Flexible packaging supplier talks sustainability, circularity

During in-booth visits with TC Transcontinental Packaging (Montreal, Quebec), the Packaging Sector of TC Transcontinental, during different McCormick Place Chicago tradeshows over the past months, I've been impressed by the supplier’s sustainable activity and innovation in the flexibles market.

Compostable peanut bag

This compostable peanuts bag made from certified compostable materials supported green initiatives of arenas and stadiums in the United States and earned a Gold award for sustainability in the 2018 FPA.

When a recent opportunity arose to explore these developments further, I connected with Alex Hayden, Senior Vice President, R&D, Innovation and Sustainability. We discussed the industry issues and dynamics that affect this sustainably driven converter, which is pushing the boundaries of what flexible packaging can do within a circular economy.

Let’s start with defining “sustainable” packaging.

Hayden: We define sustainable packaging as “packaging that presents a lesser environmental footprint than that of alternative packaging solutions.”

It has been proven, through life cycle assessments (LCA), that flexible packaging uses less fossil fuels, reduces greenhouse gas emissions and uses less water than other packaging formats.

We also consider recyclable, compostable and reusable packaging formats and packaging made of post-consumer recycled content as sustainable.

Flexible packaging offers an excellent product-packaging ratio, which leads to an efficient resource utilization. We design our packaging for a wide range of end-product applications and seek to find the right balance between material composition and weight while ensuring an optimal product protection.

Being highly engaged in sustainable packaging development also means as a Corporation we need to be part of the efforts made to tackle the challenge that flexible packaging presents, which is end-of-life management. Packaging composed of several polymers are currently more difficult to recycle. We are fully cognizant of this dilemma and this is why our R&D Department dedicates substantial effort towards developing eco-responsible packaging solutions.

What’s the company’s history in delivering sustainable solutions?

Hayden: The pursuit of a long-term vision is simply part of our DNA. As a family-controlled corporation, we have the desire to build a lasting company and to pass on the legacy of a solid, responsible corporate citizen. We have always demonstrated our leadership in corporate social responsibility (CSR) and we are proud to continue doing so by investing in the development and wellness of our employees, adopting good practices to limit the environmental impact of our operations, innovating in the development of sustainable products for our customers, from sourcing to end-of-life, and by contributing to the communities in which we operate.TC Alex Hayden

From our first Environmental Policy in 1993, to the 2012 update of our Paper Purchasing Policy and the release of our three-year CSR plans, we have shown that our commitment to contribute to the development of sustainable business practices is firmly rooted in our values. Throughout TC Transcontinental’s history and well before beginning our transformation into flexible packaging in 2014, we already had, as Canada’s largest printer, a significant positive influence on forest management practices and on protecting ancient and endangered forests. TC Transcontinental is recognized as a Canadian industry leader in sustainable procurement of certified papers, and in this sense, has been an important player in the creation of a circular economy for paper.

Today, building on our history with paper, we are determined to make strides towards a circular economy for plastics through our integrated strategy to that effect. We want to ensure that plastic never becomes waste, and that flexible packaging is effectively managed at its end of life.

We launched in North America earlier this year one of the first-in-market, 100% recyclable, multilayer barrier stand-up pouch in partnership with Harney & Sons, an American tea company, for their loose tea flexible plastic pouch. Thanks to this innovation, we won the Gold award for Sustainability at the Flexible Packaging Achievement (FPA) Awards in 2019.

In terms of compostable films, we offer custom-designed solutions developed in collaboration with our customers. These solutions are made from 100% renewable resources. For example, we developed a new flexible peanut bag from certified compostable materials in order to support the green initiatives of arenas and stadiums in the United States. We won the Gold award for Sustainability thanks to this compostable bag at the 2018 FPA Awards (shown above).

Next: State of the industry and circularity

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