Why send 750 million soiled absorbent pads to landfill if there is a better way?

Reducing the use of packaging materials is one of the aspects that will help lead to a sustainable future. When re-designing plastic trays for ANZ’s fresh red meat sector, Sealed Air Australia ventured beyond “reduce” and found a way to “eliminate” the need for absorbent pads. Sealed Air’s Kevin Taylor is the APAC portfolio leader for the company’s trays, films and absorbents business. Here, Taylor spoke to Food & Beverage Industry News about some of the new technologies behind the latest meat-packing developments from the company.

Why was HydroLoQ developed?
While absorbent pads solve the problem of retaining product purge, they can also be problematic for food processors and our planet.

HydroLoQ was developed to eliminate lost time associated with pad related issues for moist protein Modified Atmosphere Packing (MAP) applications that are estimated to contribute to three per cent of overall down time. Furthermore, pads comprise ‘end of life’ challenges. In fact, each year, more than 750 million absorbent pads used across ANZ’s fresh red meat sector end up in landfill.

Meat discolouration is also a challenge for retailers. Meat in direct contact with an absorbent pad is not experiencing the full colour preserving benefits of the surrounding modified atmosphere and thus can undergo product discolouration causing subsequent product mark downs.

Furthermore, the removal of the pad eliminates any risk of ingesting the contents of the pad if it leaks.

What were some of the issues when developing the products?
MAP technology has been used for more than 20 years. Forgetting what we already knew and addressing supply chain challenges with a fresh view was one of the biggest challenges. Understanding surface tension science and redefining absorbency requirements for MAP applications was critical to success.

The shape of the base design was important. Not only was it required to hold a specific volume of purge, but it could not leave any imprint or indentation on the protein which would lead to consumer rejection and product mark downs. This problem was overcome with some adjustments to tooling.

HydroLoQ is a recyclable pack. How hard was that to incorporate into the design?
All Cryovac polypropylene trays are recyclable in accordance with the APCO PREP tool. It was important in the redesign that the tray components did not compromise this. Also important was ensuring that the new design did not require the use of additional resin to perform suitably across the supply chain.

Sealed Air’s Cryovac brand food packaging is renowned for maintaining freshness and reducing food waste. Does HydroLoQ still enable this?
Yes. Cryovac HydroLoQ continues to deliver high oxygen barrier performance to keep proteins fresh across the supply chain. We all know extended shelf life means a less wasteful food supply chain. With HydroLoQ, the processor benefits by eliminating pad related downtime and product contamination due to pads breaking open during packing. Estimates suggest 500kg of meat is removed from the supply chain and down-graded to pet food every time pad related contamination occurs.

Is HydroLoQ 2025 ready?
Absolutely. HydroLoQ is fully recyclable and has no separable components that consumers need to work with. Each tray contains up to 8g of recycled resin that is recovered from Sealed Air’s “Zero Waste” tray making facility based in Tullamarine, Victoria.

How is the introduction of HydroLoQ impacting the Tullamarine plant, which also produces absorbent pads?
Sealed Air’s sustainability vision is ‘to protect, to solve critical packaging challenges, and to leave our world better than we found it’. In this case, developments such as Cryovac HydroLoQ changes the way we do things and allows our processors and supply chains to evolve. The sustainable advantages for our processors and planet are significant.
After all, HydroLoQ allows us to leave our planet better than we found it.

What has the feedback from clients been like?
Soiled absorbent pads dampen the consumer experience. Because consumers dislike touching a soiled absorbent pad, they avoid separating the pad from the tray and dispose of fully recyclable trays to landfill.

This tray is the first of its kind into Australia’s retail environment. Customer acceptance has been positive and Cryovac HydroLoQ can be found at retailers including Aldi and Coles. At this stage, retail acceptance has been limited to fresh red meats, but proteins including poultry and seafood are also on the radar.

Brand owners can also leverage a strong sustainability story by making the switch to HydroLoQ and meet consumers’ growing demands for sustainable packaging.

What makes these products different from similar offerings in the marketplace?
This tray design is new for ANZ, and padless tray formats have been used in Europe.
This is the first padless barrier tray used for ANZ’s modified atmosphere packaging market. The base design not only retains purge, but offers additional rigidity which is an important design parameter for our distribution chain. Rigidity is also important for packs using retail lidding film – get them both wrong and lid film energy can distort the shape of the tray.

Is there a limit to the size of the produce that can be used with these products?
We have matched the retention capacity of the base of the tray to the current retailer specifications for the products the trays are used for. Water purge for poultry is higher because it uses water chilling technology and subsequent tray designs will take this into account.