PouchSmart is a company devoted to finding packaging solutions for beverages as well as health and beauty, personal care and industrial-chemical products using flexible packaging versus rigid packaging. This is partly for consumer convenience, but it also carries significant environmental and ecological benefits. However, flexible packaging is a long way from being sustainable, because a recyclable juice pouch has not yet been invented. PouchSmart founder Dan Pritikin says the challenge with beverage packaging is how to create a package that provides enough protection from oxygen, light, air and any other ingress to protect the food initially, and then to provide the kind of shelf life that consumers, retailers and suppliers require. The market today requires a shelf life of about a year for beverages, and this requires the use of what are known as “high-barrier materials” to protect the beverages from contaminants. The typical juice pouch is made of aluminum foil sandwiched between two plastic layers. In a juice box, the aluminum foil is sandwiched between two layers of plastic and two layers of paper. Multiple-material packaging is generally not recyclable and must go into a landfill. Plastic-metal packaging or plastic-paper-metal packaging makes it practically impossible to recycle the package, due to the different raw material families included in that package. Pritikin says where we want to be with packaging is in what is called the “mono-material” package, where there is only one material used in a package, and therefore making it easily recyclable. PouchSmart is working on an ethylene-based package for liquid hand soap. This will be a truly recyclable package — the same way a PEG bottle, an aluminum can or a glass bottle is recyclable. But, why did Pritikin want to get into this business? He says at first he really just wanted to create a flexible spouted pouch package that is better. Then, he goes on, “But, I came to realize the environmental benefits of the package, when you compare it to certain other types of packaging such as flexible versus rigid packaging, were going to be really, really compelling.” A juice pouch with a straw cannot be resealed, but the spout on the SmartPouch allows for easier drinking, plus the consumer can reclose the pouch. This is estimated to save up to 50% of juice in every pouch estimated to be thrown away. The SmartPouch flexible juice pouch uses up to 80% less sourced raw materials than the average rigid juice bottle. The downside: Because the juice pouch uses aluminum and plastic in layers, the package itself is not recyclable. The big picture: Juice boxes are not recyclable either, nor are juice pouches with straws. So, at the end of the day, if you are saving 80% of the raw materials used to create the juice pouch, that is still a big benefit in terms of less waste to landfills. Flexible packaging also cuts down significantly on the fossil fuels required to transport most premade packaging during the shipping and manufacturing stage, and also reduces the fuel cost after the product has been filled in the distribution chain. “The environmental benefits of flexible packaging are now well known,” Pritikin says, and he admits, “we obviously didn’t discover it, but now it’s a major part of our business.” A brief comparison with other forms of packaging can help shed light on the subject. The largest marketer of juice pouches is Kraft Foods, via its license with Capri Sun. Kraft does an excess of 6 billion packages each year. It is not a recyclable package and the company does not claim it as such. Kraft has tried to reclaim a portion of these for post-consumer use, but has only claimed a tiny portion so far. The juice box industry produces about 12 billion juice boxes each year. There are machines that separate some of these materials so they can be used again, but these machines are few and far between and very expensive, so the vast majority of these packages go into landfills. Kids tend to drink about 50% of the juice in a juice pouch. Pritikin points out that with a resealable pouch, if even a portion of the kids close it up and put it back on the table and come back to it a few minutes later, it is by definition better off than a half-consumed, garbage-bound pouch. Now that’s smart. PouchSmart juice pouches are produced on site at one of the Langers juice facilities in City of Industry, CA. Pritikin claims that Langers engages in a lot of energy conservation practices, including retrapping the exhaust created in its manufacturing processes and reconverting it back into electricity. “Our machines are very energy efficient compared to bottling lines,” Pritikin says. “They are much smaller, they take a much smaller footprint [and] require a lot less energy to run because they’re so much smaller. Also, we’re dealing with rollstock material. “We’re forming the packages in line,” Pritikin continues. “The packages are not being made at another manufacturing facility and then trucked into Langers. With bottles, the packages are made at one facility, loaded onto pallettes and transported over to Langers, where there are two forklifts that unload the pallettes and take them into the lot. In our case, we bring in rollstock film, which takes up a fraction of the space of premade bottles, and our packages are formed in line, right before they’re filled. What we like to quote is there’s generally like a 25-to-1 ratio in terms of space between rollstock film and premade bottles. That means if you are using premade bottles, you need 25 truckloads, on the road, using fossil fuels, to deliver the same amount of packages than you would if you were using rollstock film.” The PouchSmart website has a benefits page where you can take a closer look at the environmental and other benefits of the company’s products, including a comparison of rollstock film to rigid packaging, and the incredible reduction in carbon footprint when dealing with unformed packaging.
PouchSmart: The Clever Evolution of Beverage Packaging
1-800-RECYCLING speaks with Dan Pritikin of PouchSmart about the beverage packaging industry and what PouchSmart brings to the table.