Adam Pawlick


Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA





Job Title

Director of R&D and Engineering


Palermo's Pizza


Adam Pawlick is currently the Corporate Engineering Manager for Palermo's Pizza. In this role Adam has responsibility for all engineering (facilities, process, and packaging) as well as packaging material selection and package design. This allows him to leverage his knowledge of the sustainability industry and technologies across not only packaging material design, but equipment design as well. Prior to Palermo's Adam was most recently the Manager of Packaging Sustainability at ConAgra Foods. He has over 8 years of experience in the packaging industry both in the pharmaceutical/medical device sector with Baxter HealthCare as well as in the food industry with ConAgra Foods. His roles have covered multiple facets of the industry focusing on package design, material selection, equipment selection, and line layouts. He has run ConAgra Foods’ Foodservice packaging group, Frozen Foods packaging group, and is now leading a newly developed group focused on sustainable packaging and touches all brands and all packaging for ConAgra Foods.

Adam has over 6 patent applications currently processing and was the lead in the development of putting recycled PET into CPET trays (first in North America) and creating post industrial recycled PLA for shrink films (first in the world technology). His group focuses on improving every aspect of the sustainability of ConAgra Foods’ packages (social, economic, and environmental) and looks not only at step changes but partnerships to develop new technologies. His projects have won numerous awards, including Ameristar Awards for Best Food Package, DuPont Innovation Excellence Awards, IRI Best New Product awards, and GMA Innovation Awards. He has a proven track record of successfully launching new products and technologies as well as locating technologies to truly drive sustainable packaging.

Recent Blog Entries

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  • Several Options

    There are several options for bakeable substrates that are compostable. Many of them are listed above. PLA will not work for your application (it does not have the high temperature resistance required), bamboo-pulp may work well, traditional coated paper trays may work well, pressed paper may or may not work well, etc. A lot will depend on how you are trying to bake them (at home baking typically doesn't pass 450 degree set points, industrial baking may exceed 600 degree set points), duration of the baking, and the specific type of product. I know this isn't a ton of help or detail, but before your question can get answered in more detail more information is needed on your goals, scope, and product. If I may pose one question for you, why compostable? As a waste control method compostability is limited in application in the U.S. (if you are talking Europe it is different). Have you done an analysis to see if the better overall option would be a highly recycled material (aluminum comes to mind) that has high recycle rates, value, and collection?

  • Why Not Both??

    Thomas - I think the correct answer is that both are "better." There currently is no truly sustainable packages out there, everything has an impact. What we call sustainable packaging is actually just more sustainable packaging. They are designed to minimize the impact of the package on the environment, society, and drive profits (all three legs of the sustainability stool). So in either case that you listed (moving to a lightweight non-recyclable or moving to a recyclable heavier package) if you assume that the original package is heavy and non-recyclable, both are better from where we were from an environmental standpoint. The next factors to weigh are impact on society as well as financial impact to the company. If the light weight non-recyclable material costs 45% less than current and the heavy recyclable material costs 200% of current, those definitely have to be taken into consideration. It is also important to remember that in most products the package actually has a significantly smaller impact than the product it is protecting when you compare LCAs, so you must make sure that you don't impact shelf life negatively, increase damage during shipping, change scrap rates, yields, or OEE as you are running as those all effect the overall impact of the package (i.e. if the lightweight non-recyclable package increases scrap by 10%, decreases efficiencies by 10%, shortens the shelf life by 10% and increases damage by 10% where the heavier recyclable package does none of those things the discussion is very different). The third thing to consider is the availability of the recycling infrastructure of the material you are considering. Just because it can be recycled doesn't mean it is recycled (PLA is a great example, it is not difficult from a technology stand point to recycle, and facilities are actually being looked at to do this, but it does not have wide amounts of collection necessary to truly claim recyclability...yet). If you are making the change to truly be more sustainable the actuals of the recycling need to be important (if you are doing it to solely make a claim, they may be less important to you...I'm not saying they should be less important, but they may be). In addition recycling rates are important in determing impact. If you are doubling the weight from current, and that material is only recycled at a 20% rate, then you have probably made a negative impact because you have introduced 200% more material, of which only 20% is getting recycled. A great question to be posed, and hopefully a great discussion starter. It is a complex topic, with lots to consider. Depending on the company's values, relative stances on similar issues (i.e. have they made huge investments and partnerships in the recycling industry and its values? Have they focused all their other work on lightweighting?), and potential risks my recommendation to them would vary on which is truly "better."

  • Agreed

    I agree with you completely. Not only will different channels require different labels for language, but also for content (if you manufacture in Ohio your label to get across the U.S. will be very different than your label to get to Asia, assuming that transportation impacts are included in the label). The larger issue at work with the different channels is cost. Without the labels you may be able to do a run of 1,000,000 units, so all your purchased good are identical. You get volume discount. You also only have maintain inventory for one item. If you distribute across 10 different countries all with specific language requirements (assuming even distribution) you are down to runs of 100,000 units, all with unique packaging to inventory, plus you have to maintain the inventory levels for 10 products rather than 1.

  • Overall Impacts

    You do raise a good concern on whether or not adding printing to a packaged will negatively impact the sustainability of that package. I think you need to look at the overall impacts and the major drivers. If the package is already printed, you aren't adding a completely new step. You do add some more ink to the package so there is an impact there, overall though, that impact would be small compared the base materials, product inside the package, as well as all the transportation invovled with the primary materials, packaging materials, and distribution of the product. If the package isn't already printed you are adding a completely new step to the process. This will have significantly more impact than just printing a little more. Again, you have to look at overall impact (do you have to send the package to a completely different facility to get printed or is it run on the same line, something else just has to be turned on). Again, you also have to weigh the overal benefits of doing this. If, by adding this information, you can drive consumers to make "better" purchase decisions, you then can start to drive industry into changing how it manufactures in order to reduce its impact. If a labeling scheme could functionally force all manufacturers (a complete impossibility, but for discussion point we will pretent) to reduce their carbon footprints for every product by 10% in order to better compete for consumers then you have done way more good than harm in adding that label. This is what the proponents for this system claim, that this adds more data for consumers to make their purchase decisions, which in turn forces companies to compete in this area. The larger, and more important issue, is that there is no way to really ensure that all companies, for all products, calculate their carbon footprint the same. Then we are just adding confusion to consumers and building mistrust between companies and consumers. It would be next to impossible for the FTC to verify all these new claims and the methodolgy used to calculate them across all products and all companies. This would mean consumers wouldn't be comparing apples to apples when looking at these labels.

  • Good Questions

    Mark - This is a great question. Depending on if you are talking post consumer or post industrial recycled content the answer will vary greatly. Last time I checked with the corrugated industry most shipping cases, on average, ran around 40% recycled content. A lot of companies do not specify the amount of recycled paper in their shipping cases for a couple of reasons: 1. Specifying the amount of recycled content limits the number of mills you could use to produce your paper and increases the variables into costing (i.e. at some points in time recycled is much cheaper than virgin, other times not so much). 2. Industry standard average (again, around 40% last time I checked) is pretty high already so there are bigger fish to fry. 3. You need virgin paper to produce recycled paper. If everyone tried to convert to 100% recycled content in their shipping containers we would rapidly run into issues with supply. We have to produce new virgin paper in order to feed the recycle stream. This is especially true since there isn't 100% collection (i.e. not every box produced is gathered to recycle). As you recycle paper (and this happens with polymers as well) the fibers (carbon chains for polymers) begin to break down and shorten. This typically weakens the structure and changes its properties, lowering the compression strength for a given basis weight. You also introduce some contaminants so your coloring may change a bit. I'll defer more details to the paper/corrugated suppliers on this board, they will have a great deal more information than I, but I hope this helps.

  • Remember There are Other Benefits than Composting

    All - Great conversation around this topic. I think it is particularly relevant because this is part of the conversation that comes up frequently. I think there are a couple of points to remember. 1. This is progress in the right direction. The new package is more sustainable than the old one. 2. Renewable content/renewable based polymers have other advantages than just being compostable (in fact not all of them are). They derive from renewable resources and lessen our reliance and burden upon petroleum. 3. In Ingeo(TM)'s case, at least the most recent data I have seen from NatureWorks, the creation of PLA actually uses less energy, creates less GHG, and requires less water than the manufacture of most petroleum based resins. 4. There is much more to sustainable packaging than just end of life. 5. Oxo-degradables have their own issues, challenges, and short-comings. As of yet I have not seen a full LCA or Eco-Profile or degradation standards and third party data verification of oxo-degradables. I'm not saying they don't work, I'm just saying that none of that information has either been completed or made publicly available. NAPCOR has asked for similar information, I have asked for this information, and I know several other large CPG companies have asked for it and nobody has recieved it. 6. This is Step 1 in the process for Frito-Lay. They have announced the desire to get to a 100% compostable bag in the future (I believe 2010 was the year). 7. ASTM D6400, as Brian said, is a list of conditions. Currently backyard composting does not meet the temperature requirements, so we frequently call all places that can reach those conditions "commercial composting." As Brian alluded, if you could find a way to hit those conditions in your backyard, you could compost these. Even better yet, why can't this lead to a new piece of equipment innovation for backyard composters that can reach these conditions, manage any odors, and have useful products come out? 8. There isn't a silver bullet for sustainable packaging. Ingeo(TM) PLA will be the best solution in some cases, other technologies will be a better fit elsewhere. This is a complex issue that will have multiple solutions. I hope this helps.... Adam

  • It Can Be Done!!!

    Lisa - Great question, and I think the answer is that it can definitely be done. It requires a good deal of collaboration between the packaging engineers, graphics designers, marketing and sales groups to really drive home the key characteristics that make it luxurious and sustainable. There are several sustainable materials out there that have little or no impact on current package appearance. For example thermoformed PLA versus the more standard thermoformed PS, or APET. The clarity is equal, the performance (in most cases) is similar, but you can use a renewable material. The same can be said of utilizing PLA as part of a structure like Frito-Lay did with its Sun Chips bags. The Cereplast hybrid starch/PP blend is up to 40% renewable content with very little change to performance or appearance. Coke's introduction of the PlanetBottle (TM) hasn't impacted the luxury of the Coke bottle design, the funcitonality, or the end of life, but did introduce a percentage of renewable content. Another great part about sustainbility is the fact that a redesign that can completely revamp a package's look but reduces materials or improves shipping cube is more sustainable. Personally, I think that if all the groups work together and add "sustainable" as one of the requirements right next to "functional," "cost effective," and "luxury" then it definitely can be done.

  • Two Things to Consider....

    Two quick things to consider based upon your discussion. I'll start with the more straight forward (although still very controversial) one first. The Food versus Fuel arguement is one that has been made for a while when discussing bioplastics, but most of the time it is made with partial or incorrect information. This was originally an arguement that was built as a reason to not use ethanol as a fuel, not as a comparison for biopolymers. Petroleum use for fuels far outweights petroleum use for plastics. The last statistics I saw should petroleum used to become plastic is less than 5% of all the oil used per year. Only a portion of this 5% becomes packaging, so the overall impact of plastic packaging on oil consumption is very small. In addition if you look at the acerage of corn to feed just the Natureworks LLC plant in Blaire, NE it is very small compared to the entire corn production in just the U.S. let alone the world (Natureworks has said in the past that all the corn they need comes from within 80 miles of Blaire, NE). Then if you consider that each piece of corn produces multiple products (the actual feedstock for Ingeo is a byproduct of ethanol production) it is actually a very good use of the corn used. So overall, while it is a concern, food versus packaging should only be a small concern. The more complex issue is the recyclability of these materials. I think there are two issues embedded in this one. 1. My understanding of what Coke did is use a natural source for ethylene glycol to polymerize into PET (just my understanding, I could be wrong on this one) and maxes out at 20% to 30% of the total bottle weight. Since this is actually used to make PET it should be completely recyclable in current systems. The feedstock does not impact recycling, just the end polymer. This isn't any different than DOW making ethylenes out of sugar cane in Brazil, it comes from a renewable source, but the end polymer is identical to the petroleum based polymer. 2. True biopolymers (PLA, PHA, PHB, etc) should not be mixed with PET, HDPE, LDPE, or any other recycled resin because they are, as you stated, a contaminant to the stream. The same can be said for EVOH, PP, PVC, PVDC, Saran, colorants, etc. The purer the stream the better the recycled resin. PLA specifically can be recycled by itself in a very unique hydrolsis process that actually reverts the resin back to the lactide monomer and allows for repolymerization to virgin resin. The issue with that is getting to critical mass to encourage collection and infrastructure. Sorry this was such a long response, hopefully it helps. Adam

  • Very general response

    A very short and very general response to your question is that food grade versus non-food grade is determined through a number of studies that research what extractables (chemicals from the inks, adhesives, plastics, etc) that leave the package and enter the food under specific sets of circumstances. Heavy metals are definitely something that the FDA looks for since they have adverse health impacts on people, but there are many other chemicals that make the list as well. An important thing to remember, there are different levels of direct food contact allowed (almost nothing actually gets FDA approval, they get non-objection...a technical difference, but a difference all the same), so make sure whatever use you are looking for, the food contact level matches your use. Food contact approval typically varies by country. I am not aware of anything that is global.

  • Trays for Frozen Meals

    Joan - I would caution you around tray material type. I commend you for stating your desire that the tray be as environmentally friendly as possible, but this is only one of the performance criteria you need to add to your requirements definition. The frozen environment is typically a very difficult one with several freeze/thaw cycles common. It also has various "frozen" temperatures. Some companies use 0F, some use -20F for storage and distribution, some use even colder for blast freezing. I would recommend you start by building a requirements definition (including the environmental part) for the package and then work your way into the best material rather than starting with the material and seeing if it works. The above materials are indeed options, but depending on your specific manufacturing, distribution, use, requirements and systems, they may or may not be appropriate. It is important to understand what you want the package to do first, then pick the material that best does what you are looking for while minimizing environmental impact. Remember, sustainable packaging is not the same as just environmentally friendly. A sustainable package is the package that delivers all required performance criteria for protection and use (social), with the smallest environmental impact (environment), that you can afford to sell for a profit (financial). If you address the Triple Bottom Line you will have the most sustainable package you can. If you would like to discuss further, please review my profile (I ran the Frozen Foods Packaging Group and the Sustainable Packaging group for ConAgra Foods before I split off on my own) and feel free to contact me at I'd be happy to discuss further. Thanks and I hope this helps, Adam

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