It is no secret that there is a heightened awareness of the environmental impact of plastic waste and the growing demand among consumers for sustainable products. As well, there is a burgeoning number of organizations attesting to a sustainability mission.
While flexible packaging offers a number of sustainability benefits throughout its entire life cycle (especially when compared to other package formats) including: material/resource efficiency; lightweight/source reduction; transportation benefits due to inbound format and lightweight nature; shelf life extension; reduced materials to landfill; high product-to-package ratio; and beneficial life cycle metrics, there are still challenges to overcome regarding post-consumer recycling.
Why the premium tea company turned to TC Transcontinental Packaging to break the recycling barrier for multilayer flexible film pouches
So how does a brand’s commitment to its values help in solving this challenge and drive sustainable improvement and change? The partnership between Harney & Sons and TC Transcontinental Packaging demonstrates how forward thinking, like minded organizations with a common commitment to their sustainability values, can fuel one of the first 100% recyclable pouch with barrier properties for food and improve the environmental profile of their product, without compromising quality.
Harney & Sons, dedicated to delivering high-quality teas at a price that makes tea an everyday luxury, sought to improve the sustainability factor of their flexible pouch for loose teas moving it from a non-recyclable pouch to a more favorable eco-friendly vessel. “Since 2006, we’ve been member of 1% for The Planet and our goal is to move towards more recyclable and compostable components in our packaging,” said Emeric Harney, Harney & Sons' marketing director. They needed to locate a partner with the same vision to make this a reality and give back to the environment that grows the tea of the world. Aware of TC Transcontinental Packaging’s core value of innovation, their sustainable business practices that are firmly rooted in their values, and the fact that the company had made strides in the custom development of sustainable flexible packaging films such as compostable films for coffee and compostable pouches for peanuts, made it clear they were a natural choice.
TC Transcontinental Packaging’s R&D team was called on to develop a custom flexible packaging film that met all of Harney & Sons criteria for a 100% recyclable loose tea flexible plastic pouch. To begin, a multilayer, flexible packaging barrier film was not currently commercialized for a food product. A multilayer, co-extruded film is essential to preserve the delicate flavor of tea by protecting the product’s natural oils that give tea leaves a smooth flavor and finish. An ideal structure for a flexible plastic stand up pouch that will preserve the product will typically include PE (polyethylene), serving up an excellent moisture barrier, and EVOH (ethylene-vinyl alcohol copolymer), a material that provides superior barrier resistance to gases such as oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide.
Although the PE/EVOH combination is outstanding when it comes to preserving food and maintaining freshness, until now, barrier films could not be recycled because of the durability of the polymers involved, and the incompatibility of the polymers in the structure.
Other challenges to consider were that the newly developed structure required the additional attributes of: durability, the ability to withstand the rigors of packaging and processing; machinability, maintaining high production speeds; sealability, ensuring seal strength and package integrity; and great design, ensuring outstanding graphic reproduction.
And finally, there was one last hurdle, values over cost. A flexible packaging film requiring these characteristics came at a premium over traditional barrier film for food protection. But it was Harney & Sons’ commitment to its environmental values that had them pursue the project despite the incremental cost. TC Transcontinental Packaging engineered a custom structure that would meet the needs of the customer and keep the premium to a minimum.
It took 4 months of rigorous research, development, testing, and film and resin partnerships at TC Transcontinental Packaging’s Vancouver lab to reach success. Blending art, science and technology, TC Transcontinental Packaging created a custom multilayer, barrier film used for the stand-up pouch that hits all of the notes: 100% recycle ready for in-store drop off, included EVOH barrier for product preservation, had seal strength, was durable, and allowed for beautiful reproduction of the Harney & Sons’ luxurious heritage matte black and gold graphics. Keeping consumers in mind, convenience features including an easy-open laser score and a recloseable zipper ensured functionality of the stand-up pouch.
One of the key components that made this breakthrough possible was the incorporation of Dow’s RETAIN resin technology which compatibilizes the EVOH barrier thus allowing for a multilayer film to be fully recyclable and attain sustainability goals. This no longer hindered the ability for the package to be broken down and recycled, therefore hindering its reuse and contribution to positive environmental change. “Dow is thrilled to collaborate across the value chain with companies like TC Transcontinental Packaging and Charter NEX Films to bring to market one of the first, 100%recyclable, finished High Barrier Stand Up Pouch for Harney & Sons,” said Chris Gandy, North America Market Manager for Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics Adhesives business. “Dow’s comprehensive total pouch portfolio of resins, adhesives, and specialty products, combined with TC Transcontinental Packaging’s sustainability mindset and pouching expertise allows Harney & Sons to provide its customers with a more sustainable product.”
In regard to the premium cost, Harney & Sons believes what is important to them is also important to their customers and will be demonstrated at the till. According to Nielsen, Millennials are twice as likely (75% vs. 34%) than Baby Boomers to say they are definitely or probably changing their habits to reduce their impact on the environment. They are also more willing to pay more for products that contain environmentally friendly or sustainable ingredients (90% vs. 61%), organic / natural ingredients (86% vs. 59%), or products that have social responsibility claims (80% vs. 48%). At this point in time, Harney & Sons’ move to a recyclable stand-up pouch has had a favorable response from their customers, which is encouraging.
“From start to finish, this entire experience has been a tremendous success for us,” said Emeric Harney, Harney & Sons' marketing director. “We immediately bonded with the TC Transcontinental Packaging team over our shared values and commitment to sustainability, so to see the positive reaction from our customers has been incredibly rewarding. That collaborative mindset allowed us to achieve this important milestone for our business and we expect to continue making these kinds of strategic investments that deliver better experiences for our customers, align with our values and help make our planet a better place for future generations.”
The Opportunity for the Future
We now see that these organizations with strong common values central to their brand drove the creation of this new product and now opens the doors for increased sustainable packaging solutions for products that require oxygen and moisture protection such as food products. “We salute Harney & Sons for driving this important sustainable initiative, it was the perfect match as sustainability and innovation run deep in our organization,” said Todd Addison, vice president, business development at TC Transcontinental Packaging. “Both in our operations and our partnerships, this shared core value and collaborative mindset fueled our sustainable design process and resulted in a product worthy of bearing the Harney & Sons name.”
By promoting and supporting innovation in flexible packaging, more businesses, governments and non-government organizations will be encouraged to develop better solutions to the world’s biggest challenges. We are opening the floodgates of possibility for more food processors to take their sustainability initiatives a step further by increasing the recovery of plastic and post consumption plastic waste without sacrificing food preservation.
Consumers want to know that brands are supporting something bigger that benefits the local or global community. No longer does a company’s reputation rest solely on the shoulders of what they are selling. Rather, the increase in social consciousness and demand for a human element has consumers interested in what the company believes, and what it is doing about it.
Communicating your company’s message consistently and cohesively through your products and throughout the value chain will ultimately increase the public perception of your business and extend the roots of your customer base.
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