Yesterday, today and tomorrow

18 November 2019

Responsible, progressive and innovative brands can choose carton for their packaging without raising the heckles of their sustainability-conscious consumers, making it the perfect substrate to make sure the product speaks for itself. Maggie Lonsdale speaks with brand-owners to learn more.

Carton is inherently sustainable. Made from renewable resources and primarily offered in paperboard or corrugated fiberboard, carton offers great protection and excellent marketing opportunities thanks to its flat, wide, easily-printable surfaces. Carton is also highly recyclable in standard community collection schemes, so no hard sell from that direction either; consumers don’t need to be educated in how to recycle it, and it’s usually compostable too.

So, carton is a terrific choice for brands that only want to disrupt with their products, not their packaging. Take Pilgrims Coffee. This unique Holy Island-based coffee roaster offers hand-roasted beans from its yurt on this truly picturesque Northumberland island, which is cut off from the mainland twice a day by the tide. Founder and chief roaster Andrew Mundy and his Pilgrims Coffee team is dedicated to creating the best coffee in the most sustainable manner, with his appealing mix of old fashioned and totally modern an excellent foundation.

“We’ve been supported by DEFRA’s LEADER project, which is focused on a community-led approach to rural development, and being environmentally friendly and sustainable is incredibly important to us. We’re also passionate about great coffee. The coffee world is a lot like wine; once you choose to explore the potential, you soon realise it’s never ending,” Mundy says.


The best possible taste
As a small-scale producer, Pilgrims Coffee is determined to only offer delicious coffee that does not impact negatively on the environment. With its own cafe on site, Pilgrims sells both direct to consumers and wholesale, with different packaging choices needed for each area yet both with the same commitment to responsibility. Mundy explains, “We use home-compostable films for our retail bags but as they’re only available in small quantities at the moment we do not use them for the wholesale bags. Our wholesale bags are still biodegradable though; they’re white, as we wanted white packaging so the branding really pops. We make sure to look at the whole life cycle of our packaging rather than just the headline of the material, so depending on what options we have, we make the most effective choice for a circular economy. The perfect solution is not available, so we’re always doing the best with what we can.”

Mundy shares how being based on the beautiful Holy Island, with its twice-a-day challenge, means that the company is happily forced to be aware of its impact on nature. He says, “I love being able to make a difference; that means being a profitable business as well as a cafe and coffee roaster that makes delicious coffee for people to enjoy with us, in their own homes, or in their workplaces. The incredible scenery here makes us constantly aware of our place in the natural habitat; I don’t want to do anything that is irresponsible.”

Carton helps Mundy to maintain his responsible approach by allowing for reliable deliveries both to Pilgrims and to its customers. He adds, “We sell around 12t of coffee each year and we want to guarantee that our customers love every sip. We don’t want to be wasteful, we see our impact; all our electricity comes from renewable sources and we support organic, fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance-certified practices. Using recycled cartons for our wholesale range allows us to further develop our successful business without compromising on our values.”


Community coffee
Fellow coffee brand Lost Sheep Coffee is also making waves in this fast-growing sector. Inspired by the eclectic coffee scene on their travels in Melbourne, founders Stuart and Sarah Wilson came back to their hometown of Whitstable determined to bring Australian coffee culture with them. “When we came back to the UK in 2011 we felt that the coffee scene locally just wasn’t as exciting as in Melbourne so we wanted to pioneer speciality coffee in Kent and support our local community – while giving them delicious coffee,” Stuart Wilson says.

Lost Sheep Coffee was launched, with a dedication to producing single-origin hand-roasted coffee in Nespresso-compatible packaging. Wilson explains, “We wanted the convenience of single-serve coffee capsules but without the waste, so we looked hard to find a more responsible alternative. We found a plant-based Nespresso-compatible capsule that is certified 100% compostable in standard domestic composting and, crucially, keeps the glorious coffee inside fresher for longer.”

The Lost Sheep Coffee capsules come packed in carton boxes which have been beautifully designed to capture the innovative spirit of the brand. Wilson shares, “Our 100% recyclable cartons are one-of-a-kind custom-designed dodecahedron boxes, created to really stand out on the shelf with their unique design. The shape, design and branding are incredibly colourful and eye-catching, and matches the eco-credentials of our compostable pods. We offer single-origin coffee beans bought directly from our friends at the Barbosa family farm in Brazil and we then hand-roast them in Whitstable; we launched a decaf variety in May 2019 too, so there’s a complete range for the sustainability-focused coffee connoisseur.”


Sustainable snacks
Leading UK snack brand Snak Shed, owned by Springvale Foods, utilises carton for its cases for retailers across the country, with its distribution channels including farm shops, food halls and convenience stores. Snak Shed originally focused on selling nuts and dried fruits in single-portion plastic bags, but since Springvale Foods acquired the brand in 2017, it has ramped up its environmental credentials by rebranding the range and addressing the plastic packaging issue.

Maddie Taylor, marketing and new product development manager for Springvale Foods, represents the Snak Shed brand. She says, “Packaging is the key USP for Snak Shed. The contents of the cups are the nation’s favourite snacks that have stood the test of time; it’s the packaging that sets our brand aside. The biodegradable snack cups, along with the mix of products inside, are a market first in our industry.”

With classic products including Yoghurt Raisins, Salted Nut Mix and Bombay Mix joining new favourites like Chilli Rice Crackers and Sweet Paprika Nuts, the Snack Shed range is all available in biodegradable cups. Taylor continues, “After a long time searching for a supplier that could offer us the size and kind of cups we were looking for, as well as the correct lid, we finally found the right contact. The Snak Shed cups are made from a biodegradable material called PLA. It’s made from a corn starch mix and the cups will decompose over time in the right conditions. The outer sleeve is made from cardboard, which is reversed so the outside of the sleeve looks a bit rougher and more natural, because we wanted the packaging to look as natural as possible. The sleeve, and ink, is also biodegradable.”

Snak Shed states that its clever use of biodegradable packaging both for the food contact and outer sleeve of its product means that it truly helps its range to stand out on the shelf and to appeal to the snacker that is keen to be both sustainable and on the go. With Pilgrims Coffee, Lost Sheep Coffee, and Snak Shed showing how carton can help fresh-thinking brands be convenient and ecologically-sound, it’s exciting to see how this traditional substrate is able to be totally new.


Carton’s alternative future
One of the greatest strengths of carton is its ability to be easily recycled and to support efforts to reduce waste. While it cannot be infinitely recycled, it is a very attractive option for companies looking to get out of single-use plastics waste.

One such brand that is embracing this is Molson Coors in the UK and Ireland, which is set to remove the plastic packaging from its Carling and Coors Light brands, as part of new global packaging goals announced recently. The brewer will remove the plastic film wrap from large multipacks by the end of March 2020, replacing the plastic wrap with 100% recyclable fully enclosed carton board. By the end of March 2021, it will remove plastic rings from Carling and Coors Light cans, switching to 100% recyclable cardboard sleeves.

The global brewer announced a set of new global packaging goals to reduce plastics in its packaging, aiming for 100% of its packaging to be reusable, recyclable, compostable or biodegradable by 2025. It is also strengthening its goals to drive down packaging emissions, use more recycled materials in its plastic packaging and improve recycling solutions in its key markets.

“As a global brewer with a strong family heritage, we have always taken seriously our responsibility to brew a more sustainable future,” Molson Coors CEO Mark Hunter said in a press release. “Plastic waste poses a clear environmental challenge, and as a consumer-packaged goods company, we play an important role in helping to solve the global waste crisis.”

Commenting on the steps the UK and Ireland business is taking towards achieving the new packaging goals, Kristin Wolfe, Molson Coors UK & Ireland Legal and Corporate Affairs Director, said, “We recognise the challenge of single-use plastics and we’re committed to reducing its use throughout our supply chain. The pledge we’ve made, both globally and with the local actions we’re taking in the UK & Ireland, will significantly reduce single-use plastics in our packaging, reinforcing our long-term commitment to brewing greener and working towards our 2025 sustainability goals.

The company’s new strategy has four clear goals, of which the first, ‘Innovate’, seeks to make 100% of its plastic packaging reusable, recyclable, compostable or biodegradable. Examples where carton plays a part include for Colorado Native, one of the company’s US craft brands, which has become the first Molson Coors brand to test a new plastic-free, fibre-based six-pack ring for beverage cans. These eco-friendly rings are made from post-industrial recycled fibre and are 100% bio-based, recyclable and compostable in commercial composting facilities.

Their second goal, Accelerate, seeks to incorporate at least 30% recycled content in their plastic packaging operations, which operates alongside their UK-led decision to remove the film wrap and plastic rings from Carling and Coors Light. The brewer is also strengthening its goal to reduce carbon emissions from its packaging, which is the largest source of emissions across its value chain. As a component of its goal to reduce its value chain emissions by 50% by 2025, Molson Coors set a specific target to cut packaging emissions by 26%, based on a 2016 baseline.

So far, the company has achieved zero waste to landfill at 17 of its global brewing and manufacturing facilities, representing an improvement of three sites over the last year. In the UK, Molson Coors’ two largest breweries in Burton and Tadcaster are zero waste to landfill sites.

Since 2012, energy consumption per hectolitre produced has decreased by 23%, with approximately half of this improvement being made in 2018. The brewery has also doubled the output from its carbon dioxide recovery plant, allowing Molson Coors to capture up to 47t of carbon dioxide from the fermentation process each day. Since January 2018 the Burton site has been completely self-sufficient in carbon dioxide production, going from purchasing around 4,800t in 2016, to just 100t in 2018, the equivalent of removing 2,350t of emissions from its operations.



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