The Fashion Side of Flex-Pack

Package Converting

Packaging is sort of a fashion business—concepts come and go and sometimes are even fully commercialized. The stand-up pouch was developed and introduced in the mid 1960s—but it took another 40 years to become the “wunderkind” of our industry.

And so it is with the retort pouch. Introduced in the mid-1950s, it still is not fully understood nor has it reached its outstanding flex-pack potential. But it’s coming into fashion again.

Package sustainability follows this trend. I vividly remember walking in London in the late 1980s after a microwave packaging conference and noticing a storefront advertisement for a group called “Sustainability Plus.” The store, located near Russell Square (right near the recent bus bombing), contained a new guidebook rating the “greenness” of common household products.

From this, I thought that “green packaging” would be the next commercial interest, and so it was!

A landmark series of conferences—Greenpak, Enviropak, and GreenInks—soon followed. Held during a time when the environment was on the minds of most people, these conferences were quite successful.

Today, flexible packaging users/converters and suppliers are being deluged by “sustainability” concepts. Essentially, this is an upscale twist to the “green” wave of the 80s.

Sustainability in packaging is more encompassing than just “green packaging.” It goes beyond the “cradle to grave” idea into product, employee, and profit sustainability. Most of all, it must do good, save enough for future generations, and make a profit.

It’s going to be a rough road now due to a fairly apathetic administration that prefers not to emphasize the obvious benefits of sustainability. The urgency and push to implement that was evident in the 80s is not here yet—but slowly, it’s taking form.

Many multi-nationals maintain sustainability departments where each step in production is studied from a “totalistic” view. Companies such as Unilever, Alcan Packaging, Baxter Labs, Masterfoods, S.C. Johnson, and Wyeth Labs are in the forefront of this new sustainability wave.

It’s to every converter’s benefit to examine sustainability now and prepare a document going over how it is implemented. The time is rapidly approaching when it will be in fashion again—just like the ’80s.

Here is an excerpt from a recent report published by Baxter Labs—a comprehensive document on “Packaging Performance.” It states: “Baxter continues to look for every possible opportunity to reduce the amount of material used to package its products.”

This sustainability report also notes, “We have met or exceeded our projected goal to reduce packaging materials by 20% by the end of 2005.”

It contains bar tables and data on package reduction per production plan. I urge all readers to obtain the Baxter report. It’s a superb example of how a sustainability document should be authorized.

Many foreign nations are much more advanced in applying package sustainability in their product mix. The UK, France, Germany, and the Scandinavian nations lead the pack in Europe, while Australia is probably the leader in Asia.

Spearheaded by Victoria Univ. through its Packaging Research Unit, a comprehensive two-day program has been developed that is presented to industry on request. This course is an integral part of the Sustainable Packaging Alliance (SPA), formed in 2002 in recognition of the need to develop a supply-chain-focused approach to understanding the issues involved in package sustainability.

Prof. Kees Sonnenveld, head of the Packaging Dept., told me in a telephone interview, “We have presented our sustainability course many times to Australian industry to high acclaim and have developed a comprehensive set of proceedings that is distributed at the course.” All this is part of the strong commitment Australia has to the environment—the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) also has published a National Agenda for a Sustainable Future, whch discusses all aspects of sustainability—including packaging.

Stanley Sacharow has been in the flexible packaging industry for more than 35 years. His company, The Packaging Group, is an organizer of targeted conferences and a consultant to the international packaging/converting industry. Contact him at 732/636-0885; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

To read more of Stanley Sacharow’s Package Converting columns, visit our Package Converting Archives.

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