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October 23, 2019

At Sonoco we鈥檙e always helping customers to innovate and accelerate on sustainability. This work takes many forms; from finding new revenue streams through waste initiatives to incorporating new raw materials in packaging and building carbon savings across product lifecycles.

One way Sonoco stays ahead of the pack is by facilitating and adding to the debate on cutting-edge thinking about sustainability.

Always eager to learn and contribute is Sonoco Marketing Manager and Sustainability Enthusiast Kate Schlarf. Kate shared some of her experiences and insights from a range of recent packaging industry events.

Where have you been recently?
鈥淚 have just returned from the National Frozen & Refrigerated Foods Association Convention in Orlando, following a stint exhibiting at PACK EXPO in Las Vegas and helping at Sonoco鈥檚 FRESH Sustainability and Food Waste Summit. For the last few months I鈥檝e been on the move almost every week, helping to spread the word about Sonoco solutions, but more importantly listening to the issues that our customers and our industry have around accelerating sustainability programs within commercial constraints.鈥

What stood out for you at the NFRA convention?
鈥淚 was struck by how conversations about sustainability are becoming a lot more sophisticated, with both brands and retailers talking in great depth about how sustainability is embedded in their offer. Brands are finding that more retailers are asking them about their practices and asking how this can give them a competitive advantage. And the retailers I spoke to are all aware of how the responsible sourcing and manufacture of packaging can be as big a differentiator as graphic design, ease of use or packaging size. They鈥檙e not simply looking for recyclability either; they鈥檙e always looking at how broad-based sustainability solutions can work in tandem with packaging innovation to give the end consumer something with a little more 鈥榳ow鈥.鈥

What sustainability trends are you seeing?
鈥淥ur large Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) customers are increasingly thinking end-to-end and how to build sustainability into every process. They鈥檙e concerned about which raw materials are being used, and also where they are being sourced from, and the carbon considerations of transport. The industry as a whole is really excited about some key innovations, including incorporating more natural raw materials such as sugarcane into packaging. But everything is being examined; from how efficiencies in pack-outs on pallets can lead to carbon savings, to light-weighting and responsible fiber sourcing. In the past sustainability initiatives were all demand-driven, as CPGs matched the consumer demand for responsible and natural products 鈥 both in the food they eat and the packaging it arrives in. But what our customers now know is that sustainability can unlock a range of commercial benefits, aside from just increasing sales.鈥

What part does recycling play?
鈥淚t's massive. In the food industry, the conversations are becoming much more sophisticated, really digging into recycling infrastructure challenges across the U.S. At our FRESH conference, Sonoco鈥檚 Vice President of Global Consumer Technology, Jeff Schuetz, led a panel that quickly became a discussion about new technologies and approaches, such as chemical recycling, carbon renewal technology, advanced optical scanners and an increased focus on the role of labeling, all of which could dramatically impact recycling rates. We also had a packed tour of a Sonoco material recovery facility, and talked about post-consumer recycled plastics. We discussed the Sonoco framework for all of the steps that must be achieved for a package to be recyclable.鈥

How important is partnership to sustainability?
鈥淚t鈥檚 vital. We鈥檝e long partnered with groups such as the Association of Plastics Recyclers (APR), The Recycling Partnership and the Sustainable Packaging Coalition庐 (SPC), but we鈥檝e seen membership and collaboration with groups like these really pick up over the past two years. What I鈥檝e found hugely gratifying is that CPG industry leaders 鈥 and even direct competitors in some cases 鈥 are openly discussing and collaborating on solving big issues such as reducing food waste. Do you know that 31% of food that reaches retailers and consumers in the U.S. is wasted? I鈥檝e met a lot of people determined to bring that number down. There is a genuine openness in the industry; an awareness that by working together we can have a bigger impact.鈥

Where do you feel Sonoco鈥檚 strengths are?
鈥淲e don't just talk about sustainability 鈥 we live it. We own our own recycling facilities, so we can design and manufacture for the full lifecycle. We鈥檝e been a market-leader in using recycled content, which has led to recognition in Barron鈥檚 100 Most Sustainable U.S. Companies for multiple years running and being named the most sustainable company in South Carolina earlier this year. But the main thing is our versatility. We don't push a certain program or particular package type on customers. We spend the time understanding our customer鈥檚 commercial, brand and sustainability objectives, and then we design a plan and/or package to help achieve them.鈥

To read more about Sonoco鈥檚 sustainability initiatives, view our sustainability report at: /sustainability

If you鈥檇 like to discuss industry trends or learn more about the Sonoco FRESH event, email Kate at kate.schlarf@sonoco.com.


  • sustainability
  • Recycling
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