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Alpha Packaging pursues sustainability with post-consumer, recycled bottles

Alpha Packaging offers recycled bottles using FDA-approved PET post consumer resin (PCR) and HDPE PCR, that are nearly indistinguishable from their nonrecycled counterparts.

Pack it up, pack it in – the dietary supplements industry is beginning to get savvier about reducing the amount of packaging in its products. But St. Louis-based Alpha Packaging is going a step further to the plastic's source, and is offering recycled bottles that are nearly indistinguishable from their nonrecycled counterparts.

Alpha Packaging's PET PCR bottlesAlpha Packaging has been making FDA-approved PET PCR for about three years, and HDPE PCR for one. Post-consumer polyethyelene terephthalate (PET) is the resin used in soda and water bottles, while milk jugs are made of high-density polyethylene (HDPE). These two are the most recycled plastics in the world, said Marny Bielefeldt, marketing manager for Alpha Packaging, and have very substantial, established recycling processes and markets.

In 2008, more than 1.4 billion pounds of PET bottles and jars were collected and reprocessed for re-manufacture into new packages and products, reports the National Association for PET Container Resources. The benefits to the environment have been studied and published in a 2010 report by the association. According to the report, for every pound of recycled PET flake used, energy use is reduced by 84 percent; greenhouse gas emissions by 71 percent (compared with making virgin, non-recycled PET). Flake is ground up bits of plastic – the ingredient that melts to make the resin.

Customers and Wal-Mart motivated Alpha Packaging to provide this eco-friendly solution. As a Wal-Mart-approved vendor, Alpha Packaging is invited to the Wal-Mart Sustainable Packaging Expo every year. The event is a byproduct of Wal-Mart's introduction of the sustainable packaging scorecard, which kicked off in late 2006 as part of an initiative to reduce packaging in its global supply chain by 5 percent by 2013.           

"One reason that we are, as a company, so excited about the recycled PET and HDPE is, basically it's the same material that people are already using," said Bielefeldt, "so it's much less a risk for them to switch to a recycled version of the resin they already use versus a whole material change."

Post-consumer resin sales surged in 2008, then trickled when the economy began to decline because recycled material at its highest grade costs 10 percent more than virgin resin, said Bielefeldt. But customer interest is returning as the economy rebounds.

While a consumer may not be able to tell a PCR bottle from a virgin resin bottle, Bielefeldt pointed out that recycled bottles are not nearly as see-through; instead, they have a yellow or grayish cast, especially in the bottle's thickest spots. Bottles could also have minuscule flecks, which are easily disguised by color. Alpha Packaging offers standard colors of white, cobalt blue, dark green, light and dark amber and clear, but also can match any color for a 10,000-piece minimum order.

Alpha Packaging also provides label artwork to its customers to highlight the sustainable bottles so customers can communicate their sustainability choices. "Rainbow Light Nutritionals is a customer of ours that has done a really good job of advertising that they have 100 percent recycled packaging," said Bielefeldt.

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