Stephanie Clifford’s “Devilish Packaging, Tamed,” appeared in the June 2nd addition of the New York Times’ Energy and Environment section. What follows is a critical analysis thereof from the perspective of a Sustainability Coordinator at a family owned and operated clamshell manufacturing company.

Clifford makes the following assumptions in “Devilish Packaging, Tamed:”

Retailers are instigating the shift from clamshell to trapped blister packs because (1) increased plastic packaging prices; (2) the desire to reduce packaging material use (re: Wal-Mart’s goal of 5% packaging reduction by 2013); (3) trapped blister packs are more “green” than clamshells; and, (4) trapped blister packs are easier to open than clamshells.

In discussing these assumptions, it will become clear that not only are the claims made in this piece incorrect, but the perception about “green packaging” created therefrom a disservice to the always-progressing dialogue about sustainability and packaging.

Assumption 1:

Retailers are instigating the shift from clamshell to trapped blister packs like MWV’s Natralock because of increase plastic packaging prices.

Trapped blister packs are not new to the packaging market; hence, the assumption that the recently unstable resin market motivates the transition from clamshell to trapped blister packs is incorrect. Since Natralock’s introduction years ago, it has been marketed as the “sustainable alternative to clamshell packaging.” Consequently, referencing the unstable resin market as reason for why clamshell packaging is being replaced with trapped blister packs is an after-the-fact justification that meets MWV’s PR story more that the realities of supply and demand.

Due to the contemporary “death of print” phenomenon—a repercussion of our digital age—the fiber market has been cutting prices to allow for market gains in areas formally controlled by other mediums. This, in conjuncture with other global economics (like the unsuccessful cotton crop in Asia resulting in increased international demand for RPET driving up prices for RPET for packaging converters, like clamshell manufacturers), paints a more accurate picture of the intricacies of the resin vs. paper market than assumed by Clifford. Seeing as how industry publications such as PlasticsNews devote entire sections to explaining and contextualizing the fluctuating resin market (see Material Insights), it is silly to assume that something so complicated as the international production and consumption of commodities be so simply reduced as Clifford would have it.

Assumption 2:

Retailers are instigating the shift from clamshell to trapped blister packs Like MWV’s Natralock becasue the desire to reduce packaging material use.

It is misinformed to assume that packaging material reductions are achieved by switching from clamshell to trapped blister packs, which this article postulates. In fact, as per the Wal-Mart Packaging Success Stories presented during the Wal-Mart Packaging Sustainable Value Network meetings, most packaging reductions are achieved by attaining lower product to package ratio via package redesign and/or moving into a lighter packaging medium i.e. PP shrink wrap vs. corrugate boxes. The reason-by-association tactic employed by Clifford assumes that the retailer’s desire to reduce packaging is achieved by transitioning into trapped blister packs; this is overly reductionist and negates the role of the packaging engineer in understanding how each packaging medium allows for different savings depending on the application of the package. In short, packaging material reductions are the result of extensive R&D within a specific distribution context and are made with consideration of the unique market demands inherent in any consumer product.

Assumption 3:

Retailers are instigating the shift from clamshell to trapped blister packs like MWV’s Natralock because it is more “green” than clamshells.

What is “green?”

How does Clifford understand “green?” At the last SPC meeting attorney general of the FTC discussed their recent efforts to understand the consumer’s perception of ambiguous marketing claims like “green,” “sustainable,” “environmentally friendly,” etc. After conducting a survey, it was found that consumers didn’t really understand these terms, which lead the FTC to conclude that such ambiguous environmental marketing terms should be avoided in order to alleviate consumer deception. Consequently, if a marketer is going to make a claim of sustainability/environmentally friendliness, he/she must qualify it with further information like: “Made with 30% post consumer recycled content;” or, “complies with ASTM D6400 Standard for Industrial Compostability.” Hence, the postulation that ALL paper packaging is more sustainable than ALL plastic packaging and, via reason-by-association, that ALL trapped blister packs are more sustainable than ALL clamshells is not only manipulative insofar as no qualifying language is provided, but again, overly reductionist; as such, lacks the legitimacy seemingly assumed in a news article worthy of publication in the NYT.

Environmental marketing claims aside, I would like to take the moment to clear the air re: the sustainability of clamshell packaging.

Sustainability of clamshells vs. trapped blister packs, like MWV’s Natralock:

I am no expert in sustainability. However, I have learned that when discussing the “sustainability” of any product, package or service, it is helpful to take a life-cycle based approach; this looks to quantify the environmental requirements of production, conversion, distribution and end of life management. Only when a full life cycle analysis is conducted can the “sustainability” of any product be understood.

In regard to the first life cycle phase in the context of packaging material production, issues such as feedstock procurement (what is consumed and emitted during the process of raw material extraction?) and feedstock conversion (what is consumed and emitted during the process of raw material conversion?), are important to consider when discussing the “sustainability” of any packaging material.

In the context of pulp and paper production for conversion into trapped blister packs, trees are needed as feedstock, and extensive amounts of water and electricity are required to convert the material into useable fiber-based packaging materials. Consider this excerpt from TreeHugger.com, which attempts to answer to age-old paper vs. plastic conundrum by discussing the production of paper bags:

Paper comes from trees — lots and lots of trees. The logging industry…is huge, and the process to get that paper bag to the grocery store is long, sordid and exacts a heavy toll on the planet. First, the trees are found, marked and felled in a process that all too often involves clear-cutting, resulting in massive habitat destruction and long-term ecological damage.

Mega-machinery comes in to remove the logs from what used to be forest, either by logging trucks or even helicopters in more remote areas. This machinery requires fossil fuel to operate and roads to drive on, and, when done unsustainably, logging even a small area has a large impact on the entire ecological chain in surrounding areas.

Once the trees are collected, they must dry at least three years before they can be used. More machinery is used to strip the bark, which is then chipped into one-inch squares and cooked under tremendous heat and pressure. This wood stew is then “digested,” with a chemical mixture of limestone and acid, and after several hours of cooking, what was once wood becomes pulp. It takes approximately three tons of wood chips to make one ton of pulp.

The pulp is then washed and bleached; both stages require thousands of gallons of clean water. Coloring is added to more water, and is then combined in a ratio of 1 part pulp to 400 parts water, to make paper. The pulp/water mixture is dumped into a web of bronze wires, and the water showers through, leaving the pulp, which, in turn, is rolled into paper.

Whew! And that’s just to MAKE the paper; don’t forget about the energy inputs — chemical, electrical, and fossil fuel-based — used to transport the raw material, turn the paper into a bag and then transport the finished paper bag all over the world.

Please note that this account of pulp and paper production is too simplistic; for a full discussion of the life cycle attributes of pulp and paper production, consult the SPC’s Fiber-Based Packaging Material Briefs, available here for download.

To be fair and get both sides of the story, below is TreeHuger.com’s description of converting fossil fuel bi-products into plastic packaging:

Unlike paper bags, plastic bags are typically made from oil, a non-renewable resource. Plastics are a by-product of the oil-refining process, accounting for about 4% of oil production around the globe. The biggest energy input is from the plastic bag creation process is electricity, which, in this country, comes from coal-burning power plants at least half of the time; the process requires enough juice to heat the oil up to 750 degrees Fahrenheit, where it can be separated into its various components and molded into polymers. Plastic bags most often come from one of the five types of polymers — polyethylene — in its low-density form (LDPE), which is also known as #4 plastic.Again, this account of plastic packaging production from a bi-product of the oil-refining process is too simplistic, failing to take into account the different processes/materials required for the production of PET vs. PVC vs. PP; each resin has its own production profile and it’s important to understand how each informs the overall “sustainability” of said resin.

For the full discussion of the paper vs. plastic bag debate re: TreeHuger.com, click here.

When trying to understand the sustainability of clamshells vs. trapped blister packs, it is also important to distinguish between fiber-based packaging IN GENERAL and Natralock, which is a specific type of clamshell alternative produced and marketed by a specific company. Unlike the majority of fiber-based packaging on the market, Natralock incorporates a special type of adhesive/laminate that allows these packages to be deemed “tear-proof.” After a quick search of the US patent database, the following description about BlisterGuard—a trapped blister pack similar to or the same as Natralock (I couldn’t find any patents for Natralock but believe that Colbert Packaging licenses the tear-proof technology to MWV)—is provided:

A packaging laminate is formed by a paperboard substrate with a plastic blister layer sealed to the substrate. The packaging laminate comprises a paperboard substrate for providing a base layer, a tear-resistant polymer layer applied to said substrate, and a heat seal polymer layer applied to said tear-resistant polymer…

The tear-resistant polymer layer 14 may be polyamides, such as nylon 6, nylon (6,6), nylon (6,12) or other polyamides, polyester, polyurethane, block copolymer, unsaturated block copolymers such as styrene-butadiene-styrene, styrene-isoprene-styrene and the like; saturated block copolymers such as styrene-ethylene/butylene-styrene, styrene-ethylene/propylene-styrene, and the like) or other material possessing high tear-resistant properties. The polymer used to make the tear-resistant layer may be blended with another polymer selected from the group including ethylene copolymers such as ionomers, vinyl acetate, methylacrylic or acrylic acid copolymers.For a full description of the patents from which the above excerpts were taken, click here and here.

The motivation for referencing the tear-proof laminate found on Blisterguard and perhaps Natralock is to demonstrate that these fiber-based alternatives to clamshells are not just a paper version of a clamshell; they are multi-material/chemical compositions that are only marketable as “tear proof” due to the addition of a variety of chemicals during the process of production. Without implying that the chemicals used in the Natralock adhesive/laminate are toxic/pose a hazard to human health as I am not privy to such information, it is important to acknowledge the following statistic about the inks/adhesives/laminates used in fiber-based packaging from the USA EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory Report :

Coated and laminated paper products are associated with significant reporting of releases and other waste management of toxics chemicals…Pollutants associated with various coating materials and processes have included emissions of volatile organic compounds and discharges of wastewater containing solvents, colorants, and other contaminants (EPA, TRI Data for Pulp and Paper, Ch. 5).

It would be great to conduct an LCA of a trapped blister pack like MWV’s Natralock vs. a, let’s say, RPET clamshell via the SPC’s comparative packaging assessment software COMPASS. Unfortunately, LCA tools like COMPASS don’t contain metrics for toxicity resulting from the inks, laminates and adhesives used in fiber-based packaging because: lack of life cycle data availability, lack of risk data beyond MSDS information, and that hazard is not easily correlated to toxicity based on mass of material. A respected LCA practitioner did explain to me that this need for risk data re: inks, laminates and adhesives used in fiber-based packaging like trapped blister packs IS being investigated via GreenBlue’s CleanGredients. He writes, “The fact that possibly the most toxic part of a package is not being assessed [by LCA tools like COMPASS] has not been missed by the LCA community.”

While we can’t conduct a holistic LCA of a trapped blister pack vs. a plastic clamshell because of the realities outlined above, we can conduct one comparing a PET clamshell to a corrugate box of similar dimensions via COMPASS; this is what I did to facilitate entry to GreenerPackage.com’s Database for Sustainable Packaging Suppliers–click here to see the third-party reviewed entry. Please note that I was only able to claim that the submitted RPET clamshell package “releases less GHG equivalents throughout life cycle than fiber-based packages of similar dimensions” because I provided this COMPASS LCA. As the data illustrates, the corrugate box releases more GHG and consumers more water, biotic, and mineral resources and results in higher concentrations of water toxicity and eutrophication than the plastic clamshell counterpart. Eutrophication is what contributes to the Gulf Dead Zone, which is where the absence of oxygen in the water has resulted in female fish growing testes as described in this National Geographic article.

Please understand that LCA tools like COMPASS are a constantly evolving tool; more LCI data is needed to paint a more accurate picture of the “sustainability” of any product. As such, this tool is appropriately deemed “COMPASS;” it helps illuminate where you are going but doesn’t always tell you where you are. In addition, though implied, I do not have information on how much paper and pulp production contributes to dramatic cases of eutrophication like the Gulf Dead Zone; it’s inclusion in this discussion was to demonstrate the complexities of “sustainability” as it pertains to different packaging materials and modes of production.

Next one should focus on the end of life management of trapped blister packs vs. clamshell packaging. As per the FTC Green Guide’s definition, in order to claim a package is recyclable, 60% or more American communities must have access to the infrastructure/facilities capable of sorting and reprocessing this material for remanufacture into new products and/or packaging. Unfortunately, as per this MSW report from the US EPA, clamshell packages AND trapped blister packs are not classified as recyclable insofar as there is no data on these packaging/material combinations (see table 21). As you can see , the high rates for paper recovery is attributed to newspaper and corrugate and those for plastic are attributed primarily to HDPE jugs and PET bottles. Those packaging categories listed “Neg.” like “other paper packaging/other paperboard packaging” means that not enough data is collected; this implies that all fiber-based packaging materials that fall outside of the categories listed are not recycled, contrary to popular belief.

The recyclability of materials used in combination to create the package depends entirely on the ability of someone (the end user or MRF) to separate the material constituents. After performing extensive research in the area of post consumer materials management, I have a hard time understanding how trapped blister packs, like MWV’s Natralock, are recycled due to the multi-material/chemical composition inherent in the package design…

Assumption 4:

Retailers are instigating the shift from clamshell to trapped blister packs like MWV’s Natralock because it is easier to open.

Consider the following excerpt taken directly from the NYT’s article:

“As a guy in packaging, I get all the questions — there’s nothing worse than going to a cocktail party where someone’s asking why they can’t get into their stuff,” said Ronald Sasine, the senior director for packaging procurement at Wal-Mart. “I’ve heard over the years, ‘How come I need a knife to get into my knife?’ ‘How come I need a pair of scissors to get into my kid’s birthday present?’”

That’s all fine and good—I am aware that consumers get frustrated trying to open their product packaging. The reason for the hard-to-open nature of the clamshell packaging is, as this article explains, to deter shop-lifters; it was Sam Walton himself who explained that products over a certain price point had to be packaged in clamshells to reduce shrinkage. However, clamshell manufacturers do not design their packaging to be frustrating to the consumer—in fact, most domestic manufacturers offer easy-open features and design the packaging to snap together, eliminating the need for secondary RF sealing. However, by the time the fulfilled package makes its way to a retail shelf, it has been RF sealed due to the requirements of the RETAILER, not the manufacturer. Don’t hate the players hate the game.

Now, consider this factoid taken directly from MWV’s webpage explaining Natralock: “The polymer-reinforced paperboard, along with our unique sealing process, makes the package virtually impossible to tear open by hand” (http://www.natralock.com/WhatIsNatralock/SecurityDurability/SecurityLossPrevention/index.htm).

Call me crazy, but doesn’t this imply that the package requires scissors, or another tool, to get into? If you can’t open it by hand, what can you open it with? Sooo how are trapped blister packs easier to open than clamshells?

Taken together, it is clear that this NYT’s article presents an overly simplified account of the requirements and realities of retail product packaging in the context of “sustainability.” As a representative of the plastics industry and a third-generation plastic clamshell manufacturer, I believe it is crucial that we combat these biased and scientifically unfounded perceptions about the “evils” of clamshell packaging; if we do not, clamshell packaging will continue to be targeted by self-serving actors looking to capitalize on the anxiety produced from notions of environmental destruction via our consumption habits.

Hellllooooooo! Man, it has been a crazy week! I had no idea how much Pack Expo would take out of me!

Dordan now has over 30+ followers on Twitter, which makes me feel really cool, but I want MORE MORE MORE. So follow me @DordanMfg. Good times.

Click here to check out Dordan’s 2010 Pack Expo only Show Specials!

Good news: We have a ton attendees looking for us at Pack Expo via our online booth http://my.packexpo.com/pei2010nn/public/Booth.aspx?BoothID=107696, which is super cool, and I have booked interviews with three different packaging publications, so this show should be a grand occasion! We have events almost every night (CardPak’s Sustainability Dinner, AVMP networking event, Meet the Press, and more!) so I am totally PUMPED!

I was at McCormick Place yesterday to set up the booth and it was a rather enjoyable experience: our booth was where it was suppose to be; the Union workers were really helpful; and, I met the floor manager, Louie, who oozes old school Chicago. Dordan’s booth looks great, and I can’t wait for the Show to begin!

Before we get into the meat of today’s post, I came across some random industry tid bits that I thought I would share with you, my packaging and sustainability friends.

First, and this is sort of old news, but did you guys hear about the SRI Consulting study that determined that those countries with adequate space and little recycling infrastructure should landfill PET bottles as opposed to recycle in the context of carbon footprint reduction!?! The name of the report is “PET’s Carbon Footprint: To Recycle or Not to Recycle,” and is described as “an independent evaluation of the carbon footprint of PET bottles with analysis of secondary packaging from cradle to grave and from production of raw materials through disposal.” While the report cost an arm and a leg to download, an abstract of the report is available here: http://www.sriconsulting.com/Press_Releases/Plastic-Bottle-Recycling-Not-Always-Lowest-Carbon-Option_16605.html.

The report concludes:

• Shipping distances are not footprint crucial;
• Incineration creates the highest footprint;
• PET recyclate (HA, I thought I made that word up) has a lower footprint than virgin PET.

Weird bears; I wonder who funded this study…

Next, someone tweeted (yes, I said tweeted) this industry tid bit: “Biopolymers are Dirtier to Produce than Oil-Based Polymers, says Researchers” @ http://www.environmentalleader.com/2010/10/22/biopolymers-are-dirtier-to-produce-than-oil-based-polymers-say-researchers/ .

After perusing the article, I was surprised that PLA exhibited the maximum contribution to eutrophication, as every COMPASS LCA I have performed comparing paper and plastic shows that paper contributes WAY MORE to eutrophication than plastic…but I guess this makes sense in the context of PLA’s contribution because paper is based on a “crop” as is PLA; therefore, require similar resource consumption/toxin emissions?

Then there is this statement, which is crazzzyyyy: “biopolymers exceeded most of the petroleum-based polymers for ecotoxicity and carcinogen emissions.” What does that mean?!? Where are the carcinogens coming from? And, where did these researches get all this LCI data for these new bio resins in order to make the statements they do?

Wow the land of biopolymers is confusion.

And that provides a perfect segway into today’s post.

As you know, many of Dordan’s customers have expressed great interest in biopolymers because, according to a recent consumer research study, “biodegradation” is one of the most desired “green” characteristics of a package in the eyes of the consumer; I guess people don’t like the idea of things persisting for years and years in landfill…

As an aside, did you see this McDonalds Happy Meal biodegradation test?!? Apparently, after 180 days, a Happy Meal did not even begin to show signs of biodegradation! Check it out here: http://www.littleabout.com/Odd/sally-davies-mcdonalds-happy-meal/98413/ .

And, as we all know, it doesn’t matter if it is paper, plastic, or a banana peal; nothing biodegrades in a landfill because there is no oxygen and sunlight. But that is beside the point.
Where was I…?
Yes, we have been asked many questions about biopolymers, many of which, we didn’t have the answers to because depending on who you ask, you get different responses. So, first we did some background research on biodegradable/compostable plastics in general. You can download our report here: http://www.dordan.com/sustainability_ftc.shtml Then we began sampling the available resins and performing internal tests to see how they performed and what applicability they have to the sustainability goals of our customers. Though we have invested a considerable amount of time into trying to understand biopolymers, we still have much to learn; therefore, we decided that during Pack Expo we would share all our findings with attendees in hopes of opening the lines of communication and educating ourselves, our supply chain and our industry about the pros and cons of this new family of non traditional resins. After all, the last thing the plastics industry wants to do is flood the market with something they don’t really understand, from both an energy consumption/GHG emission and end of life management perspective, not to mention price and performance! So, if you come by Dordan’s booth E-6311 we will have 4 different bioresins on display for you to touch and see, accompanied by a lot of good information.

For those of you unable to attend Pack Expo, I have included most of the information below. Enjoy!!!

Cellulous Acetate:

Typical Physical Properties:

• Acceptable for use in food contact packaging;
• High clarity and gloss, with low haze;
• High water vapor transmission rate;
• Good tensile strength and elongation, combined with relatively low tear strength;
• Good die cutting performance and good printability and compatibility with adhesives;
• Available in matt and semi-matt finishes.

Environmental Aspects:

• Feedstock: Cellulous from Sustainable Forestry Initiative managed forestry in North America; acetic anhydride, a derivative of acetic acid; and, a range of different plasticisers.
• Complies with EN 13432 and ASTM D 6400 Standards for industrial biodegradability and compostability; and, received Vincotte OK Compost Home certification.
• Complies with US Coneg limits for heavy metal content in packaging materials.
• Classified in the paper and board category in the UK, in view of its cellulosic base. As a consequence, the levy on cellulous acetate is lower than that on other thermoplastic films which are classified as plastics; however, levies only apply to those markets where EPR legislation exists.
• There is no post consumer or post industrial market for this resin. However, in principal, film is readily recyclable and because of its predominantly cellulosic nature, it is feasible that it can be recycled along with paper in a re-pulping process.

PHA:

Typical physical properties:

• A general purpose, high melt strength material suitable for injection molding, thermoforming, blow/cast film and sheet extrusion;
• Durable and tough;
• Ranging from flexible to rigid;
• Shelf stable;
• Heat and moisture resistant;
• Pending FDA clearance for use in non-alcoholic food contact applications, from frozen food storage and microware reheating to boiling water up to 212 degrees F. The pending clearance will include products such as house-wares, cosmetics and medical packaging.

Environmental Aspects:

• Feedstock: Poly Hydroxy Alkanoate (PHA) polymer made through a patented process for microbial fermentation of plant-derived sugar. PHA is unique in that it represents the only class of polymers that are converted directly by microorganisms from feedstock to the polymetric form—no additional polymerizations steps being required.
• Complies with EN 13432 and ASTM D 6400 Standards for industrial biodegradability and compostability; complies with ASTM D 7081 Standard for marine biodegradation; received Vincotte OK Compost Home certification; and, received Vincotte OK Biodegradable in Soil certification. The rate and extent of its biodegradability will depend on the size and shape of the articles made from it.
• There is no post consumer or post industrial market for this resin. However, in principal, film is readily recyclable.

PLA:

Typical physical properties:

• Acceptable for use in food-contact packaging;
• Good clarity but can haze with introduction of stress;
• PLA sheet is relatively brittle at room temperature; however, the toughness of the material increases with orientation and therefore thermoformed articles are less brittle than PLA sheet.
• PLA is frequently thermoformed using forming ovens, molds and trim tools designed for PET or PS; however, PLA has a lower softening temperature and thermal conductivity than PET or PS, which results in longer cooling time in the mold for PLA vs. PET or PS.
• Exposure to high temperatures and humidity during shipping or storage can adversely affect the performance and appearance of resin.
• At temperatures below its glass transition point, PLA is as stable as PET.

Environmental Aspects:

• Feedstock: Polylactide or Polylactic Acid (PLA) is a synthetic, aliphatic polyester from lactic acid; lactic acid can be industrially produced from a number of starch or sugar containing agricultural products.
• Derived 100% from annually renewable resources like corn.
• PLA resin complies with EN 13432 and ASTM D 6400 Standards for industrial biodegradability and compostability; however, after conversion, said Standards no longer apply.
• There is no post consumer or post industrial market for this resin. However, several recycling methods can be applied to waste PLA. Concern has been voiced that PLA is contaminating the PET bottle recycling infrastructure.
• Competition between human food, industrial lactic acid and PLA production is not to be expected.

PLA & starch-based product

Typical physical properties:

• Only available in one color and opacity due to the natural ingredients changing in color and intensity; known to have black or brown specs in or on the sheet due to said natural ingredients.
• Good impact strength;
• Demonstrates superior ink receptivity over petroleum based products;
• Heat sensitive; therefore, care must be taken when shipping, handling, storage, printing and further processing this material.

Environmental Aspects:

• Feedstock: PLA polymer is a major ingredient; however, through a supply partner, this material incorporates next generation technology of modifying PLA polymer with plant/crop based starches along with natural mineral binders to enhance its impact.
• Made by an EPA Green Power Partner with 100% renewable energy.
• Complies with EN 13432 and ASTM D 6400 Standards for industrial biodegradability and compostability.
• There is no post consumer or post industrial market for this resin. However, in principal, this film is readily recyclable.

Now, check out the comparative below: price is not literally dollar amounts but an internal calculation we have determined to allow you to contextualize the fluctuating prices with different resins.

Bio Resin Show N Tell Comparative
Spec Sheet

Resin $ Comparative Heat Deflection @ 264 PSI Density/Yield

PVC
(clear) 0.050 140-170 F 19.67

HIPS
(opaque) 0.048 170-205 F 26.30

HDPE
(opaque) 0.042 180 F (@66 PSI) 28.85

RPET,
100% PC
(clear) 0.057 150 F 21.00

Cellulous Acetate
(clear) 0.261 125-225 F 23.00

PLA
(clear) 0.049 105 F (@ RH 50%) 22.30

PLA + starch
(opaque) 0.059 127 F 22.10

PHA
(opaque) 0.117 212 F 21.40

Sorry the columns got all jacked, but I think you get the picture.

Alright, this is going to be my last post until after Pack Expo. I wish everyone a fab Halloween weekend and a successful Show, for both exhibitors and attendees.

If any of you, my packaging and sustainability friends, are coming to Pack Expo, PLEASE stop by Dordan’s booth E-6311; I would really love to meet you, my anonymous followers, and I know all the good blues bars in Chicago!

And, isn’t it exciting—I learned how to integrate links into my blog—neato!

Tootles!

Hey guys!

Oh man I have so much fun stuff to do so I won’t be able to really post today.

That being said, check out my shout out in Plastics News’ , The Plastics Blog:

One processor’s thoughts on bioplastics

By Don Loepp on June 14, 2010 1:27 PM ET | 1 Comment | No TrackBacks

Bioplastics are a hot topic among recyclers — especially biodegradable resins. Are processors paying attention?

Dordan Manufacturing Co. Inc., a thermoformer in Woodstock, Ill., has been studying the issue for some time, and today Chandler Slavin, the company’s sustainability coordinator, posted a thoughtful item on the topic.

Bio-based plastics, environmental considerations,” on GreenerPackage.com, compares bioplastics like PLA to conventional resins like PET.”Taken together, one would assume that the 2005 Ingeo PLA is a more sustainable option than traditional plastics, as manifest through this study,” she concludes. “However, it is important to take into account the other dimensions discussed above, such as end of life management, complete biodegradation, and sustainable sourcing. By understanding the advantages and disadvantages of bio-based resins from an environmental perspective, packaging professionals can make informed material selections and truly comprehend the ecological ramifications of their packaging selections and designs.”

It’s nice to see a processor taking the time to do the research into the pros and cons of using bioplastics, and I know that Dordan isn’t alone. I get a few phone calls a month from processors with questions about what materials are “most sustainable,” and I know others at Plastics News get the same question.

As I wrote back in January, I think most processors are willing and able to adapt to their customers’ materials-related sustainability goals — they just need information and guidance.Processors are flexible about using recycled content, or bio-based resins, or switching from one virgin material to another. It all depends on cost, performance and what the customer wants. 

Comments (1)
Matt Kerkhoff:

Great post. It’s amazing the turn around in interest concerning environmentally alternatives from just a few years ago. While environmentalists cheer the effort, the true story lies in the market, which has demanded these materials and changes. The big question always was “do people want it”? As of 2010, it looks like they want more choices concerning recycling, sustainability, and how best to take care of the planet. 

Posted by Matt Kerkhoff | June 14, 2010 4:27 PM 

 Neato!!!

I will have a super good post for you all tomorrow–and to give you a clue, it has to do with sustainability! Ha!

Tootles!

GO BLACK HAWKSSSSSS

June 14, 2010

Happy Monday Funday!!!

I have returned from my travels. GO BLACK HAWKSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!

While I will fill you in on what I learned in tomorrow’s post (busy day!), I thought I would include a response to my greenerpackage.com post. Check it out (notice the “anonymous”…)

June 9, 2010, Anonymous (not verified) wrote:

Chandler – One point that can’t be argued. Packaging from trees is a sustainable option. Packaging from oil (like plastic films) is not – once its pumped out and converted into film products, there will be no more. It would be ideal to compare apples to apples and determine which causes less harm to the planet, however, the opportunity to replant trees and convert paper back into usable pulp is an obvious advantage. And the article makes a solid point that regardless of what might be possible for recycling films, consumers or municipalities rarely have the facilities for taking advantages of the possiblities of recycled film products.

June 11, 2010, Chandler Slavin wrote:

Thank you for your comments and I understand your perspective; however, I am a little confused by this statement: “Packaging from oil (like plastic films) is not [sustainable] – once it’s pumped out and converted into film products, there will be no more.” Are you simply making the argument that paper is sustainable because it comes from a renewable resource while plastic is not because it comes from fossil fuel, which is ever depleting, as dramatically illustrated by the tragic Gluf Coast Spill? If so, that argument is acceptable, but very one dimensional, in my opinion. The reason I feel that this argument is sub par is because it only highlights the different feedstocks used in the production of fiber-based packaging materials or fossil-fuel ones; what about the energy required to convert this feestock into its end-product, that is, paper or plastic? What about the resources consumed in this converstion process; the GHG equivalents emitted therefrom, the inks, laminates, or chemicals added, etc.? I guess the whole point of my post was that to view “sustainability” from one metric, be it renewable versus unrenewable feedstock, is unacceptable in trying to quantify the overall burden a specific packaging material has on the environment.

As an aside, the point about the complexities of recycling plastic packaging is appropriate; with the exception of PET bottles, the rates of recycling plastic packaging in the States is very low. However, Japan, the UK, Belguim, Germany, and many others have very high diversion rates for plastic packaging post-consumer, usually with the aid of waste-to-energy technologies. Because we live in a global market, I am sure that the products of a large CPG company, like Kodak, end up on many international shelves; therefore, the probability that the packaging will or will not end up in a landfill is constituent on the region in which it is distributed. Consequentially, it is difficult to speculate on how much packaging material a company diverts from the landfill by switching from one material to another without specifying what geographical region said packaging material resides in.

In addition, there is a lot of interest in diverting PET thermoforms from the waste stream, as there is an every growing demand for this recyclate. Many companies are now investing in the sorting and cleaning technologies necessary to reprocess these packages with PET bottles to remanufacture into new packages or products. Hence, it is only a matter of time until plastic packaging begings to be recovered post-consumer because of the inherent value of the recyclate.

Thank you for your comments; it is always good to move the dialogue forward!

Mahahahahahahhahaha. See you tomorrow!

Happy Monday Funday!

May 24, 2010

Happy Monday Funday!

The company that I made the “Sustainability and Packaging” presentation for, which I posted to my blog on Friday, sent me the following email after receiving said powerpoint (I sent it early for confirmation of its content):

“180 slides is way too long, even for a medical convention…”

Ha!

How do you provide an “overview of sustainability” in 60 slides, which is what this company suggested? I guess I am just as dilligent a powerpointer as I was a student; I was one of the special few who had to speak with my professors about exceeding the page limits for term papers—old habits die hard…

Anyway, tomorrow’s the day: My big presentation for a giant company on all things “Sustainable.” I am going to wear my new power business suit and fab heels AND I took my face piercing out several weeks ago so I look totally business-like.

For today’s post I thought I would reflect on a recent happening in our industry, which was convered on greenerpackage.com, PlasticsNews, and other misc. packaging publications. Because the company in question is a competitor, my superior was hesitant about me articulating my questions in a public forum i.e. on greenerpackage.com. Therefore, I decided to address this tid bit in my blog as it is not an in-your-face forum because I totally respect this company and the work they are doing in sustainability.

Consequentially, all reference to this company has been removed so as not to ruffle anyone’s tail feathers.

Here is the article:

Company X  has announced that it will construct a closed-loop recycling facility in Somewhere America to grind and wash post-consumer bottles and thermoforms for processing into its namebrand sheet products. The company says it is reducing the total carbon footprint of its product by bringing the material supply chain closer to production and offering its customers more choices of materials, including up to 100% post-consumer content PET.

 “We’re excited to bring bottle cleaning and sheet production together in a continuous process loop,” says company CEO. “Our factory design will streamline operations while delivering the recycled sheet products the market requires.”

Company X notes that it is among the first thermoforming companies in the food and consumer packaging industry to implement its own in-house recycling. With the new facility, the company will receive curbside-collected bottles to clean, grind, and extrude into sheet. Reducing the number of bottles going to landfills while providing high-quality material for customers has long been a goal for the company. Company X has been using recycled content in its packaging for more than 15 years, and over the last seven, it has diverted more than 1 billion discarded bottles from landfills.

While Company X has extruded sheet for internal use for 20 years, this marks the first time it will sell its namebrand sheet on the open market.

In addition to namebrand post-consumer rPET, the facility will produce LNO (letter of non-object) flake, allowing food contact with recycled material. Company X  has also commercialized an RF-sealable rPET grade of material to address customers’ bar sealing requirements for PET. Company X says that with only minor process adjustments, this material is a direct replacement for PVC sealing applications.

The recycling facility will be completed in two phases. In phase one, Company X will be adding an additional extruder for its namebrand rollstock. This will be completed in the third quarter of 2010. Phase two will be the addition of the bottle washing equipment, which is scheduled to be operational in the first quarter of 2011, with plans for additional extruders to follow.

Company X’s CEO said that integrating the bottle washing and grinding makes sense, given the amount of post-consumer material the company uses. With the completion of the in-house recycling facility, the firm will be able to streamline the recycling process to ensure that raw material meets Company X’s high standards.

Seeing as how I have been trying to figure out a way to integrate our RPET thermoforms into the existing PET bottle recycling infrastructure, I have A TON of questions for Company X. 

If any of you fine packaging and sustainability friends have any insight, please don’t hesitate to share!!! Sharing is caring!

  • What are the specs of the bales of thermoforms Company X is buying from the MRF?
  • Are they only PET thermoforms or are they mixed material thermoform bales?
  • If only PET thermoforms, is there enough QUANTITY of these types of packages available for the recovery of PET thermoforms to be economically sustainable?
  • How do they collect ONLY PET thermoforms without collecting “look a likes” like PVC, which will completely compromise the integrity of the PET bale, or PETG, which has a lower melting temperature and therefore adds inconsistencies to the recovery process?
  • Are you planning on integrating the PET thermoform scrap with the PET bottle scrap and extruding together? If so, how will you handle the different IVs between sheet grade PET and bottle grade PET?
  • If buying mixed material thermoform bales from the MRF i.e. PET, PETG, PP, etc., how are the different resins sorted for recovery? Are they blended together to create a low-grade, mixed resin flake for down-cycling applications? If so, who is buying this low-grade, mixed resin flake?
  • What kind of sorting technology is utilized to be able to generate a clean, quality stream of PET thermoforms for Company X to grind, clean, and extrude for direct food-contact packaging?
  • How are you competing with Asia for PCR PET?

While I am tickled pink that Company X is recovering thermoforms post-consumer in a closed-loop system, I don’t know how they are doing it! Perhaps the point, no?

That’s all for now; wish me luck tomorrow on my presentation!

The next day I arrived to the office to find the following email that confirmed the results of our RPET samples’ test, which I had verbally received from another WM contact the day before:

Hi Chandler,

After speaking with our plant manager in Grayslake, PET clam shells should be recoverable from the recycling stream via optical and manual sorts.  I can’t say that’s the case at all WM recycling facilities, or non- WM competitive facilities, so take that for what it’s worth :).  The material would end up in our PET bales. 

However, that does not mean that the PET blister packs are the “same” as bottle grade PET bottles… as I understand it, the PET bottles have an IV rating of 0.78 – 0.80, or a “high rigidity,” that bottle makers require.  I do not know what UV rating your blister packs have, so I would recommend you discuss the technical aspects of your products with your engineers and your suppliers to determine the IV rating and other compatibility issues.

The main issue at this point, based on my research and discussions internally here at WM, is that any non-bottle PET that gets into a bale is typically discarded for landfill upon receipt at a PET bottler, even if a collection and processing company like WM can sort the PET blister packs from the recycling stream.  Again, perhaps you can confirm or research this further with your suppliers.

I hope this helps!  Good luck with your project. 

Hmmmmmm…

I then sent our head engineer the following inquiry:

Hey,

Do you have any idea what the “IV” of our supplier’s RPET is?

Thanks!

Chan

After a delectable lunch of an Italian beef with sweet peppers, I returned to find the following:

Spec for supplier’s RPET is IV>= 0.65; I believe it’s typically between 0.70 and 0.75.

Hope this helps.

I then checked the email from WM… “PET bottles have an IV rating of 0.78-0.80, or a ‘high rigidity’…”

Well, that’s not too terribly different than our 0.75 IV…now I am confused.

Tune in tomorrow to learn more about recycling in America!

AND check out this website that my contact from the APR suggested to find buyers of post-consumer plastic scrap: http://www.plasticsmarkets.org/. I just found it so I will let you know what I can find out in regard to who buys bales of thermoforms post-conumser. YIPEEEEEEEEEEEE.

Ok, so I think I have dragged out the inevitable long enough. And resume recycling narrative:

Ring…Ring…

“Good Morning Dordan this is Sarah how can I help you? One moment please…”

Beep. “Chandler, Waste Management on Line 1…”

“Thanks.”

Suddenly I realized that this was the call I had been waiting on for almost 7 weeks: the results of our RPET clamshell samples’ test via the MRFs optical sorter. If our supplier-certified 70% post-consumer regrind PET clamshell packages are “read” like PET bottles via the recovery facility’s optical sorter, then perhaps we could integrate our clamshells into the existing PET bottle recycling infrastructure. If anything, the results would tell us if one of the many obstacles facing the inclusion of PET/RPET clamshells into the PET bottle recovery stream is NOT the inability to sort these two packaging types together.

I reach for the phone.

“Hello?”

“Hey Chandler!”

“Hey, nice to hear from you; how’s it going?”

“Great, thanks. I have the results from the MRF regarding your samples.”

“Ok, what are they; did they pass with the bottles?”

“Yes, there was no difference between the PET bottles and RPET samples as read by our optical sorter. So if RPET clams and PET bottles were moving down the line together, there would be no luminescent difference between the bottles and clams as they moved through our plastic sorting station. Again, the main point of the optical sorter is to see the difference between PVC and PET bottles, which look dramatically different when viewed via the optical sorter.”

“This is wonderful news!”

“Well, keep in mind that regardless of this, buyers of baled PET bottles DO NOT want clams in the mix.”

“And this is because fear of contamination, different IVs and perhaps melting points, no specs for mixed bales and on and on…?”

“Pretty much hit the nail on the head.”

“Well, I really appreciate you and WM going out of your way to help us figure this stuff out. We just want to recycle our packages—didn’t know how complicated it is!”

“Well we wish you the best of luck with your recycling initiative. Please let us know if there is anything else we can do for you…”

“Truly, thanks again.”

“No problem; take care.”

“You too!”

I hung up the phone.

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm…what does this mean, I asked myself?

I think it means that the molecular structures of clamshell RPET and bottle PET are the same, at least was read via the optical sorter.

So how will this help us recycle our RPET thermoforms?

It illustrates that the reason RPET clams are not recycled with bottles has nothing to do with an inability to sort the two packaging types together. So if our RPET clams and PET bottles are read the same, they could be collected and baled, with no need for different sorting technology.

Good to establish, Chandler.

Suddenly I snapped out of my internal discussion; my two colleagues were waiting tentatively outside my cubicle, eager for the results.

“They passed!” I said.

“Sweet!” they replied in unison.

“So what does this mean for us?”

“Haha, I’m not quite sure yet…”

Tune in Monday for a summary of the different obstacles hindering the inclusion of RPET clams in the PET bottle recovery stream. Once established we will move on to discuss how the following determine the recyclability of a material/packaging type: supply, demand, and technology.

Have a splendid weekend! Its Friday, woop woop!

Bottle Box

May 12, 2010

This is awsome and all I want to say for today:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WRPYccEXt-8

This company is super cool–they buy baled PET bottles and clean, grind, flake and extrude the material into RPET clamshells.

I am making a giant graph of all my research on recycling so get excited!

Tootles!

Guess what!

May 11, 2010

Hello world!

UG don’t hate me for my failure to post AGAIN; it has been a heck of a day!

But guess what: I have been invited to assist a major retailer in their attempts to achieve zero waste for PET packaging, both thermoforms and bottles! But not only assist; be a CO-LEADER! I will be a research junky, therefore, as I hope to compile abstracts for the other co-leader and committee members to summarize my research over the past 6 months. And what that means to YOU my fellow blog readers is that I will be extra awesome with blogging because it has become a priority, again.

As I am sure some of my more diligent followers are aware, my blogging ebbs and flows with my existing work load AND the perceived value of continuing to investigate the logistics and economics governing the recycling of clamshells. Because of this recently ignited interest in my work on recycling PET thermoforms, I have been given the green light to (again) delve into researching waste management and recycling in America. YIPEEEEEE! I don’t think I would make a very good Sales woman anyway…J Work from home, here I come!

So tomorrow I will, and I promise, present the results of our RPET samples’ test and discuss how to move this initiative forward. If Canada can do it, so can we!

See you soon my packaging and sustainability friends!

It’s GO TIME

May 10, 2010

 Happy Monday Funday! This post is to inform all of my packaging and sustainability friends that tomorrow is GO TIME! I have totally gotten my ducks in a row and can resume my clamshell recycling initiative narrative first thing in the morning. Get excited because I will finally release the results of our RPET samples’ test via the optical sorter (are they “read” like bottle-grade PET) AND bring you up to speed about why the results of this test are, unfortunately, another bread crumb, and not the end-all-be-all that I had hoped for at the onset of our recycling initiative.

WOHOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!