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Manufacturers, customers aim for sustainability in packaging

Sustainability has become a buzzword in the produce industry, and beyond, but providing sustainable packaging or running a sustainable operation can be challenging at times.

For one thing, it can be relatively costly. And persuading customers, even those who say they support sustainability, to pay more for a sustainable product can be tough.

Packaging manufacturers say even though splurging for sustainable packaging may add some immediate costs for their customers, it can be a money saver over the long haul.

Customers often need help understanding the trade-offs, since some materials may help decrease in one area but cause increases in another, said Karen Reed, global director of marketing for Yakima, Wash.-based Kwik Lok Corp.

“We help them find which materials will help them meet their goals,” she said.

“Anytime you can implement a sustainable practice that helps you reduce waste, whether it be using less energy, water or [producing] less waste going to the landfill, you have a sustainability practice that saves money and can create efficiencies in other areas,” Reed said.

Take energy costs, for example.

“By changing to more modern and efficient systems, you can save a lot in costs over time,” she said. And by using sustainable materials, packaging may be compostable or recyclable and “a good candidate for a circular economy.”

Customers typically don’t want to spend more for sustainable products, conceded Jason Adlam, vice president of new business development for Alpharetta, Ga.-based CHEP USA. But he said they’ve become increasingly curious about sustainability and are interested in partnering with CHEP to improve both companies’ environmental footprints.

“They often see value in solutions that identify and mitigate waste and drive efficiencies through cost-saving opportunities,” he said.

In the past year, CHEP generated more than $115 million in customer value from a range of initiatives that reduce waste and emissions in the supply chain, he said.

Members of the Itasca, Ill.-based Fibre Box Association, which includes corrugated manufacturers throughout the U.S., are deeply invested in sustainability, both financially and philosophically, said Rachel Kenyon, senior vice president.

Members support life cycle studies to scientifically measure the environmental footprint of the average U.S. corrugated box in addition to sustainability programs and initiatives they implement on their own, she said.

“By nature, corrugated packaging is truly a circular packaging solution,” Kenyon said. “From efficient use of trees grown in managed forest lands to sustainable practices during manufacturing and high recycling rates that put fiber back into the system, corrugated has an established sustainability record.”

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