Goodbye shrink wrap!

Karl Knauer and Krones revolutionise secondary beverage packaging

Think big – when it comes to reducing plastic packaging in food retail, the beverage sector holds the greatest potential. An innovation recently presented by Black Forest-based packaging specialist Karl Knauer KG and Krones AG, a system supplier to the beverage industry from Neutraubling, could revolutionise secondary packaging in the beverage segment. The internationally patented “LitePac Top” cardboard carrier makes the conventional shrink wrap used for packs superfluous and therefore avoids unnecessary packaging, pack after pack. The savings potential for Western Europe alone, which uses 60,000 to 80,000 tonnes of shrink wrap per year, is enormous.

Cardboard instead of shrink wrap:
A massive increase in environmental protection, efficiency and convenience

Between 1.5 and 2 billion returnable PET beverage bottles are still being sold each year in Germany alone despite the agreed upon targets for banning the use of single-use plastic products. 2 litre, 1.5 litre and 0.5 litre PET bottles are, and will continue to be, the most popular form of packaging in the beverage segment. As retailers find these disposable plastic bottles easier to manage than glass, i.e. returnable bottles, the number used is set to remain high in coming years. This makes it all the more important to avoid every single gram of extra plastic, i.e. secondary packaging, around these bottles. Until now, standard 4 or 6 packs have been held together by shrink wrap packaging made from shrink film. However, this film is made using non-renewable raw materials and is consequently being viewed more and more critically by consumers. 

Two heavyweights in the packaging industry have now joined forces to offer retailers and bottlers an alternative to such conventional film solutions. Black Forest-based packaging specialist Karl Knauer KG and Krones AG, a system supplier to the beverage sector from Neutraubling, have worked together to create the “LitePac Top”, a sustainable packaging solution made from cardboard. Instead of shrink wrap, a sturdy cardboard carrier securely holds 6 packs of 0.5 to 2 litre PET bottles or beverage cans together. The LitePac Top, adapted to the bottle’s or can’s design, is simply attached at the top and firmly holds the half dozen beverage containers together. In addition, a 100 % paper strap is wrapped around 1.5 and 2 litre packs to ensure stability. What sounds simple is in fact simple and therefore offers several advantages. 

Handling and perception advantages

Thanks to the LitePac Top’s integrated handle, the nine-kilogram pack of six 1.5 litre PET bottles is comfortable to carry, even over longer distances, without cutting painfully into the hand. The can version offers finger holes to ensure a secure grip for transport. “When developing the product, it was important to us to ensure that the packaging remains stable, even when individual bottles or cans are removed. We achieved this by making the bottles and cans removable from the packaging with a simple twist,” explains Michael Weber, Key Account Manager at Karl Knauer. “Even if the packaging only contains a couple of bottles, it can still be transported safely.” 

Therefore, in terms of transport stability, the LitePac Top is superior to shrink packs. There are also two additional advantages to the cardboard version. Firstly, if there isn’t any (film) packaging to be torn open, there isn’t any waste. This drastically reduces the volume of waste within retail – a spatial and visual win for the retail trade. 

Secondly, consumers perceive cardboard packaging as significantly more sustainable and therefore evaluate it positively. “In this way, even people who reach for drinks in disposable packaging can contribute in a small way towards reducing plastic. And this positivity pays off for the manufacturer as it can contribute to building customer loyalty,” says Michael Weber with confidence. 

Impressively efficient and sustainable:
from production to use and recycling

Switching to secondary packaging made from cardboard also pays off financially for the suppliers. Because in addition to creating a positive brand message and providing a comfortable carrying experience, the LitePac Top also offers significantly better environmental performance in terms of the bottling and packing process. “We produced multiple LitePac Tops in a highly cost-efficient way, tested the product at all stages of the supply chain and had it put through its paces by one of the leading beverage bottlers. Even we were impressed by the results as they exceeded all our expectations,” summarises Martin Glatz, Head of Sales, Marketing, Research and Development at Karl Knauer. “For example, compared to shrink wrap packaging, power consumption is reduced from approx. 120 kW/h down to only 10 kW/h, i.e. 92 percent! Applied to a single packaging unit, energy consumption can be reduced from 17 W/per pack to only 2.5 W. And the reduction in CO2 emissions by using the LitePac Top solution instead of shrink packs, is a further plus for our new cardboard carrier. If both the material and the packaging process are taken into account, we can save 30.4 percent of CO2 – in other words, almost a third. However, in the context of an even broader assessment of sustainability by means of the Material Circularity Indicator (MCI) scoring tool, which functions as a circular economy indicator, the figures are even more impressive. With the LitePac Top’s value of 0.867, we come impressively close to the target value of 1, which would signify a fully circular economy. This is a significant improvement on the shrink pack value of only 0.301."

The mono-material of the LitePac Top consists of 100 percent renewable raw materials from FSC® or PEFC™-certified forests and fibres from agricultural waste. This means that the packaging can be easily disposed of using the usual paper recycling option and can be recycled up to seven times. Thanks to its special fibre structure, it even improves the quality of paper waste and therefore has a positive impact on the recycling process.

Following the ban on plastic bags and single-use plastic, it is only a matter of time before secondary plastic packaging is no longer permitted in the EU. Therefore manufacturers like Krones and Karl Knauer, who have already patented innovative and sustainable products such as the LitePac Top, are highly likely to see an increase in demand in the near future. A win for those responsible and for the environment too.