Plastic packaging scores an environmental win

What’s the net environmental cost of plastic packaging and how does it compare to other packaging? New research explores the material’s “natural capital” value and concludes that its eco-efficiencies make good business sense.

Natural capital is “the finite stock of natural assets (air, water, land) from which goods and services flow to benefit society and the economy. It is made up of ecosystems, and non-renewable deposits of fossil fuels and minerals.” It was coined by British economist E.F. Schumacher in his 1973 book “Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered.”

Natural capital is used by the global economy to produce goods and services: Oil is extracted from the ground to power industry; trees are harvested for pulp and wood; cattle is bred and raised for human consumption. What are the social and environmental costs associated with natural capital consumption, like greenhouse gas emissions and waste management—and who is to pay the price?

The natural capital costs of almost every product and service our economy produces and consumes is not accounted for in corporate finance, nor is it factored into the market price for a consumer product good or service. Trucost—a company working to change that—applies natural capital valuation techniques to business operations to allow corporate entities measure environmental impacts in monetary terms. The intent is that these environmental costs can be factored into business decision-making and investment, policy setting and in weighing the tradeoffs between implied costs and benefits of economic activity.

Trucost developed a methodology for valuing the environmental cost of plastic used in the consumer goods sector for the United Nations Environment Program in 2014. Titled Valuing Plastic,Trucost identified $75 billion in annual natural capital costs associated with plastic use by the consumer goods sector.

Is $75 billion in natural capital costs associated with plastic use in the consumer goods sector a lot? Trucost’s 2016 report for the American Chemistry Council, Plastics and Sustainability, works to place this valuation within a larger context by analyzing the natural capital costs associated with the consumer goods sector if plastics were replaced with alternative materials.

Trucost finds—in accordance with recent studies by Franklin Associates and Denstatt—that a move away from plastics comes at an even higher net environmental cost, due primarily to the material efficiency of plastics versus the alternative materials intended to replace it.

Specifically, Trucost’s natural capital valuation of plastics versus its alternatives in the consumer goods sector demonstrates that substituting plastics with other materials that perform the same function comes at a net environmental cost of about 4 to 1. While plastics consume a lot of natural capital during production and transport to market compared to alternatives, the inherent material efficiency of plastic allows it to perform the same function with less mass. Trucost provides insight into the environmental hot spots of plastic use in the consumer goods sector, demonstrating that the largest return on investment for natural capital consumption occurs upstream during resin processing and transport.

Among the key questions the report explores are:

• What is the global environmental cost of plastic use in the consumer goods sector and how would this change if plastic were replaced with alternatives?

• What is the impact on oceans for plastics and its alternatives?

• Which sectors have the greatest environmental cost?

• What are the most important environmental costs and where are they concentrated in the value chain?

Consult the free report for a full analysis.


Chandler Slavin is the sustainability coordinator and marketing manager at custom thermoforming company Dordan Manufacturing. Privately held and family owned and operated since 1962, Dordan is an engineering-based designer and manufacturer of plastic clamshells, blisters, trays and thermoformed components. Follow Slavin on Twitter @DordanMfg.




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Sustainable packaging requires yin and yang thinking

There are two big picture catch phrases competing for the attention of the packaging industry: Sustainable Materials Management and The Circular Economy. Which is better for the environment? Which is better for your bottom line?


Wait, grasshopper. The answer isn’t one or the other. It’s both.

Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) is a framework for minimizing the environmental impacts related to the consumption of products and services. It is based on the concept of lifecycle thinking, whereby the cradle-to-grave chain of inputs, throughputs and outputs of a specific product or service is measured, analyzed, compared and evaluated.

There are two primary aspects to SMM. The first relates to source reduction, in which the goal is to minimize the amount of materials and energy needed to deliver 100% of the value expected from purchased products and services. According to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, all processes create waste of some sort. Thus, it is always better to conserve resources by not using materials and energy than to figure out how to mitigate the effects of The Second Law.

After source reduction techniques are applied, the key to successful SMM implementation is to:

• Use only the most effective, efficient material and energy resources when creating products and services, and

• Keep those resources operating indefinitely within the economic system.

Doing so requires Circular Economy (CE) thinking, which minimizes disposability and waste while maximizing conservation, reuse and recovery.

When working within both SMM and CE frameworks, it is important to keep a couple points in mind:

1. Looking at the “big picture” from a lifecycle perspective can produce counter-intuitive, but more effective, actions and results. (This type of holistic thinking is critical to achieving optimal results.)

Example: Recycled paper fibers are shorter, and not as strong, as virgin fibers. In certain cases, containers made from too much recycled content may not adequately protect heavy and/or high-value products such as computers, televisions and medical equipment. If a package is too weak, the value of high recycled content is more than offset by the negative economic and environmental impact should the products inside become damaged.

2. Because we haven’t yet invented a perpetual-motion machine, achieving SMM and CE is a journey, not a destination. Over time, innovation and its long-term effects can create the need to augment or modify strategies and tactics.

Example: Flexible pouches have significant source reduction benefits over rigid containers, even when the former are not being recycled. However, as the amount of flexible packaging increases, so does the solid waste and public concern it creates. Through innovation, materials are now being introduced that increase the likelihood of flexible packaging being recycled, both physically and thermally. Such innovation adds to the original source reduction benefits and optimizes the use of resources over the lifecycle.




With its emphasis on science-based decision making and material neutrality, AMERIPEN strongly believes in the yin-and-yang approach of combined lifecycle thinking, sustainable materials management and the circular economy. To ensure a more sustainable packaging supply chain, the organization is working with policymakers, government agencies, and industry to put these concepts to work.

Robert (Bob) Lilienfeld, a marketing and communications consultant to AMERIPEN, has been involved with sustainable packaging for more than 20 years.

Photos courtesy Robert Lilienfeld.


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Spiral conveyors carry small packs at high speeds

More smaller U.S. households, in combination with the trend of single-serve packaging to ensure freshness and help encourage healthy eating, means container size is shrinking too. Conveying small loads on a packaging line can be problematic because there’s not much surface to keep them stable. Two new versions of the Narrow Trak spiral conveyor from Ryson Intl. address this challenge by reliably transporting small packages (cartons or containers) in a single file or in a continuous mass flow at speeds in excess of 200 feet per minute.

These new vertical conveyors come with 6- and 9-inch wide nesting slats, which provide a flat conveying surface without gaps to ensure smooth end- or side-transfers. And unlike other conveyors that use side grippers to transport packages at high speeds, the Narrow Trak systems don’t require time-consuming adjustments to run different sizes. Additionally, the company’s proprietary low-friction chain slat design helps reduce maintenance needs, keeping uptime high for high-throughput packaging lines in the food, beverage, personal care and pharmaceutical/nutraceutical markets.

Super-compact, the spirals save valuable floor space. For example, units with 6-inch wide slats measure just 4-feet 3-inches in their outside diameter.

See the Narrow Trak spiral conveyor at Pack Expo 2016 (Nov. 6-9; Chicago) in the Ryson Intl. Booth N-5528.


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Justin’s brand remains sustainable


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