Over 125 billion rigid plastic containers are produced and consumed in the US every year, but according to the EPA only 28% are recycled, with the rest piling up in landfills and oceans. There is an undeniable packaging waste problem in today’s society, which suggests that innovation opportunities are plenty in the packaging industry.
Ecologic Brands is a California-based sustainable packaging startup known for creating America’s first molded paper bottle, which consists of an outer shell made with 100 percent recycled cardboard and newspapers, integrated with a thin inner pouch, made with up to 70 percent less plastic than traditional plastic bottles. Post-use, the outer shell can be composted or recycled with paper, and the inner pouch can be recycled with #4 plastic.
Closed Loop Model
Beyond the package itself, which offers clear on-shelf differentiation, Ecologic Brands’ molded paper bottle was actually designed as a system to facilitate sustainable practices on the back-end. It aims to address challenges across the entire supply chain that will facilitate net positivity for brands and retailers. The Ecologic bottle is the first bottle to provide a truly closed-loop system whereby secondary corrugate packaging waste is upcycled into a re-recyclable bottle through the following process:
- Ecologics’s raw material inputs come from old corrugated cardboard (OCC, or recycled cardboard)
- Ecologic converts or upcycles this into bottles, bypassing paper mills and other industrial processing facilities
- The shells are shipped nested, enabling 6 times more bottles to be shipped per truckload as unassembled components compared to blow-molded, rigid plastic bottles
- After use, the bottles can be recycled again, composted or, if they are discarded in trash, reduce landfill waste
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Ecologic Brands is working with a grocery retailer to explore the closed-loop model in late 2013. Secondary corrugate packaging waste could travel a short distance from the retailer’s distribution center straight to Ecologic’s facility and right back into the molded fiber shell of private-label product packaging. The retailer has the opportunity to be the first to upcycle its own waste back into its packaging, which presents tremendous opportunity for private label innovation.
The Ecologic bottles enable customers to increase shipping efficiencies, reduce their carbon footprint, and save on truck loads, gas, shipping materials and storage. Because the pre-assembled outer shells nest inside one another during shipping and the pouches take up less room on a truck, you can fit up to six times more unassembled Ecologic bottles onto a truck than empty rigid plastic bottles. The bottle also represents up to 30% in material weight savings vs. rigid plastic containers.
On-Site Integration and Fill
The Ecologic assembly equipment (“eco.system”) that integrates the inner pouch into the outer shell is a patent-pending technology that will provide significant shipping efficiencies for brands and co-packers who adopt the bottle and assembly equipment.
The pre-assembled outer shells can be nested inside one another for integration at customers’ sites, making it possible to fit ~120,000 units into a single 53’ freight hauling truck. Six to seven trucks are required to fit the same number of empty blow-molded plastic bottles. This represents significant savings in terms of shipping cost (approximately 70 percent). Storage and warehousing are also up to six times more efficient than storing empty plastic bottles.
By assembling bottles on site, adopting brands will enjoy long-term savings from coordinating fewer shipments to their warehouse and requiring less space for empty products on the floor.
End of life
A key motivation behind Ecologic’s decision to leverage recycled paper as a primary package ingredient is recyclability. Only 28% of rigid plastic bottles are recycled in America vs. over 80% of paper. By using a more highly recycled material for the majority of the container’s weight, Ecologic increases the chance the container is recycled.
Every empty Ecologic bottle is 100% recyclable in three easy steps — users simply pop it open along the side seam, remove the inner pouch from the outer shell, and recycle or compost. The outer shell can be recycled with paper in curbside and drop-off recycling programs. The inner pouch and spout are #4 LDPE plastic and can be recycled with plastic grocery bags at local retailers’ bins. This is a huge advancement forward vs. conventional laminated pouches, which are not typically recyclable.
The eco.bottle® line now consists of a 32oz and 50oz laundry bottle and a 3L wide mouth canister with more shapes and sizes in development to further disrupt the packaging industry.