Sustainability — it’s an idea that has taken the world by storm, especially within the food industry. As its popularity increases among consumers, a major strategy involves minimizing packaging waste.
The responsibility stretches from the beginning to the end of the process; everyone has a role. Material companies can improve film’s recyclable properties; baking and snack manufacturers can pursue tight packaging and less production scrap, and consumers can be mindful of recycling and decreasing overall product waste.
Recyclable material has come a long way in the past five years as more companies get on the bandwagon and experiment with various solutions. Chuck Cucullu, vice-president of sales and marketing, Campbell Wrapper Corp., said material manufacturers are increasingly using post-consumer resins in the film structures. The post-consumer resin is typically about 30% of the total resin in the film.
The industry also is trending back to paper, said Kelly Meer, product manager, Bosch Packaging Technology.
“We have what’s called a ‘ZAP module,’ where we take recyclable mono-material paper and produce a vertical bag and apply a sealing agent for format flexibility,” he explained. “It’s kept to minimum, and the strategy is to keep the added poly below the recyclable range.”
To protect the product and extend shelf life, most packaging materials also require an oxygen barrier, light barrier and must be tough enough so that it doesn’t open too easily.
“The films that make extending shelf life possible are all really complex and, therefore, are less recyclable or not recyclable at all,” Mr. Meer said. “On the other hand, recyclable materials are very simple. In order to get barrier protectors, they need to be quite thick.”
While such recyclable materials are an environmentally friendly fix, they don’t have the availability yet to gain commitment from the entire industry.
“If you’re a big company with a very well-known product, you can’t get enough of that material to meet your needs,” said Dennis Gunnell, president, Formost Fuji. “It’s the bottleneck of not having a supplier. We’ll catch up with that, but it’s going to take a little while.”
As material companies work to overcome sustainability challenges, baking and snack manufacturers might be wondering what part they play in it and why they should play it. Not only can the right actions channel a greater message of sustainability to consumers, but waste reduction can also achieve another important reduction: a company’s overall production cost.
In full force
When it comes to reducing packaging waste, the most obvious way is eliminating the excess length and width of the material. And in recent years, many baking and snack companies have been doing just that, all while increasing consumers’ perception of their green awareness.
“Nobody wants to make the packages bigger or use more material than they need to, so companies are trying to make the packages as small or tight as they can to develop as much film savings as they can,” Mr. Cucullu said.
Formost Fuji’s premium bread wrapping machines use 11% to 14% less material overall than the previous systems. Part of this reduction was achieved by using a small seal and downgauging the package — it was lowered by 20% in thickness — with the same result.
“Over the course of a month, a year, a life of the machine, that’s a huge amount of material that’s not wasted,” Mr. Gunnell said. “When you’re looking at a candy bar or bag of chips, you’ll see extra material because the sizing is generous. We try to design the machine so it can wrap the tightest package that’s successful for what the customer wants to achieve.”
The more consistent a product is, the easier it will be for machines to wrap them tightly.
“If the customer can’t get the product consistent, we’ve got to design the equipment for the worst-case scenario,” Mr. Meer said. “However, the better product control, the less tolerance buildup we have to worry about and the tighter we can make the package. It’s a team effort.”
Despite trying to develop the tightest packaging, bakers may find that some other factors prevent them from eliminating material to be more environmentally friendly, Mr. Gunnell said. These include the safety and shelf life of the product as well as the durability of the package to withstand the distribution process.
“When we talk about waste, what else can we do?” asked Bill Kehrli, vice-president of sales and marketing, Cavanna Packaging. “Not only can we shorten package sizes, but we can also optimize and do things mechanically within the machine to reduce the overall cost.”
In full flow
Over the years, some waste has been reduced during the process but not completely eliminated. Before firing up the packaging line, particularly during changeovers, material’s synchronization with the technology is tested.
“We used to have to run out dozens of feet of film to get it dialed in,” Mr. Gunnell said. “Now, you can literally do it within a few feet. The machine knows what to do and is repeatable. It can also self-govern so that if the operator grabs the wrong material and puts it on, it will stop production and tell the operator that it needs to change the product menu or the film.”
When using the Sigpack HRM from Bosch Packaging Technology, an operator puts the material on, and the machine automatically centers the wrap and makes the splice, eliminating potential operator mistakes. It then feeds the material through like an old-fashioned projector.
To keep the line moving, companies splice an idle reel of flowwrapper into the one that’s already running once it gets down to the end of the roll. The splice section is waste that must be removed before the system jams.
“We can fine-tune a system to allow for only two packages to be removed as scrap,” Mr. Kehrli said. “On a very thin film that might be 2,000 or 4,000 imprints depending on thickness, we’re only removing two of them. So it’s really minor.”
But what happens when there’s a complication with a product? How much package waste does this create? With today’s technology, not much.
Equipment sensors recognize and react when a product is misshapen or out of specification.
“The machines have automatic rejection devices on them,” Mr. Cucullu said. “Let’s say a granola bar was broken. It would be kicked off the machinery so that from a waste and efficiency standpoint, you’re only packaging undamaged products.”
Formost Fuji wrappers have a no-jam feature, which lets the product pass through without sealing the package so that the product can be salvaged.
“Not too many years ago, you didn’t have that ability,” Mr. Gunnell noted. “The sealing jaws would come down on it and crush it, then it would get thrown away, you’d clear out the jam and use more material and product.”
After a broken product is ejected, it leaves a gap in the line. This is where a control called “no product, no bag” comes into play.
“If a product doesn’t get put into one of the carrier chain flights, we can sense that and stop the flow of the film but keep the infeed moving,” Mr. Gunnell said. “In the old days, an empty package would have been created and had to have been thrown away.”
While this control stops the equipment from jamming and saves material, it does have a downside.
“When you run at very high speeds, such as 500 wraps a minute per machine, the ‘no product, no bag’ doesn’t work,” Mr. Kehrli noted. “It works with moderate to low speeds, but the computer can’t react fast enough at a higher pace.”
Aligning products prior to them entering packaging systems eliminates wrapper failures.
“What we try to do is never have a product in the wrong position,” Mr. Kehrli stated. “The way we do this is we take control of the process from the ovens on out to making sure everything flows together.”
And streamlining from beginning to end has never been easier with new system controls.
In full control
The ability to preprogram a machine with all settings in place has drastically improved material waste minimization.
“Once you load the machine with the wrapping materials and the product, the machine will start in synchronization due to the recipe-driven controls platform,” Mr. Cucullu said. “Preprogramming has also really streamlined the changeover process.”
The industry buzzword “centerlining” encompasses these control algorithms, Mr. Kehrli said, and makes the process more efficient. Centerlining could be compared to the bumpers on a bowling lane, keeping the ball — or product and packaging — in the same secure direction repetitively.
Mr. Gunnell said it’s important to have more intuitive operative controls because if operation is difficult, there will be a lot of waste no matter how good the machine is.
“Now, it’s more like your cell phone,” he explained. “The whole interface is less complicated and more user-friendly, right down to the point that we can even use colors on our screens that are easy to interpret for people who are color blind.”
With everything programmed, all operators have to do is change the film.
“Once you put the appropriate product parts on, the machine will automatically bring itself into time and synchronize it with the up and downstream equipment,” Mr. Cucullu said. “The controls platform has greatly simplified the operation of the machinery for the plant personnel.”
While most of Bosch Packaging Technology’s machines have a programmable logic controller (P.L.C.), the company incorporates checklists more advanced machines.
“We use P.L.C.s and human machine interface to walk them through checklists and validate they’ve done it correctly,” Mr. Meer said. “We’re also providing standard operating procedure videos on our machine, for example changing film.”
System programs also allow a company to view a baked food or snack product as it comes out of the oven all the way to the wrapper.
“You can see where bottleneck is created,” Mr. Kehrli said. “There’s no guesswork. When looking at these systems, we try to target and plan for a failure because we know the equipment can only operate at a 99.9% efficiency level. We still have that 0.1% where there could be an event, and if you fail to plan, there will be tremendous amounts of waste.”
A plan of action should always be the first priority.
“The quicker you can solve any kind of problem, that’s considerably less waste and saving material and product,” Mr. Gunnell said. It’s also saving money.
When baking and snack companies put in the effort, waste minimization is the combination of greater sustainability and less cost. It’s a win-win situation.