Bakers take interest in environmentally
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A loaf of bread in a plastic bag is about as minimalist as bakers can get. Yet, other baked products requiring more layers of packaging are using different types of plastic or paperboard materials. Increasing consumer interest in environmentally sustainable practices gives bakers impetus to find “green” solutions wherever they can throughout their processes.
Sustainability is defined as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “Sustainable packaging is better for the environment and creates less waste,” says Natalie Kirschner, marketing manager, PWP Industries, Vernon, Calif.
Aside from minimizing waste, bakers can adopt other solutions to increase the sustainability of their packaging. Possible approaches range from the choice of packaging material used to educating the end-user in proper waste disposal.
An effective way to minimize waste with a par-bake operation is to include the exact number of bags required in each case of product, instead of shipping the end-user a full case of packaging material. The exact number of packages can be shipped to the baker, and either banded or poly-wrapped, notes Pat Reed, chief sustainability officer and director of market development, McNairn Packaging Inc., Westfield, Mass. If the end-user is given a full case of packaging, it may either be wasted, damaged or the wrong item for the product, resulting in wasted bags and unsalable product, he adds.
Use of “right-size packaging” is another method of waste reduction, notes Kirschner. PWP Industries relies on design and review of customer needs to down-gauge the amount of plastic used.
Fortunately, more than one option exists as bakers search for sustainable packaging solutions. Reed describes various ways in which bakers can make more environmentally responsible decisions with respect to their packaging: use material from a certified sustainable source of raw material, such as FSC (Forestry Stewardship Council), or packaging sourced from a responsibly managed forest; don't mix materials, such as paper and plastic, so the package can be directed to the best end-of-life scenario, whether it's composting or recycling; clearly print the best way of disposing of the bag or material in the most sustainable manner; and educate consumers about what factors make a package sustainable.
PWP Industries uses the latest technology in environmentally friendly packaging to ensure sustainability. Its AgroResin® packaging is 100 percent biodegradable and compostable, made from renewable biomass fiber composite and is FDA approved. “AgroResin is durable and the porous surface helps extend product shelf life because of the permeability of air through the material,” Kirschner says. “The material is made from renewable agricultural biomass fiber composite. Once considered a waste product, incinerated and placed in a landfill, now agricultural biomass is made into packaging that returns to the earth after use through composting or biodegradation. This is truly a win-win for the environment and the economy because we are not using materials that have alternative uses, such as corn, palm or sugar cane. ArgroResin also is water-resistant and microwaveable. We also are working on an ovenable version, which should be available in a few months.”
Bakers must rely on the packaging experts to sort through much of the confusion that presently exists regarding environmentally friendly solutions, Kirschner notes. PWP follows the principle of reuse and recycle. “Compostability and degradability also are important factors for the future, but many of these solutions are new and still evolving,” Kirschner adds. “There is no definitive ‘scorecard’ today on the ecological value of a package, but we are working toward developing that measurement. To do that, we have to consider the entire cycle of packaging, from conversion to delivery and on toward the compost or recycling center. It is a complicated measurement, but it will help our customers make wise decisions.”
Regardless of the material used, it must perform as well as conventional packaging. One of the latest trends is the use of sustainable laminations or coatings “that will follow the main substrate into an end-of-life cycle scenario that keeps it out of the landfill,” Reed says. “These coatings and laminations can extend shelf life, enhance appearance to add value and provide the consumer with the best value.”
As bakers search for more environmentally friendly packaging solutions, providing the end-user with the best value remains a key consideration. In the meantime, packaging suppliers place much emphasis on innovation in response to consumer demand for a greener world.
Compostable: 90 percent disintegrated within 90 days in a compost heap
Bio-degradable: 90 percent disintegrated with 180 days in normal conditions
Recyclable: Can be re-introduced into the manufacturing process
Natural fiber: Food products, such as wheat, roots, sugar cane, rice and palm, contain natural fiber in their leaves, stems and husks
Degradable: A measure of how quickly a product will “degrade” or return to its natural (safe) state