Ever walked barefoot along a beach and discovered “beach glass” the hard way through a lacerated and bleeding foot? Broken bottles are as much a hazard to humans and animals on land as they are in the sea. Packaging is a major part of any brand, and when it is improperly handled by the consumer – for example when a glass bottle is broken and left in the countryside or on a beach – this is clearly negative not only for the environment but also for the brand itself. “A fiber bottle makes a statement to the consumer about sustainability, and at the same time it’s not something that’s detrimental to the countryside if it, unfortunately, ends up being left there,” said Simon Hoffmeyer, Sustainability Director at the Carlsberg Group. He spoke in a recent interview talking about the Group’s innovative new packaging development project called the Green Fiber Bottle.
Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions
The Carlsberg Group sells a lot of beer in their iconic green bottles. To be exact, in 2015 they sold 36 billion bottles. That’s a lot of packaging – packaging that in addition to being subject to breakage, is a major contributor – 45% – to the Group’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Since brewing and not packaging is the company’s core business, their packaging innovation approach has been to draw on the support of others in their supply chain to achieve their aim of greenhouse gas emission reduction through developing a beer bottle made from sustainably sourced wood fiber. The project is being carried out in collaboration with Danish company ecoXpac, the Technical University of Denmark and BillerudKorsnäs from Sweden and has received support from several funds including Horizon2020, the Danish Market Development Fund, The Danish Innovation Fund, and the Danish Eco-innovation program.
The health of our planet and what we can all do to sustain it is becoming increasingly important. As such, the goal is that the fiber for the Green Fiber Bottle will come from sustainably managed sources, with trees replanted at the same rate that they are harvested, or even faster. While the bottle will degrade into environmentally non-harmful materials if discarded randomly, the intention is that it will form part of a proper waste management system, just like today’s bottles and cans. Over the three-year development phase, the Carlsberg Group plans, with the help of their partners, to optimize the bottle from an environmental perspective using both life cycle and Cradle-to-Cradle® assessments. It is expected that the Green Fiber Bottle will require less energy to produce than traditional packaging, due to the use of a new fiber-drying technology from partner ecoXpac, which will help reduce dependency on fossil fuels in the manufacturing process.
The first prototype of the Green Fiber Bottle was revealed in January 2015 by Professor Flemming Besenbacher, Chairman of the Carlsberg Foundation, at the World Economic Forum in Davos. A more refined design was revealed at the Sustainable Brands 2016 conference in Copenhagen in September last year. “The new bottle is a great milestone in the project, as having a physical prototype makes it easier for us to explain the new packaging format to consumers and colleagues. I think the new bottle looks great and shows how we can use innovation and design to help shape products for a better tomorrow,” commented Hoffmeyer of the reveal.
Solving Technology Challenges
Carlsberg Group partner ecoXpac has developed the thermoforming technology required to make the Green Fiber Bottle. The technology allows a reduction in energy consumption and also a decrease in production time. The processes being developed at ecoXpac can handle many different sizes and shapes – allowing for customization required to produce the Green Fiber Bottle.
The walls of the bottle are thicker than plastic alternatives, but overall the bottle is lighter. It can be made in any color and can also be given relief designs. The technology makes it possible to scan any bottle and quickly produce a fiber copy. A major part of the development was finding a method for the fast and energy-efficient removal of up to 80% of the water content in the fiber after forming. This technology nut has now been cracked and is done using a vacuum.
Both the thread and seal on the Green Fiber Bottle will be made of fiber, features that have provided a major technological challenge. The bottles will have an internal coating with one idea being a plasma coating to provide a barrier that permits food contact and packaging of carbonated beverages. So far, however, this issue has not yet been decided, and the development work continues.
Strong Sustainability Theme
Rapid prototyping has played a key part in the development process. “That the technology makes it possible to produce any shape we want and that it’s very quick to produce a new form is naturally of great interest,” said Hoffmeyer. “By quick I mean quicker than the conventional types of packaging we are using today. This opens up interesting possibilities for special editions at things like sporting events or concerts.”
While the development has come a long way, there is still a lot of work to be done before the bottle reaches the market. Further development is expected to take another two years, and during that time a variety of studies will be carried out including studies of environmental profiles, markets, and consumers. A number of university students will be employed to undertake the investigative work.
“It’s important that we optimize the bottle and make sure it’s in the right market with the right content and targeted at the right consumer group,” said Hoffmeyer. “For this kind of work, it’s an advantage to be a global consumer products company with good insights into different markets. We will strongly emphasize the sustainability theme with this type of packaging, and I think that’s something that we can reach consumers with.”
Tapping into sustainability makes for a sustainable growth strategy. Pew Research on Millennials in indicates that while less than a third of Millennials – the demographic aged between 16 and 34 – identify as outright environmentalists, they’re the most “sustainable” generation to date. Raised in a world of environmental awareness and very aware of their image, half of Millennials believe that brands “say something” about “how they fit in” to the world as a whole, and 59% are willing to pay more for a brand that portrays the right image. Millennials view taking care of themselves and the planet as “one and the same,” and let’s not forget that they represent the largest generational group in history, outnumbering even baby boomers.
A pilot market test is set to be launched in 2018 and the plan is to deliver and sell to even more consumers by 2019. Cheers to collaboration, innovation and a bottle that will be greener than green!
Gail is a Chicago-based food scientist who writes for leading US and European food and technology publications. A devotee of all things shiny, electronic and buzzing, with a passion for building on-line communities and conservation, she is an entrepreneur and founder of a sustainability and social media startup who moonlights on weekends as DJ Moongirl on Moonalice Radio. Clients range from rock bands and media companies to high-tech startups.