Ecologic Brands: the quest for a sustainable bottle

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Ecologic Brands: the quest for a sustainable bottle

May 07, 2014 - 08:21
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Ecologic's CEO and founder Julie Corbett set herself a challenge to develop a more sustainable form of packaging

BRUSSELS, May 1, 2014 (PPI Magazine) - Californian-based packaging company Ecologic Brands is taking the packaging industry by storm with its sustainable fiber-based alternative to plastic bottles. A winner of the Advances in Innovation in Sustainable Packaging category at last year's PPI Awards the company is embracing the demand for a more environmentally friendly solution for liquid packaging.

Ecologic's eco.bottleTM fits perfectly within current market trends for more sustainable packaging options. The demand for sustainable packaging has increased over the past couple of years and looks set to continue as brands enhance their corporate responsibility programs.

Innovation is playing a huge part in the drive towards more sustainable alternatives and is serving as a launch pad for new products and market developments. This has involved increasing recycling, the use of recycled content as well as improvements in packaging production and logistical efficiency.

Interesting path

Ecologic Brands was born from CEO and founder Julie Corbett's personal dislike of the amount of plastic jugs and cartons she used. Shocked by the amount her family went through on a regular basis she set herself a challenge to do something about it, which led her down the start of a very interesting path.

Corbett had in her mind an idea to try and challenge this form of packaging and add a more sustainable but aesthetically pleasing option to the supermarket shelves.

Inspired by a Canadian milk ‘pouch-a clear' lightweight pouch placed in a reusable carafe, Corbett set about planning concepts for her idea but the ‘eureka' moment regarding finding the ideal material for her new innovation was when she opened the box for her new iPhone and it was packaged in a smooth and sturdy molded fiber tray.

As a direct result, Corbett designed a bottle that combines a robust outer molded fiber shell made from 100 % recycled old corrugated containers (OCC) and old newspapers. The thin recyclable inner plastic pouch inside and spout are made from low density polyethylene and the dosing cap is made from polypropylene plastic.

The results were impressive. A patent was filed in 2008 for Corbett's technology and Ecologic Brands was born and was first introduced in the US with the launch of Seventh Generations' Natural 4X Laundry Detergent. The bottle fitted in perfectly with the Seventh Generations' environmental ethos, which included its ‘2020 Goals'. This strategy involves examining its impact as a business and includes responsible sourcing, using materials from plants not petroleum and caring for the community. Currently brands can quickly and easily adopt the Ecologic solution through a stock eco.bottleTM line, and choose between a 32-ox, 50-oz and/or 3-L container to hold pourable liquid or dry products.

Currently available in three ready-to-fill bottles, Ecologic's proprietary molded fiber and pouch technology has been performance tested for moisture resistance, top load, torque, and ISTA requirements and more stock eco.bottleTM offerings are on the way.

Since its launch Ecologic's concept has taken on a life of its own with a number of commercial successes. A testament to this success was the need to increase the company's initial production capacity and last year Ecologic opened its first production facility in the US.

The 60,000-ft2 facility in Manteca, CA, will produce Ecologic's line of molded fiber bottles and will enable the company to increase its production capacity from six to 60 million units/yr. The OCC is pulped at the manufacturing plant into the slurry mix and then transferred to a press station with bottle molds.

The Manteca location was strategically selected given its proximity to partners who provide corrugated material that is then up-cycled into eco.bottles®. This new operational setup allowed the company to lower costs while improving quality and consistency in its production processes. According to the company, Manteca is also ideally situated along core freight lanes with good port access. "The decision to open the facility Manteca was to better service the increasing demand for our sustainable products," explains Corbett.

Previous to the new production facility, components for the bottle were outsourced and bottle assembly was carried out at a temporary location in the Central Valley region of California, but the new facility gave Ecologic another way of supplying the product more readily to customers.

Corbett adds: "Before our production facility opened, we worked closely with molded pulp toolmakers in Asia, and learned that much of the cost associated with packaging resides in freight. Therefore, bringing production in house was the natural next step to refining our technology internally while reducing process for our customers. We have strong partnerships with local PCR paper suppliers, and in some cases, customers like Safeway who actually send some of their OCC to us for upcycling into bottles."

The company is planning further expansion of its manufacturing facilities in the future to meet future projected demand. Corbett explains: "We built the Manteca plant with the approach that the footprint can be replicated in multiple strategic locations, whether throughout the US or in another region as demand dictates."

The Ecologic concept is also part of the bigger picture in the move from plastic to paper products in some market sectors and the adoption by many brand owners of a more ‘sustainable' image for their products. But can the concept convince the consumer? Corbett thinks it can. "Overall perception of paper bottles in the US has been great. There are now 15 brands using Ecologic's paper bottle - up from two in 2012."

The comparable figures are also impressive. According to Ecologic milk or juice cartons can be difficult and expensive to recycle because layers are laminated together and have a very low recycling rate in the US.

Regarding plastic jugs, Ecologic states that only 29% of HDPE bottles are recycled in the US. Plus, they consume over twice as much non-renewable resources to make and transport.

Another key benefit of the eco.bottle® is that it is compostable, and although Ecologic's message is to strongly encourage recycling - when that facility doesn't exist, the outer shell can be composted and the thin inner pouch takes up, what the company terms as "minimal landfill space". Testing the ‘shell' at Soil Control Labs, verified that it is 100% organic bio-based material per ASTM D6868 standards that will disintegrate within 12 weeks in an industrial compost setting.

The move from plastic to paper and board raises the question of stability and functionality, but according to Ecologic the product has many similar benefits to plastics in this area.

Developing key functionality has been key in influencing the consumer on the benefits of the bottle. They are designed to operate just like traditional plastic bottles and Ecologic designed the outer shell with a solid, comfortable grip while also enabling excellent pour capability. The dosing cap is also designed to work just like the dosing caps that come on plastic laundry bottles.

If the Ecologic system is universally adopted then the supermarket shelves could look very different in the future in areas dominated by plastic bottles. Corbett is optimistic that this could be a reality. "We envision replacing store shelves full of products in plastic, glass and laminated cartons with paper bottles, and this will happen through diversification and expansion of our product line."

Currently in the US and Canada, apart from the Seventh generation 4X concentrated laundry detergent in two fragrances, eco.bottles® are being used for Bodylogix protein powder in five flavors and Safeway store-branded laundry detergent in three fragrances. This also includes significant launches internationally in Austria, Canada, Mexico, and New Zealand, by reputable brands like, Prism Care, Vive Greenland, and eco planet.

Next on the future strategy list could see the Ecologic bottles on supermarket shelves in Europe. "We are talking to several retailers in Europe and hope to expand further in this region," explains Corbett.

Targeting new market segments also figures heavily in Ecologic's future strategy. Corbett explains: "The next big launch for Ecologic will be in the wine and spirits category, which will position the paper bottle in front of a new audience segment outside of the home cleaning category.

She concludes: "Most retailers and consumers know our packaging as a paper bottle for laundry detergent, so it is important to break into different markets and show versatility across shapes and sizes."

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