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Sustainable Cold Chain Packaging: Innovations for Eco-Friendly Shipping

Updated: Oct 8, 2023

Rows of containers in a shipping yard

Thousands of organizations across the globe are working hard to reduce their use of harmful, non-sustainable packaging materials. More environmentally friendly alternatives are quickly replacing materials like plastic and polystyrene foam. But when it comes to cold chain packaging, the transition has been slower for a number of critical reasons.

Firstly, while packaging options like polystyrene can devastate ecosystems, they do offer cost efficacy, durability, and stability to businesses across dozens of sectors. Consumable items like foods and pharmaceutical products must also be transported at low, stable temperatures, and protect their contents at a high standard. This limits the variety of materials that a cold chain system can use. These factors often pose challenges to businesses that are actively seeking more sustainable cold-chain packaging materials.

Secondly, many of the suggested solutions that can reduce the use of plastics in cold chain shipping containers are not always practical. Nor are they viable at scale. Products that need protection against spoilage, including food, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals, must often be stored at very low temperatures. And some sustainable packaging materials are not designed to withstand these temperature extremes. Alternative materials, such as glass, are heavy and inflexible. Additionally, they often have a higher carbon footprint than plastic due to their weight.

While the majority of cold chain packaging materials still end up in a landfill, innovative cold chain eCommerce solutions are available for organizations looking to make a difference. This guide will explore the most recent innovations allowing for efficient and eco-friendly cold chain shipping.

Sustainable Cold Chain Packaging Solutions

There are a few sustainable cold chain packaging solutions that could service your eco-friendly shipping goals. Here are some of the top options you can explore:

1. Compostable Cold Chain Packaging Materials

Many innovators are developing compostable cold chain packaging systems and foam cooler products that can safely be composted after use. These products are made of combinations of paper, pulp-based materials, mushroom-based materials, and bio-polymers. All of these produce less environmental harm than plastic or polystyrene packaging.

All compostable cold chain packing materials are created from renewable resources. They also decompose without depositing volatile compounds into sensitive ecosystems.

2. Active Packaging Materials

Active packaging solutions have specialized, built-in features that enable organizations to control the real-time temperatures and atmospheric conditions inside packages. The features mentioned above may include carbon dioxide sensing devices, oxygen scavengers, and humidity absorbers. Other customizable modules designed to extend product life span and shelf lives are utilized too.

The efficiency of these materials limit waste and reduce the need for extra packaging materials. They can even include antimicrobial compounds that lower the risk of spoilage and contamination during transit.

3. Phase Changing Materials

PCMs, or phase-changing materials, are another new innovation in the field of cold chain packaging. These unique materials can retain and release energy as latent heat. This aids in maintaining a stable storage temperature during the transportation of goods.

Phase-changing materials can reduce or eliminate the need for refrigeration in transportation vehicles. Plus, they can improve the cooling abilities of traditional refrigeration units. This helps to limit energy use and reduce the carbon emissions associated with cold chain shipping.

4. IoT Technologies

IoT (Internet of Things) enabled sensors are increasingly being utilized in cold chain systems to monitor real-time shipments. These advanced sensors can detect and control the humidity, temperature, and carbon dioxide levels inside packages. At the same time, they can track their locations and conditions as they’re transported.

IoT sensors can reduce wastage, enhance the quality of products, and even streamline shipping routes to limit the consumption of energy and fossil fuels.

The Benefits of Sustainable Cold Chain Packaging

The next generation of sustainable cold chain packaging solutions is designed to provide more value not only to consumers but to logistics teams, business managers, and organizations as a whole. These packaging solutions are:

  • Safe for consumers, communities, and populations throughout their life cycles. They also break down safely without releasing any harmful or volatile compounds into surrounding ecosystems.

  • Created in alignment with strict market cost and performance criteria, offering brands cost-effective and financially viable alternatives.

  • Manufactured using sustainable, renewable, or recycled materials to reduce CO2 emissions and other environmental impacts.

  • Often manufactured, shipped, and recycled using systems that use renewable energy sources.

  • Designed to protect consumables and optimize their storage, shipping, and delivery processes without requiring additional energy inputs.

  • Used effectively in industrial and biological circular cycles to minimize wastage and maximize life span.

Latest Trends in Sustainable Cold Chain Packaging

While sustainable cold chain packaging solutions are still catching on in larger industries and sectors, they’re quickly becoming integral to some of the global economy’s latest sustainability trends.

Eco-friendly cold chain packaging plays a particularly important role in the circular economy. The circular economy is an economic system that works to minimize waste. It does so by retaining materials, energy, and products within the economic cycle for as long as possible before they can no longer be reused.

Sustainable cold chain packaging solutions are vital to the circular economy. They enable organizations and individuals to reduce their waste, CO2 emissions, and environmental pollution. Plus, they allow for the reuse of packaging materials for as long as possible before they are decommissioned. These packaging solutions can also get reused and repurposed over several years before safely breaking down into compostable and recyclable components. Moreover, these solutions allow organizations to adopt lean initiatives across their supply chains. This is particularly helpful in saving costs during times of economic turbulence.

How Cruz Foam Can Help

Cruz Foam offers a range of innovative cold chain eCommerce solutions to enhance your cold chain systems. Our Earth-friendly foam products have passed ASTM D6400 and D6868 testing in 2021. Our products scored a 97.9% biodegradation rate at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh Environmental Research and Innovation Center (ERIC). They also break down into quality organic waste. This waste is suitable for use as a nutritious compost or biogas for sustainable electricity systems.

Cruz Foam is fully compostable and exceeds the regulatory requirements surrounding the breakdown of materials in an aerobic compost pile. It will rapidly break down in soil within weeks without producing any potentially volatile compounds or harmful chemicals during the process.

Our new cold chain packaging solutions, Cruz Cool (™) and Cruz Chill (™) meet or exceed the technical standards for eCommerce cold chain packaging used to ship meal kits, specialty foods, seafood, meats, beverages, pharmaceuticals, and other cold chain applications. These products are curbside recyclable for consumer convenience in a broad range of geographic locations.

Contact our team today to learn more about how our cold chain packaging solutions can revolutionize your logistics systems and contribute to your environmental goals.

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