Large rolls of paperboard are transported by boat, train, and road, and arrive at beverage carton manufacturing plants, also called 'converting plants', to be converted into beverage carton reels or sleeves.
This process involves:
The production of beverage carton starts with the design phase, where packaging designers work with customers to design the optimal package that meets the objectives of protecting the food, marketing the product, and appealing to the consumer.
At the same time, the packaging designer aims to achieve the best environmental performance in terms of weight, material choice, climate change and other impacts, as well as recyclability.
Meeting all of these objectives requires a life-cycle thinking approach. The so-called 'essential requirements' for package design are determined by the EU Directive on Packaging and Packaging Waste, and are complemented by the European packaging standards, agreed by the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) Design for the Environment.
Carrying out Life-Cycle Assessments (LCA) on individual package types have also been helpful to assess (and therefore continuously improve) the environmental impact of packs.
In order to maintain its stability, hygiene, and protective properties, the paperboard needs to be coated on both the outside and the inside. Without coating, the carton would leak and the contents could not be preserved for very long.
Polyethylene is the type of polymer (or plastic) mostly used in carton coatings. Its main purpose is to be a liquid barrier (protecting the drink inside and the package outside), to seal off the carton, and sometimes also to provide a smooth surface for printing and creative design.
A very thin aluminium foil coats the inside of beverage cartons used for long-life products. Milk and juice products are very sensitive to light and oxygen and would otherwise degrade quickly. Aluminium's excellent oxygen and light barrier properties enable such drinks to last for up to 18 months without preservatives or refrigeration.
The actual and precise composition of individual beverage cartons differs according to packaging sizes, functionalities and customer specifications.
The inks used in the printing of cartons vary depending on the customers' requirements and the print process used, but safety requirements come first and food grade inks are always used to prevent risk of product contamination. ACE member companies are in continuous dialogue with ink manufacturers to optimise the products they buy thus ensuring consumer safety and minimal impact upon the environment.
Beverage carton manufacturers have been diligent in reducing the environmental impact of their operations and show decoupling of growth from impact. Among other achievements, they have decreased their greenhouse gas emissions by being more energy efficient, using renewable energy, making lighter products, and increasing recycling. They have also committed to do more. Two companies have been elected to the WWF Climate Savers group in recognition of their engagement.
All companies also use environmental management systems - either the European EMAS (Eco Management & Audit Scheme) or ISO 14001 – in over 90% of their production sites worldwide and report on their environmental performance. ACE member companies also manufacture:
Consumers increasingly prefer re-sealable and attractively shaped packaging. Also, more and more consumers drink away from home and want a convenient re-sealable package. ACE member companies have expanded their product range in response to this trend and a growing number of packages have re-sealable openings (closures). The industry has achieved this improved functionality without compromising environmental performance.
ACE beverage carton manufacturers not only manufacture carton-based beverage packaging material. They also develop, manufacture, install, and maintain filling machines and other packaging equipment, so that beverage companies, if they so wish, can have an integrated packaging system that offers the best options for preserving and protecting healthy foods during distribution and storage.