Talking Shop with… Dr. Ronald Cotterman

Dr. Ronald Cotterman, vice president, sustainability for Sealed Air Corp., says new technologies and trends can further sustainability benefits to the supply chain.

What are some of the bigger issues facing retailers in terms of sustainability? roncotterman
Dr. Ronald Cotterman: Sustainability has emerged in recent years as a powerful means for companies to rethink how they operate their businesses. Sustainability knowledge provides insight into making operations more efficient, reducing environmental impacts and enhancing the quality and safety of food. By improving food freshness, there is less food waste, natural resources are conserved and overall profitability is increased.

Tell us the role that packaging plays in terms of sustainability.
It is more relevant to discuss the role that it plays in the supply chain rather than looking at packaging separately. This is because the true benefit of packaging is not inherent in the packaging material itself, but rather in the value that it brings by protecting, preserving and distributing goods across supply chains. For retailers, packaging represents an important means to enhance food freshness, which in turn brings about positive changes in sustainability.

Food waste is at the forefront of sustainability. How can retailers and suppliers address this?
The first step in addressing food waste is to understand both where and why it is occurring. Through this insight, retailers and suppliers can implement strategies to prevent food waste from occurring in the first place. Within the distribution supply chain, retailers and suppliers can work together to ensure food products are adequately protected, temperature is maintained in proper ranges and minimum shelf life is available to support distribution, storage and time for retail sale. Adequate packaging is an essential element to preventing food waste across the supply chain—too little packaging can result in costly food losses, thereby decreasing overall sustainability.

What does Sealed Air do in this regard for consumers?
Several recent studies by organizations such as USDA, NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) and WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) have confirmed that the largest source of food waste is the consumer—who buys too much, cooks too much or does not use food before it spoils. Again, packaging is part of the solution to preventing food waste. For example, by extending the time the consumer has to use food following purchase or by sealing food in portions for varying meal sizes, packaging can help consumers be more efficient and reduce the amount of food they waste.

We have a long history, through our Cryovac brand, of providing innovative products to the market that minimize food waste. From our very earliest products that employed barrier technology (Barrier Bags), to more recent meal portion packs (Simple Steps) and re-sealable packs (Multi-Seal), Cryovac products work to prevent or minimize waste across the supply chain. In addition, we offer packaging systems that reduce the need to re-wrap products (Saddle Pack) and deliver more product out of the package (Vertical Pouches).

How does the packaging industry continue to bring new innovative solutions to retailers to address customer needs?
There are a number of new technologies and trends that bring further sustainability benefits to the supply chain.
•    New ways to preserve freshness and extend shelf life through active packaging technologies.
•    New materials with improved toughness and sealability yield strong, hermetically sealed packages that can prevent “leakers” during distribution.
•    Centrally prepared products that provide high quality products while minimizing time and waste associated with meal preparation.
•    Improved labeling and monitoring of distribution conditions that more accurately indicate remaining shelf life of the product.
•    Package designs that portion the product to more closely match consumer needs can result in reduced consumer food waste.

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