Waste Not
Sonoco Lightens Materials Load with Cradle-to-Cradle Approach to Packaging

Sonoco, one of the largest diversified global packaging companies, has always prided itself on ‘closing the loop.’ Our company began recycling in the 1920s, before recycling was even a buzzword. Today, we successfully offer a full range of services from creation to reclamation that separates Sonoco from its packaging peers.

Initially, we used recycled materials in our paper. As our company grew into the $4.5 billion, global packaging company that it is today, that paper was used to make products such as composite can packaging for premier foods such as Maxwell House coffee or a popular stacked chips snack, which are then recycled by the consumer and come back to us for processing.

Now we’ve expanded to include plastics, foam and a variety of other materials. Our ability to both produce and recycle packaging — a true cradle-to-cradle approach — makes us unique from other recycling and packaging companies.

Using Recycled Materials in Packaging

Many of the packages designed and produced by Sonoco use recycled materials. Our company, the world’s largest producer of rigid paperboard cans, helped Kraft Foods, North America’s fourth-largest consumer packaged food and beverage company, convert its Maxwell House, Nabob and Yuban® brands of coffee from metal cans to more environmentally friendly rigid paperboard containers without sacrificing abuse resistance, freshness or shelf life.

Less costly and more environmentally responsible than metal, the new high-performance cans are spiral wound from paperboard that contains more than 50 percent recycled materials. The move to our high-performance composite can bodies also reduced the brands' environmental footprint through material, energy inputs and greenhouse gas emissions reduction. We also produce composite cans for many other leading coffee, nut, infant formula and snack brands, providing an alternative to traditional metal cans that offer better shelf appeal and a reduced environmental impact.

Reductions in Packaging Material

Sonoco’s work with recycled rigid paperboard doesn’t end there. We not only produce recycled paperboard composite cans for a popular stacked chips brand, but have also taken the iconic snack’s rigid paperboard can from two plies of recycled paperboard to one ply; the foil from .00275 inches to .00255 inches gage; and adhesives from three glue lines to two, while maintaining the same can strength and integrity, resulting in a material reduction of more than 7 percent.

In early 2011, we worked with a leading consumer packaged goods (CPG) company to create a high-performance, lighter-weight, blow-molded plastic package for its salad dressing. The dressing bottle, made from reduced materials, also needed to sport the brand’s highly recognizable shape and diamond pattern. Sonoco reduced the bottle’s weight by 20 percent, meeting the company’s sustainability goals.

Traditionally, chewing gum packaging has used foil as a barrier lidding — allowing for easy dispensing by pushing each piece of gum through the foil wall. Sonoco’s high-performance die-cut, PET film, used in a popular brand of gum, eliminated the need for this foil and resulted in a 7 percent reduction in the weight of the blister pack’s lidding.

Recycling our Packaging

Across the globe, these packages are then picked up for recycling by Sonoco Recycling, a unit of Sonoco that collects three million tons of paper, plastic, metal and other materials each year. Today, Sonoco Recycling operates more than 50 recycling facilities globally, working with more than 15,000 major retailers, manufacturers and municipalities.

We provide other recycling programs, including tubes and cores, wooden reels and plastic spools. We also offer recycling consulting services, developing customized programs for reducing landfill fees and hauling charges and identifying alternative uses for previously landfilled material, converting your waste streams into revenue streams.

In the Southeastern United States, many recyclables go to one of Sonoco Recycling’s six material recovery facilities (MRFs), where materials are sorted and processed. Plastics are retrieved by an optical sorter. Whole and broken glass bottles, jugs and jars are collected in a glass crusher. Corrugated cardboard and paper is sorted, baled and sent back to Sonoco’s paper mills, where it is used to produce recycled paperboard. We then use that paperboard to produce new consumer and industrial packaging, making Sonoco one of the few cradle-to-cradle suppliers of packaging in the industry.

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