As packaging companies become more environmentally conscious, they are looking for ways to increase sustainability efforts while using the latest technology to develop products that work. When it comes to food packaging, this means considerations about shelf life and product freshness must also be taken into account—and these considerations may change, depending on which type of food product is being packaged.
FTA member TC Transcontinental Packaging is one such company that has made an effort to create new ideas in sustainable packaging.
“For TC Transcontinental Packaging, [producing more environmentally friendly products] means creating a circular economy where all the players from sourcing, manufacturing and end-of-life management are involved and accountable to create the perfect sustainable packaging. We believe that we need to work as a team with CPCs to reach this objective together,” says Rebecca Casey, the company’s vice president of marketing and consumer market development.
One example of TC Transcontinental Packaging’s sustainability efforts, its compostable peanut bag, won a Gold award for Sustainability at the 2018 Flexible Packaging Achievement Awards. Recently, the company developed a 100 percent recyclable, multilayer barrier, stand-up pouch in partnership with Harney & Sons, an American tea company, for its loose tea flexible plastic pouch.
Planning the Pouch
The Harney & Sons pouch is meant to protect flavor and freshness. The pouch is made with an EVOH (ethylene vinyl alcohol) barrier for preservation, which prevents deterioration and extends shelf life.
Harney & Sons was interested in the technology, seeking to improve the sustainability factor of its flexible pouch for loose teas. TC Transcontinental Packaging sent the tea company samples of its recyclable granola pouch, developed in 2017 but never commercialized. The partnership began from there.
TC Transcontinental Packaging also partnered with Dow—utilizing its RETAIN resin technology—as well Charter NEX Films—which has had a commercialized film since October 2016. The entire process, from planning to finishing the project, took about eight weeks total.
“The challenge with barrier films from a sustainability perspective is that they are not easily broken down and recycled, therefore hindering their reuse and contribution to positive environmental change,” says Rebecca. “This is why our partnership with Dow was important. Its RETAIN resin technology provided the solution to this concern. RETAIN compatibilizes the barrier, thus allowing for a multilayer film to be fully recyclable and attain sustainability goals.”
A multilayer, co-extruded film preserves the delicate flavor of tea by protecting the natural oils that give its leaves a smooth flavor and finish. According to Rebecca, this type of film had yet to be commercialized for a food product.
She explains that an ideal structure for a flexible plastic stand-up pouch with strong preservation properties typically includes PE (polyethylene), providing an excellent moisture barrier, and EVOH, which offers superior barrier resistance to gases such as oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide.
The Harney & Sons pouch can work with other products that have the same barrier requirements fulfilled by EVOH. Rebecca lists dry foods such as nuts and granolas as other use cases.
Although it was an eight-week project, there were challenges to consider during the pouch’s creation. The newly developed structure required the additional attribute of durability—the ability to withstand the rigors of packaging and processing. For example, too much heat would distort the seal profile, while not enough heat would create leaks in the zipper and gusset crush. The structure also required machinability—meaning high production speeds—as well as sealability, to ensure seal strength and package integrity.
“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,” Rebecca points out. “Another key element is that we were able to produce this new sustainable pouch with a great design, ensuring outstanding graphic reproduction, thanks to our high-end flexographic printing technology.”
The Harney & Sons pouch has been available in stores since November 2018. TC Transcontinental Packaging is planning to create similar sustainable products this year.
“As we head into 2019, we intend to remain a leader in sustainability by developing products that are recyclable, compostable and made from recycled plastic to reduce our environmental footprint,” says Rebecca. “We also hope to help our customers to do the same. We believe that we need to work as a team to reach this objective together.”