Lightweighting presents a seductive route to sustainability for beverage producers because it offers the opportunity to reduce the impact of packaging on both the environment and profit margins. But some industry voices suggest the natural limits of lightweighting may be approaching.
In a recent article on lightweighting in this publication, (to read the article click here) PET manufacturer Eastman said: “We believe that the impact of down-gauging will slow, as many beverage producers already use packages which are at, or near, the practical limit.”
Philip Richardson, head of food manufacturing technologies at Campden BRI added: “Lightweighting is quickly approaching a point where if it continues you could end up with products that are unable to survive the rigours of the distribution chain.”
However, Ben Punchard, the head of packaging research at Euromonitor, argues that we have not seen the last of lightweighting.
Punchard told BeverageDaily.com: “Even for pack types where lightweighting has gone as far as possible for the moment, technological advancements in material strength, barrier properties and functional packaging are likely to give future scope for further lightweighting.”
Growing consumer familiarity with lighter packaging is also an avenue for the spread of low weight packs. Punchard said that consumer education and improved bottle design could expand the market opportunities for ultra-light PET.
There are also more obvious opportunities to reduce the weight of heavier materials like glass and aluminum. Here some progress has been made but there is a lot of bottles and cans on the market that are far from being as light as they could be.
Punchard said: “Larger brand owners (in categories such as wine) have created lighter weight glass bottles for their products, however there is still a very large amount of glass bottles from smaller providers, and smaller brands, that use more standard, heavier bottles. Similarly in metal beverage cans, not all cans on the market are of the lightest weight possible.”
The market researcher said one of the reasons for this failure to exploit weight reduction possibilities across the board is that larger packaging producers have the resources to produce and patent technologies required for lighter weight packages.
While Punchard was keen to underline that there is the potential for a lot more lightweighting, he also wanted to emphasize that lighter packaging does not necessarily equal greener packaging.
He said: “Greater environmental benefits may come from packaging that better preserves the contents and reduces product wastage. In some cases it could be argued that heavier packaging is the more environmentally responsible option.”