Material Matters

Posted: December 17, 2011 by
Linda Casey

Sustainability concerns have expanded the role and responsibilities of designers, says Scott Jost, vice president, innovation and design, for Studio One Eleven, a division of Berlin Packaging. Designers are expected to know more about packaging materials and the converting process, as well as marketing and branding.
Design and material choices that used to be made in separate silos by the package designer and the engineer are now being made by integrated teams, adds Wendy Jedlicka, CPP, president of Jedlicka Design Ltd. In these teams, designers can play an active role in both the genesis and execution of a package design. But they need to be fluent enough in engineering to be able to explain what they want from the packaging materials and “understand that there could be limits,” she adds.
That doesn’t mean package designers aren’t pushing the limits. “In some cases, brands are trying to get the same performance properties in terms of column strength and top load out of packages that weigh 20% to 30% less than they did a couple of years ago,” says Jost.
Lightweighting’s limits
This push toward greater sustainability is exactly where the package design industry should be, says Wayne LoPrete, a package development consultant and former vice president of global packaging for Estée Lauder Companies. But the materials themselves and the converting of those materials have to evolve if the packages are going to perform properly. According to the International Bottled Water Association, the gram weight of the 16.9-oz. single-serve bottled water container has dropped by 32.6% over the past eight years. The association says that the bottled water industry saved 445 million pounds of PET plastic in 2008 alone by reducing the weight of its plastic bottles. This is all well and good, but LoPrete’s concern arises when you have a very thin-walled bottle that’s lightweight but doesn’t hold up well throughout the distribution chain.
Real innovations in sustainability thinking are starting to take root in these endeavors. In 2009, PepsiCo introduced the Eco-Fina bottle. Used for the company’s Aquafina water brand, the Eco-Fina bottles were touted as the lightest bottle of its size among U.S. bottled water brands. In March 2011, PepsiCo announced that it had developed a PET plastic bottle made entirely from plant-based materials, including switch grass, pine bark, and corn husks.
PepsiCo chairperson and CEO Indra Nooyi also announced plans to source raw materials for this bottle from agricultural by-products from its food business. Specifically, the company ultimately plans to use orange peels, potato peels, and oat hulls. PepsiCo expects to enter pilot production of the new bottle in 2012, and upon successful completion of the pilot will move directly into full-scale commercialization.
Plastic lightweighting efforts aren’t limited to PET. Designers sometimes specify nucleators to increase polypropylene clarity. The additive is also being used to increase the stiffness impact balance of polyolefins, such as polypropylene. “If you increase the stiffness impact balance on a polyolefin, you can then make a package’s wall thinner and keep the same stiffness,” says Wim Van de Velde, global market manager at Milliken & Company.
Fashionably thick
“Package designers have to meet several different criteria at the same time,” says Michael Sauer, design director of Webb deVlam. “There are the functional aspects and the branding aspects. A lot of this is dictated by the category language—expectations within certain categories.”
LoPrete adds that a very thin-walled plastic package for a skin care product can present a down-market look. He also notes that glass is used by brands such as Le Mer, Lancome, Estée Lauder, and Shiseido for their most luxurious products. But PET packaging is making inroads in the skin care market. “This is being driven by the ability to make packages, such as a heavy wall jar, which are perceived as quality containers,” he says.
Thick-walled PET packages are adopted by some brands looking to lower their products’ carbon footprints. These robust containers can weigh half as much as a similar package made from glass. LoPrete says that PET also is the only option for some of the newer package types for skin care products. “You have to use plastic for airless dispensers because of the consistency of the molded parts,” he says. “It doesn’t work with glass because it might have uneven wall thicknesses.
“But glass is still king in fragrance,” he adds. A preference for glass isn’t limited to cosmetic brands. “Glass is hands down the premier material for preserving a quality product,” says Jeff Krum, chief financial officer at Boulevard Brewing Company. “Cans are fine as far as quality goes but they don’t present the kind of image or the tradition that’s inherent in glass.”
The brewer chose to stay with recyclable, amber glass for four-packs of its Smokestack Series beer, and it won a 2011 Clear Choice award from the Glass Packaging Institute for the packaging. Boulevard turned up the bottle’s branding potency by building in a branding element right into the glass—the brewery name is embossed on the bottleneck.
Creativity calls
A growing number of craft brewers also are looking to another infinitely recyclable material for packaging. The Bomb Beer Company recently launched Bomb Lager, a traditional Bavarian Helles, in 12-oz. aluminum cans from Rexam.
“Along with creating a quality product, Bomb Lager is about artistic expression, so we wanted a package that people would want to see and be seen drinking,” says Mike Raymond, managing director, Bomb Beer Company. Every production of Bomb Lager will take advantage of the can’s large messaging area by featuring a new can design developed by a New York street artist. East Village artist Billy Miller came up with the graphics for the first can.
Steve Gardner, vice president of communications at The Aluminum Association, notes that not only do cans offer a large decoration area, they also protect the beverage quality. When asked about the metallic taste associated with canned beers, Gardner says: “The stigma of a canned beverage’s metallic taste is a holdover from the tin can back in the day. Aluminum never had that issue. Kegs are made from aluminum!”
Gardner also is hearing buzz from U.S. vintners that are interested in aluminum-extruded bottles for wine. He says these wine brands might soon follow European wine merchants that have already embraced aluminum packaging and offers California wine brand Flasq as an example.
Flasq’s brand owner JT Wines unveiled the aluminum bottled wine line in April 2011. Tim McDonald, cofounder and CEO of JT Wines, says Flasq has enjoyed good growth since its launch and wine shops, bars, resorts and grocery stores in more than 30 states now carry the wines.
The metrics of green
No doubt, when the world’s largest retailer tells brand owners that their product packaging needs to be sustainable before it can be on Walmart’s shelves, those words carry weight. Increasingly, though, consumer packaged goods companies (CPGs) are striving to meet their own sustainability objectives.
To help CPGs accurately report the sustainability of their packages, manufacturers such as PaperWorks are using the Walmart scorecard and the Sustainable Packaging Coalition online comparative packaging assessment tool COMPASS. Design agency Webb deVlam takes a different approach and uses Sustainable Minds’ Eco-concept Modeling + Life Cycle Assessment Software.
“We compare eco-metrics on different packaging concepts in terms of carbon footprint, but also in terms of the manufacturing costs,” says Sauer. “Something that at first glance is a good fit because it’s compostable, recyclable, and otherwise plays well in the sustainability arena also might be an expensive process.”
One thing never changes about packaging: There’s a limit on how much a consumer will pay for packaging versus product, so there’s a limit on how much a CPG can spend on sustainability. “Ultimately, it’s about costs,” says LoPrete.

For more information, visit
The Aluminum Association,
Jedlicka Design Ltd,
Milliken & Company,
PaperWorks Industries,
Rexam PLC,
Studio One Eleven Design,
Sustainable Minds LLC,
Sustainable Packaging Coalition,
The Glass Packaging Institute (GPI),
Webb deVlam,


For articles on similar topics, visit the Sustainability channel.