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Bringing US packaging success into local territory

The US remains one of the largest consumers of packaging in the world. A large proportion of the country’s packaging is in the form of waxed corrugated boxes, which make for impossible recycling and subsequent high landfill costs. The US Environmental Protection Agency approximates such landfill costs at $75/tonne, roughly equivalent to the revenue that could be gained from recycling the boxes if they were of an OCC (old corrugated cardboard) grade.

As a result, large US retailers like Wal-Mart and McDonalds are adopting recyclable corrugated board as their chief packaging medium. Moves away from wax-coated board such as these could save the US a potential $100 million annually, predicts the US Environmental Protection Agency.

A substantial influence on the US’s move to recyclable packaging is chemicals company Seydel International – or, more accurately, the chairman himself, Scott Seydel. Scott Seydel is also Board Chairman of Global Green and the GreenBlue Institute, both substantial environmental bodies in the US. Under his leadership, Seydel International has recently diversified into packaging from its original chemical textiles basis. Already, the company has found great success with their pro-environment range of chemicals and enzymes that ensure recyclable and repulpable board products.

Eager to bring this essential coatings chemistry to South Africa, Seydel International has teamed up with Durban-based Stephen Hoggarth of Process Performance Chemicals to target South Africa’s packaging market (corrugated in particular). Stephen hopes to bring to South Africa what Seydel has brought to the US: innovative, cutting-edge coatings to transform local packaging into recyclable revenue for its producers.

Key product benefits include coatings that not only refrain from damaging the recycled end product, but that create a product that is entirely repulpable and recyclable – or at least biodegradable.

What follows is the recycling journey of mainstream US retailers that Seydel and Global Green have set in motion in the last year.

STARBUCKS SETS A HOT EXAMPLE

For Starbucks, it all began with one man asking himself the following question: can your Starbucks coffee cup be recycled, and if so, is it really worth it? That man happened to be Starbucks' Ben Packard, also the vice president of Global Responsibility, joined by Jim Hanna, the director of Environmental Impact.

Given the fact that three billion of the world's 200 billion-plus paper cups that start as trees and end up at the dump each year bear the Starbucks logo, Packard and Hanna have declared that the company's iconic coffee cups will be recyclable by 2012.

Experts, who agree on the premise, have already begun examining ways to knock down barriers to reaching the goal, and some very interesting facts are emerging in the process.

Joel Kendrick, Western Michigan University's director of Paper & Coating facilities, reported that his laboratory has conducted preliminary trials indicating that many paper coffee cups in today's market are readily repulpable and recyclable.

Kendrick applied the Fibre Box Association's wax alternative protocol procedures to several of these cups and found some, including the familiar Starbucks cup, are certifiably recyclable under the industry-approved standard. "We believe recyclability can be determined in a certified lab and thus divert many thousands of tons of usable fiber from going to landfills," said Kendrick.

Annie White, who directs Global Green's Coalition for Resource Recovery (CoRR), co-authored a white paper with Kendrick detailing how spent cups and food packaging certified as OCC grade could hitch a free ride to recycling mills if source separated. Starbucks' hot beverage cups (among others) are already considered recyclable by the US public and are recycled as paper in many US cities. Thus recyclers may be receptive to CoRR's cup and cartonstock certification program, if it serves to upgrade that recyclability from "mixed paper" to "OCC equivalent".

How the recycling will take place

"Receptacles that are fitted with special paper liners will be provided for consumer use to collect spent cups, and those paper sacks will be bound in the OCC bundles that are daily shipped to the [recycling] plant," said White. "Within 72 hours after being discarded, the cups collected in this demonstration program will be component in linerboard used to form New York's take-out pizza boxes."

As the US's leading resource for lifecycle analysis data on original materials used in manufacturing packaging, the GreenBlue Institute has established criteria for determining costs, carbon footprint, compatibilities and end-of-life properties through its Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC). Included in this is SPC’s creation of Compass (comparative packaging assessment).

"Compass is an online software tool for packaging designers and engineers to assess the human and environmental impacts of their packaging designs" Stevenson said. "In achieving the Starbucks promise, each element of the cup's composition will need to be considered insofar as its sustainability criteria." As a founding member and frequent sponsor of SPC programs, Starbucks will use the Compass measurement tool to help achieve the recyclability goals, said Hanna.

CoRR REFUSES TO CHICKEN OUT EITHER

Over and above its work with Starbucks, CoRR (Global Green’s Coalition for Resource Recovery) have further helped set precedents in recovering paper food packaging in the US through Hunts Point Distribution Centre – the largest food distributor in the world.

CoRR and Hunt’s Point Distribution Center have ensured that the largest poultry processing plant in the US (Mountaire) has converted its packaging to Fibre Box Association-certified recyclable and compostable boxes supplied by Interstate Container.

This conversion will result in the transition of 6,000 tons of poultry boxes per year servicing the New York City market alone. If all of Mountaire’s boxes servicing the New York City market were recycled, greenhouses gases would be reduced by 21,000 mtCO2e per year, equivalent to removing 3,800 passenger cars off the road.

In March 2009, Interstate and Mountaire announced its plans to conduct trials of recyclable modified atmosphere packaging through Hunt’s Point, the world’s largest food distribution center, as part of CORR’s initiative to achieve 100% recyclable wholesale transfer packaging through the facility.

Interstate and Mountaire conducted multiple trials on boxes shipped through Hunt’s Point. Trials began pallet-by-pallet through Hunt’s Point’s harsh conditions and progressed to the truckload. More recently, a two-week shipping test was conducted where Mountaire product shipped solely in the FBA-certified recyclable boxes. With these results, Mountaire has announced its plan to not only convert its existing MAP packaging to recyclable boxes, but also to convert its ice-pack product to MAP packaging to allow for a full transition of its entire product line to recyclable boxes.
Full conversion at Mountaire’s Lumberbridge facility is expected to be completed during 2010.

Environmental and cost savings

The switch to FBA-certified recyclable packaging is only one component of the sustainable packaging transition. The switch in packaging methods from ice pack to MAP packaging will result in significant water and energy savings. The box size was reduced, and an inner plastic bag was eliminated, also reducing the unrecyclable combination of corrugated and plastic. Overall water, energy, and greenhouse gas savings associated with the design and packaging of the poultry are still being calculated.

According to White (director of CoRR), “Achieving 100% recyclable packaging through Hunt’s Point would divert over 30,000 tons per year of corrugated from the landfill and would reduce greenhouse gases by 103,000mtCO2e per year, equivalent to taking 19,000 cars off the road, and it would set the standard for greening transfer packaging throughout the world.”

The Hunt’s Point Demonstration Project is one of several of Global Green USA’s Coalition for Resource Recovery projects dedicated to generating business value through creating a sustainable, zero waste New York City.

MIRRORING THIS SUCCESS IN SA

The same success that Seydel has achieved through Global Green’s input into the production of Hunt’s Point and Starbucks packaging could easily be achieved in South Africa, perhaps fast-tracking local success with CDM projects as well.

For more information on Seydel International’s range of chemicals for board applications, please contact Steve Hoggarth of Process Performance Chemicals on +27 31 767 2003 or on +27 83 271 1149, or email steve@ppchem.co.za.

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