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Lightweight packaging offers many benefits

2014-8-1 ChinaDaily.com.cn

Hong Kong is famous for its busy way of life. Packaged foods like take-away sandwiches and lunch boxes sold in supermarkets and convenience stores are growing in popularity as people save time by eating on-the-go. Alongside this trend is a heightened concern for environmental sustainability among consumers and industry alike. Lightweight packaging from sustainable sources can make an important contribution.

The need to reduce packaging weight is not unique to the food and beverage industry. According to recent Hong Kong Trade and Development Council research, Hong Kong manufacturers tend to produce packaging products that are lighter in weight and use less material. This is to meet recycling and recovery targets - which in many countries are invariably measured by weight.

Adopting lightweight packaging not only saves energy in the production process and transportation, but also reduces overall costs. The cost benefits combined with environmental merits make it highly appealing to the manufacturing industry. According to recent PwC research, 77 percent of CEOs from forest, paper and packaging industries, 74 percent of CEOs from the industrial manufacturing industry and the majority of all CEOs plan to implement cost-reduction initiatives in the next 12 months.

Using paper as a substitute for other packaging materials is an effective way to reduce weight. The biodegradable nature of paper also helps protect the environment. Milk in supermarkets for example, used to be stored and sold in glass bottles, but is now sold in paper packaging. In recent years fast food chains have also switched to paper boxes and wraps instead of foam boxes to pack hamburgers. In Hong Kong moon cakes are usually packed in metal boxes, which are heavy, costly and harmful to the environment. In an effort to encourage more cost effective, sustainable packaging, a leading pulp and paper producer in the region has produced a number of paper packaging designs for moon cakes. These are attractive, lightweight and sustainable and also protect the moon cakes.

In fact the food and beverage industry is taking a holistic approach toward packaging with weight reduction being only one concern of the overall approach. PwC has developed a model called 'packaging efficiency'. This covers the entire life cycle of a package in five specific areas: the resources used in its creation, its ability to protect the product, transport efficiency, display efficiency and its end-of-life impact. Producers, particularly from the food and beverage industry, are concerned about the ability of a package to provide a positive customer experience from purchase to consumption. Considerations include the ability to transport more packs in one truck, display more packs on one shelf as well as a designs that attract the attention of consumers away from other products on the shelves. Paper as a packaging material has obvious advantages: Apart from being light - and due to the latest technology - it can support different packaging shapes and structures. Paper can also allow products to be frozen and reheated.

Paper packaging also presents clear environmental advantages because it is recyclable and biodegradable. Most importantly wood, as a raw material of paper, can be produced in a sustainable manner. But to do this strict environmental forest management policies must be adhered to. Environmental protection has been one of the major concerns of the food and beverage industry, with the trend for cost reduction taking place across the sector. Recent discussions on waste management policy in Hong Kong have noted that paper packaging has great potential. It can be a win-win for all concerned - consumers, producers and the environment. The author is manager, sustainability and stakeholder engagement (Hong Kong), of Asia Pulp & Paper Group.