Previously published in Plastics Engineering and posted with permission from the Society of Plastics Engineers.
Note: This article continues the series of updates in Plastics Engineering from Plastics Make it Possible®, an initiative sponsored by America’s Plastics Makers® through the ACC.
Plastic packaging is slowly but inexorably gaining recognition for its contributions to sustainability, based in part on fairly recent analyses of its environmental footprint. For example, a previous article in this publication by Plastics Make it Possible highlighted a large 2014 study that compared plastic packaging to alternatives in six packaging categories. The study found that replacing existing plastic packaging with non-plastic alternatives in the United States would:
- require 4.5 times as much packaging material by weight;
- increase energy use by 80 percent; and
- result in 130 percent more global warming potential.
Results were similar in a 2010 study in Europe.
This obviously is good news for environment and all of us. And it’s encouraging to all those who make plastic packaging, the end product of a complex collaboration among resin producers, machine makers, additives suppliers, packaging designers and engineers, consumer product companies, and others. This collaboration can take years as these partners consider sustainability, cost, shelf life, heat/cold resistance, barrier properties, and other attributes that must coalesce around one main purpose: protecting the integrity of a product all the way to the final user, the American consumer.
So every once in a while, it’s a good thing to honor those who create really cool, well designed packaging, especially those who make a marked contribution to sustainability.
The DuPont Awards for Packaging Innovations represent such an honor and a highly coveted recognition of excellence. Billed as “the industry’s longest-running, global, independently judged competition highlighting innovative packaging solutions and collaboration throughout the value chain,” this year’s awards were chosen from nearly 200 entries. Here’s a look at the innovative designs of some of the 16 award winners from 11 countries and their contributions to sustainability.
- The Grand Prize goes to… OK, it’s called the Diamond Award, and this year the Diamond Winner was a salsa container. Not just any old container. It’s a “squround” container, meaning both square and round, called the SkinnyPackTM, made by IPL, Inc. The round mouth allows easy access to the salsa while the square bottom edges make it easier to handle. Plus, it’s a combination of flexible film (so consumers can see the salsa) and a strong, rigid frame for structure, so it uses nearly 55% less plastic than the original salsa containers. Because both the film and tub are made with polypropylene, the package can be recycled in most communities.
- Sometimes those large packages of food at Costco or Sam’s Club are just too… well, large. If you can’t reseal them, you may wind up wasting food. For example, large cheese chunks can spoil once opened (unless you have a big family of cheese lovers). Bemis’ new SmartTackTM EZ Peel® ResealTM allows us to easily peel open and reseal a large package of provolone twenty times or more, just using finger pressure. The two-portion package also allows the second portion to stay fresh in the fridge until the first is eaten, further helping prevent wasted food.
- Ever noticed how many bottles of liquid/gel products are confiscated at airports? Hand sanitizer, mouthwash, insect repellent, sunscreen spray, lens cleaner… More than 3.4 ounces – in the garbage can. What a waste. A new flat travel-size bottle called MiiSTSTM makes it easy to carry just enough mouthwash or hand sanitizer – and slip it into a pocket or bag with virtually no bulge. Roughly the dimensions of a credit card, the minimalist polypropylene bottle is fitted with a small pump to spray the product where needed. Each MiiSTS contains approximately 150 sprays of product – probably all you’ll need on that trip of yours. So now you can leave those big bottles at home.
- Here’s an eye opener. As most women can attest, sometime mascara can be challenging to use. The product can dry out or it doesn’t dispense correctly or it’s difficult to extract from those little containers. So the containers get tossed before all of the mascara is used, a wasteful practice. A new squeezable mascara tube made of silicone with an aluminum laminated inner pouch takes aim at these issues. Instead of mascara sticking to the inner wall as is typical, users can lightly squeeze the tube to soften, reposition, and transfer the remaining mascara, delivering a consistent amount. This can help reduce the amount of wasted mascara and extend its useful life – and also simply make it easier to use.
- Flexible packaging often uses less material than typical packaging (see SkinnyPack above), which can help reduce the environmental footprint of packaging. But designing flexible packaging with child safe guards for medicines or potentially dangerous liquids is a challenge… one that Pactech Packaging and Reynolds Presto Products have risen to. They have developed a slider-based closure for flexible pouches that meets federal requirements for poison prevention. So products that now are packaged in bulkier containers can be packaged in thin, lightweight plastics that also are bite and tear proof. The packaging can be used for food and consumer products, prescription medication, household chemical products, and more. One more benefit: the package is reusable, which helps reduce waste and may enable return/reuse programs for pharmacies and other outlets.
- Hundreds of millions of people lack access to clean water, which can lead to dehydration and causes hundreds of thousands of deaths each year. Getting clean water and rehydration treatment to people in need may be a bit easier now with Mix Pak System’s Oral-Rehydration-Salt package. The flexible package has two chambers, one for fresh water and another with a dose of powder supplements. The two chambers are separated by a plastic seal that’s opened by applying pressure to the water chamber, which mixes the substances for consumption. By separating the ingredients, there is no need for refrigeration – plus the shelf life of the product is increased to two years, unlike a mixed product whose shelf life is measured in hours. This life saving plastic package is ideal for areas that lack refrigeration or drinkable water.
Other winners include plastic bottles that make hair conditioners easier to dispense and cement bags that allow ready filling and protect against environmental damage in storage and transport.
Now, not all of these examples provide obvious, dramatic advances in sustainability, such as Planter’s switch from glass to plastic peanut jars that reduced the weight of its packaging by 84 percent and resulted in significant savings in transportation energy use and emissions. But a little less wasted mascara, a bit less wasted cheese, slightly reduced refrigeration needs – that all adds up.
In the cases above, it all added up to well deserved awards. Congratulations.
For more information on the Awards, visit: dupont.com. For more information on innovations in plastic packaging and sustainability, visit: plasticsmakeitpossible.com.