Packaging Companies Rethink the Box: The State of Green Business 2010

Packaging Companies Rethink the Box: The State of Green Business 2010

Editor's Note: To celebrate the launch of the third annual State of Green Business report, we will be highlighting over the next two weeks the 10 big trends that are shaping the future of the greening of mainstream business. You can download the report for free here, and read all 10 trends on GreenBiz.com.

Packaging issues have been of concern ever since the advent of "green" as a business issue. Early efforts were to create packaging from recycled or recyclable materials, then to reduce or eliminate packaging altogether. Packaging from biodegradable materials has had several false starts, probably because few packaging actually degrade in landfills or anywhere else. A variety of newfangled materials have come to the fore, though few passed muster, in terms of meeting price and performance characteristics. In the end, most of these products were -- well, sent packing.

At last, genuine packaging innovations appear to be in the bag. In 2009, a new generation of materials and products emerged with the intentions of being used in large quantities by big companies. Coca-Cola announced it developed a bottle made with 30 percent plant derivatives, intended for use initially for bottled waters. The company says the bioplastic container can be recycled through typical recycling systems without contaminating other plastics. Coke says it wants to make bottles with 100 percent plant materials eventually, and is eyeing wood chips, corn stover and wheat stalks as possible bottle materials.

{related_content}There were other innovations. Dell started shipping two of its products padded with bamboo cushioning, a part of the company's broad plan to reduce its packaging while using more recyclable material. Amazon.com launched a private label brand called AmazonBasics, shipped in what it calls Frustration-Free Packaging: minimal, easy-to-open and recyclable. Kraft Foods UK introduced resealable plastic coffee packs for its Kenco brand that are 97 percent lighter than their glass counterparts and require 81 percent less energy to manufacture. Frito-Lay's Sun Chips were relaunched in packaging made with 33 percent polylactic acid, a corn-based biopolymer. Aramark introduced a reusable takeout food container for college cafeterias, which the company says can divert as many as 2 million disposables from landfills in a single school year. In a similar vein, a collaboration between packaging manufacturer Direct Pack and recycler Global PET has resulted in the Bottle Box, the first 100 percent post-consumer plastic take-out packaging. Foodservice product providers Solo Cup and StalkMarket Products each released compostable paper cups for use with hot liquids.

Of course, efforts to reduce packaging continue unabated. Sprint and Cadbury both downsized their packaging as part of an effort to save tons of steel, waste and millions of dollars. Sprint's introduction of greener packaging for its entire wireless accessory line will save the company roughly $2.1 million annually and avoid 647 tons of waste each year. Hormel announced a range of new projects it expects will cut its packaging needs by at least an additional 5.3 million pounds a year. Kellogg's began trials with new, shorter, cereal box packaging made with fewer materials and designed to take up less space.

And then there was TerraCycle, the upstart New Jersey company that keeps finding new uses for old packaging, transforming them into innovative products. In 2008, it started manufacturing backpacks out of CapriSun juice bags, a new twist on logo-branded products. Over the past year, a veritable supermarket of goods emanated from its Trenton headquarters, all made from used packaging: portable, foldable audio speakers made with Frito-Lay product wrappers; cell phone holders, laptop sleeves and messenger bags from used packaging from Snickers, Altoids, Big Red and other brands from Mars, Inc.; Yak Pak backpacks made from reused vinyl billboards; diaper bags, tote bags and other goods from the used plastic packaging of Huggies diapers, Scott toilet paper, Kleenex tissue and other Kimberly-Clark products. In reusing packaging waste, TerraCycle seems to have tapped into one of the few truly renewable resources.

Tomorrow: Green Business and Cleantech Find Common Purpose