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Packaging and environmental concerns.

As consumers become more sensitive to the environment and look for ways to protect it, the word "RECYCLE" has become a battle cry. Many cities and towns have recycling programs, more and more packages have the word "recyclable" imprinted on them, and by buying recyclable products and participating in recycling programs, consumers can feel that they are doing their part to protect the environment.

According to Raul Hauser, packaging systems sales manager of Fres-Co System U.S.A., consumer environmental concern is but one of five forces affecting change within our society with regard to packaging. The others are personal health and safety, convenience, efficiency, and cost effectiveness. The challenge is creating packaging material for food products that addresses these concerns and flexible vacuum brick packaging is a start in the right direction especially in addressing the environmental concerns.

The federal government has said that with regard to food packaging, there are only four acceptable solutions to solid waste management; recycling, source reduction, incineration and land fill. All of these terms are easily understood except source reduction. What is it?

Source reduction is reducing the package size and weight without reducing the amount of product inside the package. Think of it as bundling up in layers of clothes to keep warm--shirts, sweaters, jackets, scarves' all piled on keeping the "package" warm but bulky. Now with thin man-made materials, one thin layer of super-efficient cloth can keep you warm taking the place of bulky layers of inefficient cloth. With a very efficient flexible vacuum packaging material, you would use less of it thus reducing solid waste without sacrificing quality.

According to Hauser, source Reduction is the major advantage of the flexible, vacuum brick package Although he believes that eventually the brick package will be recyclable, it isn't right now. Current packaging materials are either 3 or 4 layers and each layer would have to be separated to be recycled.

To illustrate the principle of source reduction, Hauser related an example. Take two 65 lb. batches of coffee; package one batch in 13 oz. cans, the other in 13 oz. brick packs. Open the packages, pour out the ground coffee and measure the weight of the packages. For every 65 lbs. of coffee, the cans weighed 20 lbs., the film for the bricks weighed only 3 lbs.

The metal coffee cans are currently recycled at a rate of 40%, in this instance, 8 lbs. that are recyclable but 12 lbs. of waste for the landfill. The brick package is not recyclable but represents only 3 lbs. of waste to go to the landfill; 3 lbs. of waste vs. 12 lbs., this is a good example of Source Reduction.

Big Source Reductions are better than low recycling rates. Just because something is marked "recyclable" doesn't mean it's 100% recyclable or that the consumer will recycle it. As illustrated by the coffee cans, sometimes a recyclable product can contribute more solid waste than a non-recyclable product.

To illustrate the importance of Source Reduction and the impact that it can have, Hauser shared the results of a study that Fres-Co conducted examining the impact that Source Reduction would have on the ground coffee segment of the coffee industry if it switched from cans to flexible packaging. The study was based on using 13 oz. ground coffee packed in cans and brick packs. It was also based on the following assumptions.

Currently, the total packages needed for one year for the coffee industry is 900 million; roughly 600 million cans and 300 million brick packages.

The average truck cost to transport cans in or out of the roasting facility is about $800 each time. The truck's fuel consumption is about 6 miles per gallon and diesel fuel costs is approximately $1.14 per gallon. Average delivery distance is 700 miles, in or out of the roaster.

The primary container is the package that holds the coffee. A 13 oz. coffee can weighs 4.092 oz., a flexible packaging material holding the same amount of coffee weighs .452 oz. The primary container cost of the can with a lid bought in quantity is about 17 [cents] a can; the film for the bag costs 10 [cents].

The secondary container is what holds the cans or bags that have been filled with coffee. Holding 24 cans per case, the secondary container for canned coffee weighs 16.296 oz. The brick packages are in trays not cases; a top and bottom tray is put on the coffee and then it is shrink wrapped to hold it together. The secondary packaging for 24 bricks weighs 14.109 oz.

A quantity of 31,680 filled cans of coffee can be loaded onto a truck vs. 39,600 filled brick packs of coffee. If transporting 900 million metal cans annually, it would take 17,140 trucks to deliver the empty cans; the equivalent amount of film stock for vacuum bricks would take 897 trucks annually. It would take 28,409 trucks to deliver the 900 million cans of filled coffee cans versus 22,727 trucks filled with 900 million brick packs.

What is the impact of all of this as it relates to Source Reducing? Total reduction in the primary package alone of cans vs. bricks is 3.64 ounces per package. The brick packs represent 89% reduction in source rate.

By packaging in bricks versus cans (based on 900 million units produced of each), you save $63 million in primary package cost, in secondary package cost, over $4 million. In trucking deliveries, there is a savings of $12,994,075 in incoming packaging material deliveries and a savings of $4,545,455 in outbound truck deliveries of finished product. The total savings these four steps represent to the coffee industry is $84,664,530. Hopefully, some of these savings would find their way to the consumers.

In addition to being profitable, Source Reduction is good for the environment. Assuming the coffee can was 40% recyclable, there was still a savings of 112,680,000 lbs. at the landfill because the packaging weight of the primary package multiplied by 900 million, less the 40% that can be recycled, still means a savings of 112 million lbs. of solid waste.

Another 3,075,000 lbs. of landfill material is saved on the secondary carton. The savings in waste based on the primary and secondary packages required for brick packs versus the same required for cans represents a savings in waste of over 115 million lbs. that doesn't have to go into a landfill. This represents a 81.6% reduction of solid waste and getting the same amount of product to market.

In this case, Source Reduction also represents a reduction in the use of fossil fuel. Reducing the number of trucks coming in and going out represents a savings of 2,556,825 gallons per year of diesel fuel that will not go up into the air and pollute our atmosphere affecting the air that we breathe as well as contributing to global warming. Imagine, over 2.5 million gallons of fuel saved within one segment of one industry.

Source Reduction has more of a chance to be successful than recycling because something can immediately be done to reduce the landfills. If we are to protect and preserve our environment, we must look at all opportunities to do so. Just as recycling has become the battle cry of those of us trying to do something to make the world a better place, Source Reduction should also become a part of the environmental vocabulary. Our world needs all the help it can get. Shea is a specialty coffee consultant and writer. She can be contacted at: Grounds for Discussion, 717 Pratt Avenue, P. O. Box 10061, Huntsville, AL 35801, Tel/Fax: (205)539-5237.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:coffee roasting industry
Author:Sturdivant, Shea
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Article Type:Column
Date:May 1, 1992
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