Environmental consciousness and sustainability ruled the show floor during Pack Expo 2006, as companies showcased new products made from biodegradable resins, and Wal-Mart revealed its packaging scorecard to a packed house.
So many attendees were interested in an address by two officials from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. that show organizers had to change the room location.
The frenzy over sustainability and green products highlight one main thought, as pointed out by Matt Kistler, vice president of package and product innovations for Sam's Club, which is owned by Wal-Mart.
``There truly is green in green,'' Kistler said. ``It's very relevant in today's consumer base.''
Wal-Mart will start grading suppliers' product packaging under a score-card system, introduced by Amy Zettlemoyer, packaging director for Sam's Club.
The score card is part of Wal-Mart's effort to reduce packaging across its global supply chain by 5 percent by 2013. It is based around what the company touted as the seven R's of sustainability: remove, reduce, reuse, recycle, renew, revenue and read.
The score card allows suppliers to rate themselves, with 15 percent of the score based on material value, 15 percent on product/packaging ratio, 15 percent on cube utilization, 15 percent on greenhouse-gas emissions, 10 percent on recycled content, 10 percent on recovery value, 10 percent on transportation, 5 percent on renewable energy and 5 percent on innovation.
Suppliers can see where they stack up against their peers, and they will be rated for packaging innovation, environmental standards, energy efficiency and material use.
Wal-Mart has designed a Web site, www.scorecardlibrary.com, where suppliers can get an online demonstration. At www.market gate.com/packaging, a Packaging Supplier Virtual Trade Show is live to help product suppliers find packaging suppliers that can help them make improvements and conserve resources more effectively.
On Feb. 1, Wal-Mart will share the packaging score card with its global supply chain, and will start grading suppliers Feb. 1, 2008.
Berry Plastics Corp. of Evansville, Ind., is on Wal-Mart's list of suppliers, and officials there see the score card as a benefit.
``I think plastic suppliers need to look at it as a benefit, because if they don't they'll get left behind,'' said Amanda Holder, sustainable packaging development engineer with Berry, in a Nov. 1 interview.
``It provides a good opportunity for converters in general. It's definitely a different perspective because we're typically dealing directly with the [consumer-goods companies] and now, this gives us an opportunity to have direct impact on retailers. If you have an innovative idea, you can take it directly to the virtual packaging site.''
Other plastics firms on Wal-Mart's list include Alpha Packaging Inc. of St. Louis; PVC Container Corp. of Eatontown, N.J.; and Comar Inc. of Buena, N.J.
But, the theme of green has to be communicated to the general public, too, increasing consumer awareness, according to several officials at the show.
At thermoformer Co-Extruded Plastic Technologies Inc. in Edgerton, Wis., officials will launch www.gogreenpkg.com as an educational tool. The site will include information on issues like source reduction - for example, getting rid of labels and merchandising sleeves.
``If we don't educate and we're not cost-effective, we'll fail,'' warned Linda Bracha, CPT founder and president.
CPT's booth touted a new line of trays and retail packages marketed under Go Green. The company's foamed polypropylene packages are made via a process that saves nearly 30 percent in energy and materials. Officials said the result is a part that can be printed with vibrant graphics, copy and barcodes.
``The packaging landscape has changed,'' Bracha said. ``Containers are expected to do more than ensure that food and beverages won't leak. Packaging is a prime medium for brand messages, yet there is a growing pressure to decrease the energy and material requirements. It's gratifying to know that our products are manufactured using less materials and less energy. At the end of the day, our extruder has to do 30 percent less.''
For Placon Corp. of Madison, Wis., Pack Expo meant introducing a newly created Green Team as it converts customers to sustainable packaging. That group includes company employees from all areas including project engineers and sales officials who will work with customers from the idea stage to getting the product manufactured.
``A lot of our customers are currently in PVC,'' said Jennifer Mitchell, marketing services specialist with Placon. ``But consumers are becoming more environmentally aware. So we put this together to help them in all different areas.''
Placon began recycling scrap plastic in 1974, and now, it's entirely PET focused. Its recycled PET products are compliant with the California Rigid Plastic Packaging Container Law.
Even beyond Wal-Mart's initiatives, companies are finding ways to address increasing global demand for biodegradable products, according to Steven Liu with Good Flag Biotechnology Corp. in Taoyuan Hsien, Taiwan.
Although it focused for years on PP microwavable containers, the company began making containers based on polylactide (PLA) in 2004.
``This is a world trend,'' Liu said.
Polypack Inc. in Tampa, Fla., displayed its Bio-Wrapper shrink wrapper machine series specifically built for biodegradable and compostable shrink film. Collaborating with Plastic Suppliers Inc. of Columbus, Ohio, Polypack developed machines that run biodegradable, Earth-First-brand PLA film, which is Plastic Suppliers' brand.
In an Oct. 31 presentation, John Murray, Polyflex sales manager with Plastic Suppliers, said biopolymer shrink sleeves are the final frontier for his firm. PLA film, although very functional, is not a barrier film. It shrinks just like a petrochemical-based film.
``We believe biopolymer shrink sleeves will have a very large impact on the marketplace. It actually shrinks easier than some petrochemicals,'' he said. ``They're cost-competitive and you still are getting the benefit of saving energy by going with a biopolymer.''
Murray said his firm's business is ``past healthy.''
``We've only been manufacturing this film for less than a year,'' he said. ``We tried to brand it, because how is a consumer going to know that they're contributing to something sustainable? The technology is so new that we don't even know all the things that we'll be able to do with it.''
One thing the industry can be sure of is that consumer environmental awareness is going to increase with the growing preference for reduced and recyclable packaging, said Harris DeLoach, chairman and chief executive officer of Sonoco Products Co.
``One thing I think that we can be sure of is that sustainability is not the flavor of the day, and it is not an issue that is going away,'' he said.
``Indeed, it will be with us anywhere in the world where we choose to do business, and packaging, by its very nature, is going to be front and center of this debate. Each of us in the packaging industry carries a responsibility to our customers, to our industry and to our communities to assume a leadership role in helping to maximize a more sustainable global society for all.''