Wynalda Dishing Up New Products

May 21, 2007
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ROCKFORD — It’s an age-old question everyone has to answer: Paper or plastic?

For Wynalda Litho, the answer is definitely paper — for products that are currently plastic.

Now the company must convince makers and sellers of DVDs and CDs to come over to its way of thinking.

The Rockford-based commercial printing and packaging company has come up with a molded paper tray that would replace the plastic ones now used in DVD and CD packaging. The Wynalda trays are made from 100-percent recycled post-consumer paper; are completely recyclable, biodegradable and water resistant; and are lighter than the plastic ones and therefore less costly to ship.

Wynalda Litho said its trays are the most environmentally sustainable ever made. The firm said it developed the trays to give consumers a choice and help reduce the nation’s dependency on overseas oil.

“Plastic and its creation process make a negative impact on the environment, and its cost is constantly increasing with the price and availability of foreign oil,” said Dan Longberg, vice president of Wynalda Litho.

The molded paper trays aren’t more expensive for firms selling digital movie and music discs, and will likely become the less costly alternative if crude oil prices continue to climb. As for buyers of the products, Wynalda Litho is confident that most will pick paper over plastic.

“Research has shown that consumers are more likely to purchase a product that is more environmentally friendly, if all other things are equal. We have taken careful steps to ensure the paper DVD tray looks like, works like and costs like its plastic counterpart,” Longberg said.

Mickey Waite, the firm’s marketing specialist, said the company is spending more time promoting the DVD tray than the CD tray right now because Wynalda has stronger ties to the home video market than to the music industry. In February, the Business Journal featured a story on the DVD packaging Wynalda has produced for film industry giants. But Waite pointed out the product’s target market goes beyond those firms and is unlimited.

“Practically anyone that would have anything on a DVD” are the company’s potential clients, he said.

“In particular, our studio customers have shown the most interest, of course — like the Disneys, the Sonys and the Lions Gates. But also at the same time, Microsoft and Wal-Mart have shown interest.”

If Wynalda can convince Wal-Mart that paper is a better option than plastic, then the trays could really take off, as the world’s largest retailer carries a lot of clout with suppliers and distributors. And if Wal-Mart does get on the DVD paper tray bandwagon, there is a good chance it would also climb aboard for the CD version.

“That is where a lot of this has been driven from — their whole sustainability scorecard,” said Waite of Wal-Mart.

“Everybody wants to look at different ways to adjust their scores on their packaging. A surprising company of interest has been Starbucks. They sell a lot of music in their stores, and they have pushed all the people they sell music for to go greener.”

Goods from companies such as Wynalda Litho and EPI Concrete Products, whose “green” building blocks were featured in the Business Journal, please Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell and others on the planet, such the United Nations University, which designated Grand Rapids as a Center for Excellence earlier this year for its educational efforts in sustainability. The award was the first for any U.S. city, only the second given to a city in North America, and just the 30th presented worldwide.

The award validates an instructive endeavor on sustainable practices that Heartwell began a few years ago when he brought the city, the city’s public school system, Grand Valley State University, Grand Rapids Community College and Aquinas College under one umbrella to help the area see the benefits of pursuing a greener future.

“It has expanded and is now over 100 other partners. Most of them are businesses, but there are a few entities like the DEQ that are also members of the partnership. It was that Community Sustainability Partnership that we submitted as our project to the United Nations, and the designation was really a recognition of that work, which is ongoing,” Heartwell said.

Wynalda Litho spent more than nine months developing its DVD paper tray. The firm took the product through several redesigns to make sure it looked and felt like a plastic tray, and did so without adding any non-recyclable coatings or additives. The basic color of the “green” tray is grey, but it can be colored by using any FDA-approved dye. It can also be customized to showcase the logo of a company or movie.

Wynalda developed the tray with MP3 Fibre Inc., a thermoform fiber manufacturer in Montgomery, Ala. Waite said a few other companies rejected Wynalda’s concept, claiming there wasn’t a market for it, even though oil prices have soared, and a gallon of gasoline only makes seven DVD cases.

But Waite said MP3 Fibre liked the idea and was eager to roll with it.

“It was a challenge to match the exacting specifications required to replace plastic DVD trays, not only from an end-user perspective, but also to accommodate Wynalda’s highly automated processes for assembly of the packaged product,” said David Jackson, president of MP3 Fibre.

“Thermoformed fiber is a relatively unknown and under-utilized packaging resource material. By working with Wynalda Litho, MP3 Fibre demonstrated that a packaging material decision can be as simple as ‘Paper or plastic?’” said Jackson. “And that decision can have significantly positive economic and environmental implications.”    

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