Recent changes in Canadian policy have turned up the heat for CPG manufacturers looking to phase out plastic. With many customers already looking to avoid plastic packaging, recent government initiatives have escalated the urgency for CPGs to make a shift.
In the 2022 federal budget, Canada committed to investing $183.1 million over five years to reduce plastic waste and improve plastic circularity through regulatory measures and scientific research. Canada also released its Zero Plastic Waste agenda, including targets, standards, and regulations to help keep plastics in the economy and out of the environment.
“With these initiatives from the Canadian government, there is growing pressure on Canadian businesses to adopt a more resource-efficient approach to managing plastics, including developing innovative alternatives to single-use plastic, reducing plastic waste generation,” the Royal Bank of Canada noted in one recent article.
Considerations for Phasing Out Plastic Ring Carriers
One targeted area is plastic ring carriers, commonly called Hi-cone packaging in the industry. This solution is commonly used in bundling multi-pack products, especially beverages like soft drinks and beers. It features a series of connected plastic rings or carriers designed to securely hold cans or bottles together for easier handling and transport. While appreciated for its minimal material use and convenience, it will no longer be an option in Canada.
That’s where packaging OEMs step into the picture. They can help beverage producers effectively manage the shift. “Our job as OEMs is to help CPGs understand their options,” said Rich Clifton, Portfolio Manager – Beverage & Robotics at R.A Jones. I recently jumped on a call to dig deeper into the issue with Clifton, along with Jason Stover, Marketing Communications Director, Coesia North America CMS Division & R.A Jones.
For CPGs looking to migrate from ring carriers, Clifton said, there are several things to keep in mind. They range from the type of packaging desired, line speed and equipment size considerations, maintenance, support, flexibility and cost.
The first challenge lies in selecting the appropriate type of packaging. Options include wrap-around open-ended packages (similar to those produced by the R.A Jones Wraptor SHW-250 machines), fully enclosed packages (like those offered on the company’s Meridian XR MPS-300 machines), and other paperboard-based solutions.
Each of these alternatives has distinct benefits. Some solutions have been in the industry for years and are well-proven, while others are newer and have less of a track record. Wraptor, for example, falls into the “well-proven” department, having served the CPG industry since 2006.
Speed and size compatibility of new machinery with existing production lines are also crucial. Hi-cone ring machines are relatively compact. The difference in machine footprint can necessitate changes in the existing production setup, both upstream and downstream. Some of the newer solutions on the market require significantly more space, Clifton noted. CPG companies must ensure the new machinery matches their speed requirements and fits into their current manufacturing space. The footprint of the Wraptor is very similar to Hi-cone machines, so very little changes upstream and downstream from a conveyor standpoint.
How the Wraptor SHW-250 Replaces Hi-cones and Enhances Branding
The Wraptor provides a practical and effective path forward from Hi-cone packaging. It eliminates plastic ring carriers, allowing CPGs to package their products with glue-free, 100% recyclable paperboard in either neck-through or over-the-crown wraps for cans and bottles. While more expensive, the result is fully recyclable packaging offering superior branding opportunities and improved product protection during transportation.
Simply put, Wraptor groups products like cans or bottles into a single package using paperboard. The machine automates gathering the products, wrapping them with the packaging material, and securing them together. This way, multiple items can be sold and transported as a single unit, making it convenient for retailers and consumers.
One key bonus, the paperboard wrap can serve as billboard space. “Having a fully enclosed or a partially wrapped product, you get more brand presence,” Stover said, “so you have the ability to communicate more with increased space for messaging and graphics to help differentiate your product on the shelf from the competition.”
Clifton noted that a shift to paperboard packaging has been underway for the past several years to aid companies in enhancing the presence of premium brands. “We’ve seen a tremendous shift in the rise of smaller packs such as 4-packs and 6-packs,” he commented. “Going into an enclosed carton or wrap can help them elevate their brand compared to all the others on the store shelf.”
Navigating the Conversion Process
Introducing the Wraptor into an existing operation requires expertise in accommodating the new machine with the existing packaging line, successful integration and production speed alignment. “There’s a learning curve transitioning out of Hi-cone and going into paperboard whether it’s fully enclosed or open ended,” Clifton said, and that’s where support from an OEM like R.A Jones can make a difference.
Things like stacking paperboard three or four skids high can cause deformities in the packaging at the bottom, for example, that compromise performance. “Some customers will stack pallets of paperboard wraps or cartons and then they don’t understand why the paperboard on the bottom runs terribly,” he cautioned. In addition to packaging storage tips, another area where the OEM can assist is collaborating on carton design. With decades of experience, R.A Jones can assess proposed packaging and make recommendations to improve throughput and overall experience.
Another area of opportunity is designing packaging to help reduce headroom – the unwanted space at the top of the carton. “You might be able to get another layer of cartons on your skid,” observed Stover. “That means you’re shipping more product on a truck which lessens the carbon footprint per package per shipment,” he said. More product on a pallet translates into fewer truckloads and less paperboard consumption.
“There are a lot of little intricacies that we help manufacturers understand about their production lines outside of just incorporating new machinery that really help the customer reach their sustainability goals,” Stover said.
Operator training and maintenance are also important considerations when introducing a new machine as well as new packaging material. For example, carton dust generated from running paperboard packaging will have implications for maintenance versus a Hi-cone operation.
Equipment Built for a Sustainable Life Cycle
Finally, I posed a question about the sustainability of the Wraptor SHW-250 throughout its lifecycle, including manufacturing, operation, and disposal. It turns out that R.A Jones recently announced that it is undertaking a major solar energy project at its Covington, Kentucky facility. The solar roof array will consist of 3,773 solar modules, covering approximately 85 percent of the building’s roof surface. The project also includes six electric vehicle charging stations which have already been installed on the R.A Jones’ campus for use by company employees. It will fill roughly half of its energy needs.
Durability is a key requirement of the circular economy, and R.A Jones equipment has proven to be just that – long-lasting and adaptable, designed with updating in mind over its life cycle. For example, a CPG might decide to run a different package size or material.
“We have our team go out and give the machine an audit to determine what the machine will need to run the new packaging style,” Clifton said. “It’s not uncommon for us to make these changes on machines that are 10, 20, 30 or even forty years old. We build equipment that it can last for decades for our customers and be modernized to fit their growing needs.”
At end of life, R.A Jones equipment, predominantly made from stainless steel and some carbon steel, aluminum and typical plastics, can be recycled. “There’s honestly very little throwaway items on our machines,” he concluded. “Most of it can be recycled.”
If you are feeling the heat from customers and government policymakers to shift from plastic, check out R.A Jones. Find out more about the Wraptor SHW-250 and Meridian XR at www.rajones.com.