Making fish exports greener

Oslo: A totally redesigned seafood container could reduce CO2 pollution by 155 thousand tonnes. Packaging manufacturers BEWi and Vartdal, together with the design bureau Inventas, have been awarded the Sustainability Prize for 2011.

Fisheries Minister Lisbeth Berg-Hansen is delighted with this Norwegian innovation. “Norway exports some 37 million seafood meals every single day. This makes it extremely important to get the most out of packaging volumes. Given that the seafood industry is so dependent on clean, healthy oceans, I really hope that the seafood industry is inspired by this,” says the Minister.

The Sustainability Award is awarded on Design Day each year to the company that has developed the most environmentally friendly product or solution.

“We aim to showcase companies who use design specifically to reduce environmental impact. Green values and sustainability are becoming increasingly important, both at a national and international level, and will become even more important for companies who want to assert themselves in the future,” says Eline Strøm-Gundersen, Project Manager at the Norwegian Design Council.

The Norwegian Design Council decided not to award the prize last year, a decision that attracted attention. “This makes it even more satisfying to be able to award this year’s Sustainability Prize. BEWi is a worthy recipient. Together with their competitor Vartdal Plastindustrier they are responsible for an innovation set to drastically reduce the environmental impact of Norwegian seafood exports,” says Strøm-Gundersen.

Losing the lid
It all started with a simple idea at packaging producers BEWi, based in Hamarvik in the Sør-Trønderlag region of Norway: “What if we replaced the lids of our seafood containers with a simple film?” The result was an innovation project that has the potential to revolutionise the way salmon is packaged and transported, which could reduce CO2 production by several thousand tonnes.

“We started out by examining the seafood containers that we’ve been producing for 20 years. We came to the conclusion that we did not want to carry on like this for another 20 years. Most of all we wanted to drop the lid. This meant that our turnover would fall by about 25%, but we realised that this would be profitable in the long term,” says Christian Bekken, Project Manager at BEWi.

Competitors working towards a common goal
Family firm BEWi contacted Vartdal Plastindustrier, another family-run firm in the neighbouring county of Møre og Romsdal. Would the competition be willing to cooperate in the development of a new solution? The Norwegian Competition Authority approved the collaboration, allowing Vartdal to join the project.

“Industrial cooperation like this is essential to succeed with such wide reaching and risk-filled projects. Together we have created an innovation that saves both the environment and our customers’ costs,” says Bekken.

The design bureau Inventas was brought in and immediately started comprehensive information gathering, as well as user and market analysis. The lifecycle of a seafood container was charted from cradle to grave, something which expanded the project to look at total packaging solutions and not just lid closure systems. The result was the EPS box; a lighter, stronger container, sealed with a thin film at the fish processing location. The box simplifies production and reduces transport costs.

“Efficiency and sustainability are more important than ever in the packaging industry. The two are very closely connected: If you improve efficiency and reduce waste, then you also reduce negative environmental impact,” Bekken points out.

40 million salmon containers
Norway exports approximately 40 million crates of salmon every year. If the EPS Box becomes the industry standard in Norway, this would equate to a reduction in CO2 production of at least 155,000 tonnes per year, according to BEWi’s estimates. It would also save the industry around 100 million NOK in purchasing costs.

Bekken estimates that some 90 percent of the environmental benefits would come in the form of transport times. “Over the last 200 years the global population has swollen from about one billion people to nearly seven billion. By 2050 this figure could reach 10 billion. This puts enormous pressure on the food production and food transport industries. Quite simply, we have to transport more food with less packaging,” he stresses.

The EPS Box was launched in June 2010. In May of this year production will begin in full. The intervening time was used for supplier testing and securing important contracts. Two of the world’s biggest salmon producers have already entered into agreements with BEWi, and the company believes that the EPS Box will become the industry standard within 2011.

FACT BOX / This is the Sustainability Design Award
The Sustainability Design Award is given to companies and designers who have developed a product or solution that can demonstrate significant environmental attributes and longevity.
The Sustainability Design Award was first issued in 2009, and was awarded to the office furniture manufacturer HÅG, for their HÅG Futu chair.
The prize was not awarded in 2010.

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