Wax On – Wax Off
A Canadian Corrugated and Containerboard Association seminar offers frank discussion regarding the sticky-wicket facing the corrugated container industry and its quest for wax replacement technologies.
May 13, 2013
by Canadian Packaging Staff
BRAMPTON, Ont.—On April 30, 2013, the Canadian Corrugated and Containerboard Association (CCCA) held a seminar at the Brampton Golf & Country Club discussing wax replacement technologies in the corrugated container industry: Wax Replacement Technologies – One Year Later, while full of good information, the seminar underlined a major problem with its initiatives to further implement alternatives to waxed corrugated cartons, as seemingly the color green is more important than being green.
The corrugated container industry has, for many years, been trying to develop the technology and the processes to successfully address market demands for cost-appropriate, recyclable water-based alternatives to traditional wax treatments.
The push back to wax continues as retailers are increasing their demands that alternatives to waxed corrugated be found, with that focus shifting through the distribution chain from customers to converter.
Landfill or small niche recycling currently remains the only disposable option available for retailers of non-recyclable wax-treated corrugated.
In response, varying solutions with varying degrees of success have been evolving.
But, even if alternatives are utilized, will it be accepted?
Speakers at the 2013 seminar were:
• Tauni Molder, manager – water-based coatings at The International Group, Inc. discussing the evolution of water-based recyclable treatments;
• Technical Adhesives Ltd. national sales manger Brian St. Germaine and technical adhesives director Vidor Lowy discussing the impact of gluing challenges at both the box plant and at the customer’s facility when wax alternatives are selected;
• Norampac‘s technical services for corrugated products Brett Kendall covered critical control points for the successful implementation at your manufacturing site and further developments of his company’s Norshield corrugated product;
• and Fibre Box Association vice-president Brian O’Banion, who came up from Chicago to discuss the FBA’s new Packaging Protocol covering wax alternatives and its’ purpose and impact on customers, recyclers and containerboard mills.
Perhaps the most tongue wagging elicited amongst the 65+ industry professionals attending the event occurred the speakers pointed that a significant impediment to finding wax alternatives being implemented came from the grassroots of where the cartons are first being used.
According to O’Banion: “We’re not selling (our concepts and technologies) to the right people.
“Understanding and marketing the Packaging Protocol for wax alternatives goes a long way to ensure that the box maker, the customer, the retailer and the recycler all successfully participate in corugated’s closed-loop recycling opportunity,” O’Banion says.
The speakers all agreed that while environmental factors were a focal point amongst retailers, it was not as important for the farmers who are picking and packing fruits and vegetables.
For the farmer, a corrugated carton needs to perform, to be able to safely get produce to a distributor and it needs to be inexpensive. New technologies, are at the moment, more expensive than the wax-based technologies they purport to replace.
Utilizing reusable plastic bins, while an alternative, has two main disadvantages that limit its effectiveness, namely: having to ensure the bins are properly cleaned to avoid bacteria transfer and potentially deadly illnesses; and major change in the way farmers operate.
As strange as it may seem, broccoli plays a huge role in how the corrugated industry is progressing—or not—with wax-replacement technologies.
Acknowledging current agriculture infrastructure, Kendall states, “if you, as a corrugater, can do broccoli, you can do all the other products.”
Kendall explains that in order to keep vegetables fresh until they hit the retail shelves, a complex cooling system is required at the farm-level before it can even be transported to produce distribution and packaging companies.
Essentially, wax-coated corrugated holds the vegetable, which is then loaded with a liquid ice mix to ensure the product remains cool for shipping. The coolness is required to dissipate heat given off by the broccoli – and as the ice melts, it turns the corrugated carton into a soggy mess.
Despite various wax technology options and alternatives to wax available, Kendall and the other speakers at the event note that the farm operators don’t really care for change, because any new technology means capital expenditure costs, and, hold to the old axiom of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’
Colloquialisms aside, farm operators who purchase the wax cartons aren’t looking for alternatives to wax cartons because they already have a packing system in place.
Regardless, if a corrugator offers cascading wax or curtain-coated application options, for the farm operator, it still boils down to which carton will get product safely to its customer for the least amount of money.
Is the corrugated industry doing a good job in looking to provide alternatives to wax-based products? Sure. There are examples of conversion to packaging protocol-approved alternatives to wax, including peppers and wrapped and chilled lettuce in the vegetable segment, and strawberries in the fruit segment.
Are they in tough against effecting changes in the industry because financial constraints enter the picture? You betcha.
Is the Canadian Corrugated and Containerboard Association aware of this? Of course.
But we may have to wait another year to see if the seeds planted provide a bumper crop of wax replacement technology acceptance at the grassroots level.