Packaging development from Schubert: sustainability – a delicate balance


Paper-based, made of glass or biodegradable? There are many different opinions on what constitutes sustainable packaging. But one thing is certain: The pressure on manufacturers and users is growing. So how can consumer demands be met while satisfying recyclers? Gerhard Schubert GmbH, the packaging machinery manufacturer from Crailsheim, offers packaging design and development as one of its service. Sustainability is taken into account just as much as product safety and efficient handling.


Fully recyclable, biodegradable, made of 100% recycled material, produced from bio-based raw materials – today, the sustainability of packaging is advertised with many formulations. Users are responding to the high expectations of consumers in the B2C market. But what exactly do the individual references to the packaging properties mean?  Is biodegradable plastic film really better than conventional? How does the life cycle assessment of fibre-based composites compare to pure plastic packaging? And isn’t everything incinerated in the end anyway?

When shopping, many consumers are unsure of what choice will keep their environmental footprint lean. And they are not alone – many manufacturers or users of packaging feel the same way. As a result, packaging is still entering the market that, although well-intentioned, is more harmful to the environment than beneficial. Ultimately, the ones who bear the brunt are the disposal companies: What cannot be separated well or only has a small share in the collection of recyclable materials cannot be recycled. The recycling cycle then misses out on the material and recyclers lose their margin. For non-recyclable materials, the only option is thermal recycling – a euphemism for the waste incineration plant.

For economic reasons, but also because the industry expects politicians to impose even stricter recycling quotas in the foreseeable future, several recyclers and dual systems have now developed their own certifications to assess the recyclability of packaging. Points are deducted, for example, for material composites which cannot be separated or are difficult to separate, such as PE bottles with PVC sleeves. Mono-material, on the other hand, is rewarded. Consultancies and technical testing organisations also offer such services. However, those who produce or use packaging sometimes have to dig deep into their pockets for these offers. Changing materials or replacing equipment can be even more expensive.


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Most of Schubert’s packaging machines can handle both plastic packaging and paper-based packaging.


Considering recyclability from the outset

It makes more sense to bring specialists in packaging development on board who are at the very beginning of the chain and have a decisive influence on the nature of the packaging: Manufacturers of high-quality packaging equipment have valuable expertise in materials, design and recyclability. Ultimately, they know every detail of the packaging that is processed on their machines and understand exactly which factors have an impact on sustainability. The driving force here is no longer just the highest possible material and energy efficiency in production and processing, but also recyclability at the end of the life cycle.


Jägermeister Dispensing with shrink film 

At Jägermeister, the herbal liqueur manufacturer, the bottles were manually repacked into cardboard trays outside the production area and then wrapped in shrink film. However, the filling line was producing much more quickly in response to higher demand and the product bottleneck in front of the packaging line was causing noticeable losses in efficiency. In close collaboration with Schubert, Mast-Jägermeister SE designed a new outer packaging that does not require plastic. It was important to remain true to the appearance of the traditional Jägermeister brand and to take a secure step into the future of packaging design not only with the latest robot technology, but also with the right material and format. To this end, both the sales carton and the shipping carton for machine processing were entirely redesigned and optimised for automated packaging processes. Additionally, the new sales carton offers a larger printable surface for brand presentation and can be effectively merchandised at POS.

“We do not see designing for recycling as a hurdle, but rather as an integral part of the development process. After all, smaller wall thicknesses or tighter boxes have a positive impact not only ecologically but also economically,” says Valentin Köhler, who has been a packaging developer at Schubert for many years. With an intelligent solution, the packaging system manufacturer from Crailsheim recently helped a confectionery manufacturer from Turkey achieve material savings of up to 25%, for example. “This pays off quickly and also long into the future – especially in times of rising raw material costs,” Köhler highlights. 

The savings were achieved through a complete redesign of the boxes: The previous solution with pre-glued cartons was replaced by a new carton concept as part of the packaging automation project. Since the case packer works very precisely and requires only small tolerances for the boxes, the blanks can be cut more tightly and the amount of packaging material can be reduced.


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Schubert developed an entirely new sales carton for Jägermeister that is optimised for automated packaging processes and does not require shrink film.


Bringing sustainability in line with other requirements

Homogeneous material, and as little of it as possible – is this ultimately the secret to developing sustainable packaging? “Of course, you always have to remain realistic: For food producers, sustainability is one aspect amongst many,” Köhler points out. “Especially in the food industry, competition is extremely high. Issues such as visibility at the POS, reliable procurement and compatibility with common transport systems also play a key role.” So the trick is to consider all needs equally in order to find the ideal solution in the end. One that requires as few compromises as possible.

As a machine developer who strives to satisfy customers’ wishes in the best possible way, Schubert takes into account the concerns of all parties involved when developing packaging and relevant systems: those of the customer as well as those of the retailer, the end consumer and the recycling companies. Thanks to its manufacturer-independent consulting services, the company is able to help customers make the complete switch to sustainable packaging materials. Right from the initial planning stage, Schubert pays close attention to a perfect interplay of materials, technology and know-how – from cardboard trays to paper-based films.

Hosta is an impressive example of how sustainability and economic efficiency can be successfully combined. The long-established Franconian company is best known for its puffed rice product: Nippon. Schubert was brought in as a partner to design a new approach to packaging at a very early stage of the project. The aim was to optimise the packaging design in terms of both sustainability and economic efficiency. Precise pick & place robots enabled the developers to shorten the plastic trays by 10 millimetres. Thanks to this optimisation, the film repeats of the flowpacks could also be reduced by another 6 millimetres. This saves packaging material and therefore costs in the long run. The packaging professionals even reworked the carton: It now consists of a single flat blank with a lid, and no longer of three different parts. Taken together, the improved packaging yields so much savings potential that the carton footprint could be significantly reduced: There is now room for nine instead of eight boxes per layer on a shipping pallet. The bottom line is a huge cost saving for Hosta: Not only is packaging material saved, but also truck journeys.


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At confectionery manufacturer Hosta, the packaging design was optimised in terms of both sustainability and cost-effectiveness.


Harnessing 50 years of know-how to meet today’s challenges

Here again, the Crailsheim-based family business draws on many years of experience: As a packaging machine manufacturer who worked mainly with cardboard 50 years ago, Schubert draws on a wealth of knowledge. This expertise is paying off again today. Especially in Europe, the trend towards paper, cardboard and paperboard has intensified due to stricter legal requirements. “Cardboard is now in even greater demand by manufacturers,” confirms packaging developer Köhler.

However, Schubert also focuses on the compatibility of sustainability and cost-effectiveness for all other materials. “With a view to sustainability, there is an increasing demand for openness to technology in many industrial sectors,” says Köhler. “With our flexible systems, we have been offering modularity since the mid-1980s. For example, most of our systems can handle both plastic and cardboard packaging.” Composite materials can also be handled without any problems. 

Deciding on one of the many material variants can be difficult in such an environment. The openness for modifications to existing packaging that Schubert offers with its flexible systems also guarantees customers future security for their investments. “From a business perspective, this is a form of sustainability as well,” comments Köhler.


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Thanks to a special sealing technology, the Flowpacker from Schubert can switch between conventional and sustainable flowpack films.


Never disregard product quality and safety

As great as the desire for sustainability may be, especially in the food industry, the most important task of packaging remains the barrier function between product and environment. Its main purpose is to protect the product through both transport and storage, and until consumption. “The most ecological packaging is of no use if it can no longer guarantee the protective function,” Valentin Köhler also confirms. When it comes to developing packaging, the Schubert team therefore always carefully weighs up all aspects. Köhler advises against greenwashing, i.e. the use of packaging that claims to be sustainable but cannot deliver on the promise. “If the barrier function cannot be ensured in any other way, we prefer to recommend a pure plastic film if there is any doubt,” he explains. After all, in many cases this material can also be recycled – if it is disposed of correctly.

When it comes to product protection, Schubert customers can also depend on the reliability and flexibility of the systems from Crailsheim – even with flowpack films, where the tightness and barrier functions of some, cannot normally be easily achieved. In Schubert’s flow-wrapping machines, a variable sealing system ensures a reliable solution. The technology combines the ultrasonic method for longitudinal sealing and the flying cross-sealing unit which ensures the sealing time can be adjusted exactly to a constant value. The advantage is that both longitudinal and cross sealing processes work very gently and are suitable not only for heat-sensitive products but also for sustainable films.


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A complete redesign of the carton now saves a Turkish confectionery manufacturer as much as 25% of packaging material.


Finding the most sustainable solution for each application

Plastic or paper, metal or glass, composites or indeed materials that are currently unknown – no packaging can cover all needs equally and always offer the highest sustainability. Expertise and technological know-how are therefore required to find the best possible solution for the given application. With its high-performance, flexible equipment and application-oriented development capabilities, Schubert offers packaging design that ensures its customers’ future viability while setting industry-wide standards in terms of sustainability. “Our goal is to always meet ecological and economic demands in equal measure,” says Valentin Köhler. “Quite simply because when both are in harmony, that’s always the most sustainable solution.”


About Gerhard Schubert GmbH

Gerhard Schubert GmbH is the globally recognised market leader in top-loading packaging machines (TLM). The family business from Crailsheim (Baden-Württemberg, Germany) relies on a combination of simple mechanics, intelligent control technology and high modularity for its digital, robot-based packaging machines. With this philosophy and its own culture of innovation, the company has been treading completely independent technological paths for over 50 years.

With its TLM technology,the machine manufacturer provides its customers with future-proof packaging machine solutions that are high-performance, easy to operate, flexible in termsof format conversion and stable in function. The TLM packaging machines package products of all types and industries – from food, confectionery, beverages, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics to technical articles – in trays, cartons, boxes or flowpacks <<or: flow-wrap bags>>.

Well-known brands such as Ferrero, Nestlé, Unilever and Roche rely on automation solutions from Schubert, as do numerous small, medium-sized and family-run companies. Founded in 1966, the group of companies, now managed by the second generation, employs 1,400 people.

Gerhard Schubert GmbH Verpackungsmaschinen
Industriegebiet Südost
Hofäckerstraße 7 – 74564 Crailsheim – Germania
Tel.: +49 7951 400-0 – email: 


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