But there have been multiple low-impact methods developed for recycling EPS—everything from regrinding the material into new packaging materials, to high-temperature incineration, to breaking it down into biodegradable materials using bacteria. And despite the challenges to recycling, a large percentage of the material used is, in fact, reclaimed and recycled. Data from the recently released 2008 EPS Recycling Rate Report from the Alliance of Foam Packaging Recyclers shows that the EPS recycling rate had grown to 19.5% in 2008.

Reduced Material Use

Regardless of the type of material used in packaging, the less used the better for the environment and for the OEM’s bottom line. Reducing material use is usually near the top of the priority list when OEMs look for new packaging solutions. “Lower film and energy consumption in combination with standardized material for final packaging contribute to a significant decrease in material usage,” Jonkmanns says. He points to MSK tension hood technology as an example. It uses very thin film but the packaging process doesn’t require the application of hydraulics and gas. “Energy consumption is less than 0.1 kWh per packaging unit, depending on power and the specific product,” he says. He adds that another trend in packaging is to make packages more easily recycled by making them completely from a single material instead of mixing materials.

But reducing materials use can only go so far. According to William F. Weber, vice president and general manager—DuPont Packaging & Industrial Polymers, in his keynote address at the Packaging Strategies CEO Summit a few months ago, “This is not enough. We can do more through innovation.”

And innovation in packaging was what DuPont (Wilmington, DE, U.S.; www.dupont.com) was recognizing in May at its 21st Packaging Awards event. While most of the winning packaging designs were for consumables, DuPont stressed the span of market segments participating in the competition. The judgment criteria went well beyond simply minimizing the amount of material used (See the sidebar Responsible Packaging Criteria).

And packaging is less of an environmental burden than the public, and lawmakers worldwide, seem to think. Material reduction efforts work, and recycling efforts in many parts of the world targeted packaging from the start. There have been many years to develop the best reclaim systems. The end result is a substantial reduction in consumer and industrial packaging materials going into landfills.

Europe’s Sustainable Packaging Model

The European Union (EU) quantified its reductions in recent data released by Eurostat and analyzed by EUROPEN (European Organization for Packaging and the Environment). While the EU GDP grew 40% in the 1998–2006 time period, packaging placed on the EU market increased just 11%. Nonwood packaging going into landfills actually decreased 33%. A target of 55% package recycling set by the EU was achieved or surpassed by 12 member states ahead of schedule. The 27 member states have various timetables to achieve a 60% waste recovery rate, but the average is already 69%. Only Greece and Portugal have seen only slight increases in packaging waste disposal.

“The latest EU data on packaging consumption clearly demonstrate that Europe has taken a proactive, innovative, and collaborative approach to reducing packaging waste,” said EUROPEN managing director Julian Carroll.

Most importantly, EUROPEN says Europe has developed a sustainable model for packaging waste management, enabling economic growth concurrent with environmental protection.

 

 


 

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