Rapid Access International, Inc.
Americans are becoming increasingly concerned about the effect of plastics on the environment. At the forefront of this problem is the issue of plastic containers made from non-biodegradable plastics (such as polystyrene) that take hundreds of years to decompose. Landfills around the globe and the oceans are full of plastics that have not decomposed and now entering the food chain through fish and other wildlife, which are then consumed by humans. The problem is growing and is a serious threat to the environment and to human health.
Several US retail stores are now charging fees to consumers for the use of plastic bags to package their goods for transporting to their homes. Many US consumers also now carry a cloth shopping bag to the store to carry their groceries to limit the number of plastic bags they use. There is a more promising trend however, that is gaining momentum in the US – “green” packaging using materials and packaging made from biodegradable and sustainable organic materials. Many new firms have sprout up in the US to take advantage of this new and growing trend.
According to the market research group Freedonia, the World demand for green packaging is expected to rise 5.7% per year to US$212 billion in 2015.
Within the green packaging market, recycled-content packaging is the largest product type by far. Recycled-content packaging is among the slowest to grow within the sector due to the maturity of products such as metal cans and glass containers. Reusable and degradable packaging will experience significant growth over the next few years with degradable packaging in particular seeing double digit annual growth rates. Degradable packaging’s demand is on the rise and growing rapidly, but overall it still makes up approximately 1% of the overall green packaging market by 2015.
The Asia/Pacific region is the largest market for green packaging with an estimated value of US$79 billion because of its large food and beverage industries. Asia will see some of the fastest growth in India, China, and Indonesia. Other countries such as Russia, Turkey, Brazil, and Mexico will experience strong growth as well.
The US has 23% of the green packaging market and has the world’s largest market share. Other advancing markets can be found in Germany as well as Japan.
The greatest success in the green packaging industry seems to be in the packaging of fresh foods for use in grocery stores. A firm called Be Green Packaging based in Richmond, California (revenues of US$11 million) is making food containers that are made from bulrushes (a kind of wild grass or reeds that grow in wetlands or marshes). This new technology is designed to replace all the harmful polystyrene containers that are currently used to package and wrap fresh foods such as meats, poultry, and seafood and the packaging can compost in 30 to 90 days successfully. This new type of packaging is being distributed in the US by a firm called Excellent Packaging & Supply.
RAI spoke with Be Green Packaging to determine the advantages of this technology. The containers are designed to compost in either residential or municipal composting facilities within 30 days to 90 days. The packaging is made of materials such as bulrush, but they also contain bamboo, sugarcane bagasse (the fibrous matter that remains after sugarcane or sorghum stalks are crushed to extract their juice). It is currently used as a biofuel and as a renewable resource in the manufacture of pulp and paper products and building materials along with wheat or rice straw. According to Be Green Packaging the company is not competing with food growers to use plants or source material that is typically used in food production. So the green packaging in many cases is not competing with the food production (such as corn products or soy, etc.) All of the plants are renewable and consumed on an annual basis, so there is an abundant supply of them over time (for products such as bulrushes or sugar cane fiber (used after the sugar has been extracted from the cane)).
The key feature of any new degradable packaging is that it must be strong enough to handle freezing for long periods of time, as well microwaves and ovens. The other feature is the food packaging must be able to handle “wet” packaging of items such as fish and meats without leaking or breaking down.
According to the distributor firm called Excellent Packaging & Supply, most grocers do not want to work with polystyrene plastics, but they don’t have many alternatives on the market at the present time. They are eager to try out new and promising green packaging if it can hold up to the tests for strengths and temperature that are needed to package wet food products and that can offer durability and sturdiness. There are new types of packaging now coming on the market made from degradable products that won’t harm the environment.
Another interesting new product is a biopolymer-lined clamshell container that is made by Ingeo (part of NatureWorks – revenues US$14.2 million). These containers are used primarily by cafeterias or restaurants to package food-to-go. The containers combine bagasse-based shells with a biopolymer coating. So, that means the containers won’t leak when the customer is transporting hot or cold food but they are still biodegrade over time.
The most successful initiatives link sustainable packaging to a broader environmental brand position, such as Clorox’s GreenWorks brand. It is critical to make the environmental messaging clear, and claims linked to recycling typically are understood and supported by shoppers. References to “post-consumer materials” (such as recycling of bottles or cans) are the least interesting to consumers.
Many kinds of Companies among all industries, from computer makers to shoe retailers, are making efforts towards sustainable packaging, not only to save the environment, but also to reduce costs. In the case of Dell Computer, the company estimates a savings of more than $8 million and the elimination of approximately 20 million pounds of packaging material over the next few years.
Another product that is making news headlines is NVIRO® Flexible Packaging, a new product that is completely green (including the zipper mechanism and other features of the product). This product utilizes materials extracted from renewable resources - corn and plant starches, which allow it to compost in a municipal composting environment.
The key challenge to the green packaging industry is not in getting the customers to use the packaging, but making sure the degradable packaging is sturdy and durable and won’t leak. Most people want to use green packaging but the availability of products on the market at present is fairly limited. The cost to produce some of the green packaging is also a difficult barrier to market entry compared to firms that manufacture inexpensive polystyrene plastics for use in food packaging.
Overall, the green packaging industry is growing at a strong rate globally with room in the market for new players and technologies. Consumers have shown a strong preference for green packaging and there is only going to be growth in the green packaging market.
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