Earth Week 2022: Cutting down on packaging pollution
The hum of printing presses and folding stations fill the air at Colbert Packaging.
The company has operated a plant in Elkhart since 2004. Team members make the packaging for a whole range of products, mainly in the pharmaceutical realm.
However, no matter the particular model, the makeup is the same: recyclable paper.
“The paper we use goes out the backdoor either as a finished carton, or it goes through our bailor system and goes to a recycling facility,” Quality Systems Manager Nick Stober explained.
The sustainability doesn’t stop there, however. Many of the palettes used at the plant are sold to a recycler or used internally. The metal plates that produce the plant’s graphics are also recycled. Even the dyes used can be given new life.
“That dye is made of wood, so that can be recycled at the end of its life cycle,” Stober said. “Also, we can send that dye out and have the metal in it replaced, so it can be reused.”
Colbert’s kind of paper packaging is far from the norm in today’s world.
“We fight against a lot of resealable plastic containers out in the market,” Stober explained.
Even though many plastics say they can be recycled, according to the EPA, most end up incinerated or in landfills. More than 10 million tons of plastic waste ended up in U.S. landfills in 2018.
Those numbers are likely much higher in 2022. There’s been an onslaught of online shopping and related packaging over the last few years, largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, there are signs that the “plastic policy” is starting to be challenged, and not a moment too soon.
“We had a customer recently who said hey what can you do on a paper form tray to replace a plastic tray that we’re currently using,” Stober mentioned.
Stober has seen a trend forming before his eyes and on his order forms. Big box stores ditching plastics means more customers are going to Colbert asking what can they do with paper.
This shift in the environment gives Colbert added business, but also includes the added bonus of making the world a greener place.
“It might cost a little more, but at the end of the day their drive for them helps us keep driving to be sustainable here as well,” Stober said.
Despite all these efforts, Colbert is not yet a zero-waste facility. They still have some palettes, shrink- wrap and banding that can’t be reused. Officials at the plant hope to reach the “zero-waste” goal in the next few years.
Stober also acknowledges the number of trees used to run the business. However, Colbert essentially treat trees as a crop to harvest, so they plant more trees than they use on a daily basis, further helping the planet.