Are paper-based alternatives to plastic wrap really viable? | Article

FMCG brands are increasingly moving away from plastic multipack packaging in favor of paper-based alternatives. But, according to Lindum Packaging, this leads to high levels of product damage and food waste. Rick Sellers tells us more.

Sometimes the solution to a problem is worse than the problem itself. It’s the law of unintended consequences: and it’s more common than you might think.

The quest for ever more environmentally friendly packaging is a good example of this. Spurred by consumer concerns over turtles entangled in plastic, courtesy of Sir David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II, many brands and distributors have tried to get rid of plastic packaging. The introduction of taxes on plastic packaging has only increased the pressure to cut plastic.

The beverage industry is an industry that has rapidly moved away from plastic. In 2019, beverage giant Diageo announced it was reducing the amount of plastic used in its beer packaging and replacing it with cardboard. The company said it will remove the plastic ring holders and shrink wrap from its multipacks from Guinness, Harp and Smithwick’s.

In January this year, Mexican brewer Grupo Modelo said it was investing millions of dollars to switch from plastic rings for its canned beer multi-packs to fiber-based secondary packaging.

Many other brewers have followed suit and have gladly received applause from consumers for their eco-friendly initiatives.

However, it is not that simple. At Lindum Packaging, our pallet stability experts worked with a large brewery that has experienced a significant movement in transportation issues (MIT) with its pallets since moving away from plastic.

This resulted in many pallets of beer being damaged and rejected by customers. Damaged packs cannot be resold, so they must be discarded. Throwing away large quantities of beer is not just a financial loss: it creates food waste which is a major contributor to carbon emissions.

In addition, all the carbon embedded in the manufacture of cardboard packaging and aluminum cans and their transport to the customer is also wasted. This far exceeds the carbon that has been saved by moving away from plastic packaging.

When you add to this that the brewer had also invested hundreds of thousands of pounds to convert its packaging lines to plastic, the overall cost to businesses was huge. Converting back to plastic would have resulted in even higher costs.

To resolve the issue, our Pallet Stability Specialists used Lindum’s Mobile Pallet Stability Test Lab to identify the cause of the problem.

Developed by Lindum Packaging, the test lab is the first real-time on-site pallet stability testing facility in the UK. Until its launch in 2021, companies had to perform inconclusive transit trials, often at testing facilities in Europe, at a cost of up to €8,000 per test.

The main issues we identified were:

  • Cardboard sleeve packs used are more likely to undergo MIT than plastic rings which provide greater stability
  • When loaded onto a pallet, printed cardboard packages and cartons slide against each other, often due to the shiny printing surface
  • The effects of the switch from plastic to paper on the entire packaging system had not been taken into account, especially in the area of ​​pallet packaging.

The Lindum team performed over 100 EUMOS (European Safe Logistics Association) tests on over 100 product pallets. Through the combination of different stacking options, various wrapping patterns and alternative stretch films, they have made major improvements.

One of the main issues identified was that the pallet wrapping machines at the end of each line were not calibrated correctly and were using the wrong stretch film. Additionally, regular maintenance had been neglected, adding to stability issues.

Correcting these issues and using a much stiffer plastic stretch film reduced MIT’s problems by 86%, resulting in significant cost savings for the company.

While it may seem ironic to use plastic stretch wrap to reduce stability issues caused by switching to plastic-free packaging, the lesson shouldn’t be lost on any brewer looking to make a similar move.

The root cause of most of MIT’s problems could have been avoided with proper testing when the decision to move away from plastic was made. But that’s the problem with the law of unintended consequences, you don’t know what you don’t know, until you see the effects of a decision.

Bryce K. Locke