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Articles from 2018 In April

The emergence of the ‘plastics-free’ grocery aisle
As an experiment, Ekoplaza Lab in the Netherlands has created a "plastics-free" aisle, but selling products packaged in bioplastics is causing some confusion with its customers.

The emergence of the ‘plastics-free’ grocery aisle

I recently had the opportunity to visit Ekoplaza Lab, which claims to be the world’s first grocery store with a “plastics-free” aisle, and which has generated a lot of buzz in the packaging and environmentalist community. The store is located in Amsterdam, next to a conventional Ekoplaza store, an organic supermarket chain in the Netherlands. As suggested by the use of the word “lab,” Ekoplaza Lab is an experiment—it is a pop-up store marking the beginning of Ekoplaza’s movement towards having a plastic-free aisle in every Ekoplaza store nationwide.

The activist messaging is closely tied to concerns over plastic ocean debris. The experiment was started through a collaboration with the British environmental action group, A Plastic Planet and the Dutch Plastic Soup Foundation. The conventional Ekoplaza store even contains a vending machine with commonly found beach and marine debris items, like plastic utensils, juice boxes and multilayer snack bags.

The Lab itself has significant messaging around “plastic free,” placed at the store entrance as well as on top of shelves explaining the alternatives available and a “plastic free” sticker on every individual package. The main alternatives that the store identifies are glass, paper, aluminum and what they refer to as “bio-materials,” or bioplastics. As shown by these photos, each of these fossil-fuel based-plastic alternatives receives special messaging explaining their environmental benefits.

Glass was advertised as a strong material that is good at preserving product quality and is infinitely recyclable. Aluminum was advertised as a lightweight material that is also infinitely recyclable. Paper was advertised as a plastic-free way to package dry products, and was featured in the baking aisle.

A water-dispensing machine was also on display to promote reusablepackaging.

Finally, “biomaterials” were widely displayed across the store, described as a material made from plant fibers, wood pulp, cellulose or lactic acid, that compost completely within 12 weeks.

Overall the store’s messaging was well thought-out through informative signage and labeling. But is it really plastic free?

The messaging around biomaterials noted “It looks like plastics, but it isn’t.”

It isn’t?

Certainly these materials look and feel much like the plastics we see in other grocery stores all over the world. I must admit I was expecting bulk food bins and more paper and glass alternatives rather than a deluge of compostable films. Other store visitors I spoke with also seemed skeptical. Just because it is made with “biomaterials,” does this mean it isn’t plastic? It leaves the consumer wondering—well, what is plastic anyway?

Biomaterials, biopolymers/bioplastics

Plastics are polymers—complex organic compounds capable of being molded, extruded and cast into various shapes and films. Polymers are most commonly fossil-fuel based, and non-biodegradable. They are derived from crude oil or natural gas and turned into monomers through a “cracking process,” and are then chemically bonded into chains called polymers.

While most of the plastics we interact with daily are derived from petrochemicals, variants are also made from renewable materials, such as polylactic acid (PLA) from corn or cellulose. These renewable material-derived polymers are known as biopolymers or bioplastics.

Biopolymers are polymers too

Needless to say, there is much confusion around the claims “biomaterial” versus “biopolymer” and “bioplastic.” The point, however, is that biopolymers are also plastics, regardless of what material they are derived from. The correct claim then would be bioplastics, not plastics-free.

Some plastics are compostable, but they must be collected

Downstream, bioplastics can be biodegradable or non-biodegradable. Bioplastics that are not biodegradable typically means that they can be recycled along with common plastics, like bio-polyethylene terephthalate (PET) or bio-polyethylene (PE). This is positive, since they look just like fossil-fuel-based plastics and many consumers’ instinct is to recycle them.

Ekoplaza was full of bio-based plastics that are also biodegradable and meet European Union standards for being turned into compost. These bioplastics include PLA, polyhydroxy alkanoates (PHA) and various starch and other blends. They can be composted, but they cannot be recycled by consumers today because of separation issues—they disrupt the normal recycling stream—and volume issues—not enough is collected to merit investing in the needed sorting technology. Rather, consumers should put these items in a compost bin where they will be collected and sent to an industrial composting facility.

Industrial composting infrastructure is much less developed than recycling infrastructure worldwide, and many of these items end up going to landfill or waste recovery, and are not turned into compost. According to European Bioplastics, approximately 35% of the estimated total of recoverable potential organic waste is separately collected at present in Europe, with significant differences between countries. Claims and sales of compostable bioplastics must therefore go hand-in-hand with the development of collection systems and composting infrastructure, or they are meaningless.

In some cases, bioplastics or plastic-coated paper can be home composted, as seen with the OkCompostHOME label on a few of the items at Ekoplaza. But the likelihood of these items turning into usable compost in someone’s home are subject to individual behavior and efficient home composting systems—which means these claims must also go hand-in-hand with composting education.

There is also therefore much confusion around the claims “biodegradable” versus material that actually in the end becomes usable compost. Compostable plastics are a plausible solution for many hard-to-recycle, especially food-contact plastics, but they need to actually end up in the compost. If we are not responsible in our messaging, then they may also become litter in the wrong place.

Role of retailers

Retailers are the critical connector between the product and end consumer. They create choice for consumers in the types of products and packaging they buy. Consumers should have options and be able to make their own choices. Retailers are certainly in a position to nudge consumers to make more sustainable purchasing decisions, and we are we are seeing more of this trend. Ekoplaza Lab is playing an important role in informing consumers and giving them this choice.

In their role as educators, retailers must take care to give the correct information to consumers. In the case of Ekoplaza Lab, the claim of “plastic free” was not correct as there were bioplastics present. While the messaging was effective, the facts were inaccurate.

If Ekoplaza Lab chooses to continue to offer compostable bioplastics in its stores, it might also consider offering messaging and information around composting and perhaps offering compost collection in its stores.

The momentum around marine debris is positive and we should celebrate the experiment to solve it, but recognize the importance of providing full information to consumers and to be factual.

Tristanne Davis joined GreenBlue in November 2017 as a project manager with the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC). Her primary work involves helping to shape and deliver on its Industry Leadership Committee initiatives, ASTRX project and Forest Products work. Davis graduated from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies in 2016 where she studied Industrial Ecology, Forest and Environmental Sciences. She received a Fulbright Grant in 2016 to get her MBA at IE Business School in Madrid, Spain, where she further developed her interest in environmental entrepreneurship, completing her MBA in July 2017.


Production efficiencies, ecommerce challenges, sustainability trends, new bioplastic technologies and more are among the topics on the agenda at the new Packaging Education Hub at EastPack 2018 (June 12-14; NYC). This free educational program will have more than 15 hours of can’t-miss presentations, demonstrations and hands-on activities. Register to attend for free today!

Robot ‘cars’ provide instantly scalable order picking
Automated solutions can help your in-house ecommerce fulfillment operation run more efficiently.

Robot ‘cars’ provide instantly scalable order picking

One of the biggest ongoing challenges in consumer goods material handling is how to accommodate the rise of ecommerce. Many product manufacturers are opting to handle fulfillment in house and need to augment their typical pallet-load unitizing operations with automated small-parcel management. Since this is a relatively new area of operations, many plant and packaging engineers are actively seeking options and solutions.

Tompkins Robotics has developed t-Sort, a system that uses small “cars” to pick up parcels from a pick-and-place robot, drive along a track to a spot above an order bin and drop the parcel into the bin by tilting up the bed of the vehicle. Picking and sorting parcels becomes more versatile and requires less capital because it’s done by robotic mini-vehicles that transport and deposit packages into bins.

Tompkins spokesperson Andrea Epstein talks about the advantages of t-Sort for product manufacturers, among others.

According to a Packaging Digest survey, the majority of respondents (65.2%) either partially or fully integrate ecommerce into their core business. Does it surprise you that it’s that high?

Epstein: The overall number of 65.2% that either partial or fully integrate ecommerce does not surprise us. The challenge with this information is the definition of “partially or fully integrate ecommerce into their core business.” 

Staring 10 years ago, companies began recognizing “multi-channel,” which would qualify as partially integrated. Then starting five years ago companies began upgrading their pursuit of “omni-channel,” which represents a higher level of integration. And then two years ago firms began pursuing “uni-channel” (unified channel), which qualifies as fully integrated. The multi-channel approach takes primarily a financial view, the omni-channel takes an inventory view and the uni-channel approach adopts a customer perspective. The question now is, how do retailers view their integration of their channels (multi, omni or uni)?

Do you anticipate that ecommerce fulfillment will be the most common application for t-Sort? What other applications would be possible?

Epstein: Currently, the most popular warehouse applications for t-Sort are store fulfillment for retail applications and in ecommerce fulfillment. However, the market is quickly realizing that the flexibility of the t-Sort system lends itself to being used across a range of applications to include parcel packout and sortation, returns processing, supplemental capacity and back-room sortation, amongst others. T-Sort facilitates the multi-/omni-/uni-channel operations unlike any other system available today. 

Also, t-Sort can effectively handle a much wider range of product types than traditional unit sortation systems, including apparel, beauty aids, health products, pharmaceuticals and other consumer goods. The t-Sort design can accomplish volumes ranging from millions of units a day to a small operation in the backroom of a supercenter or mall anchor store.

In an ecommerce application, would the bins that the products get dumped into represent individual orders? How might they be used in a non-ecommerce application?

Epstein: Yes, but it is important to note that t-Sort provides ultimate flexibility as it makes a complete stop at the destination, and the tilt angle and speed can be completely controlled based on the product being sorted.

T-Sort can divert directly into an outbound carton, as well as a variety of different destinations such as chutes and gravity-roller conveyors for accumulation of orders. Products such as shoes in boxes, apparel and fragile items can all be successfully diverted into a variety of receptacles. Further, diverting directly into outbound parcel bags is in development.

In a typical application, how would the pick-and-place robot be fed? How does it discern among products to place onto the mobile robots?

Epstein: The RightHand Robotics (RHR) pick-and-place robot can interface either directly with goods-to-man (robot) type systems or with cases and totes delivered to it via conveyor or transport robots. RHR uses state-of-the-art vision and intelligence systems to identify each item within the product container to ensure accurate selection of items and induction onto t-Sort.  

In addition to RHR, Tompkins Robotics has partnered with SI Systems, SensorThink, Softeon and Piedmont National. T-Sort can discern all items, placing them correctly for delivery. T-Sort has been patented in North America and Europe.

The Tompkins Warehouse Execution System (TWES), which controls the system, is cloud-based. Does that mean there is no hardware required on-site? What kind of host IT systems would the TWES interface with, and how would it do so?

Epstein: The TWES eases implementation through its quickly configurable design and is highly flexible, with the ability to interface with a variety of host systems. TWES is cloud-based to minimize IT hardware requirements, providing a large number of standard reports and analytics that will assist any operation in maximizing the benefit of the TWES system.

The interface is highly adaptable to allow TWES to integrate into any warehouse management or legacy system while providing real-time control of all the equipment in your operations.

The TWES is the first system designed to capitalize on the Internet of Things (IoT) in the warehouse. TWES can access information from IoT and non-IoT enabled devices, machines and sensors, and other software solutions. This unique interaction with the warehouse’s digital landscape allows TWES to manage operational tasks and material handling automation in an unprecedented fashion, all while providing a seamless view of process, data and performance.

How does the modularity of t-Sort increase the system’s flexibility?

Epstein: Robots, chutes and induction stations can be added modularly at any time with no interruption or downtime, an additional robot can be added in seconds. This unique feature allows the t-Sort system to be expanded on an as-needed basis to meet seasonal spikes, or annually to allow operations to meet year-over-year sales growth. By doing this, users defer the capital investment and fully utilize the asset at all times, unlike a traditional sorter that one buys for their long-term growth plan.

A typical installation can be installed in less than six months.


Production efficiencies, ecommerce challenges, sustainability trends, new bioplastic technologies and more are among the topics on the agenda at the new Packaging Education Hub at EastPack 2018 (June 12-14; NYC). This free educational program will have more than 15 hours of can’t-miss presentations, demonstrations and hands-on activities. Register to attend for free today!

Sustainable packaging innovators earn kudos
Passion for sustainability and an unwavering drive for solutions elevate the winners of the 2018 SPC Innovators Awards.

Sustainable packaging innovators earn kudos

Sometimes it’s hard enough to make any substantial gains in sustainable packaging goals. But it takes extra effort and zeal to really excel. When that happens, the entire industry—and perhaps even the world—advances.

On April 25, the Sustainable Packaging Coalition applauded innovation and leadership in sustainable packaging with the presentation of its 2018 SPC Innovator Awards. Excellence in sustainability and packaging was recognized in four categories: Packaging Innovation; Breakthrough Process; Outcome of a Partnership; and Outstanding Person.

“Every entry in the 2018 SPC Innovator Awards embodied creativity, inventiveness and progressive action, truly demonstration the ingenuity and power industry wields to drive positive change,” says Adam Gendell, associate director of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition. “We thank each and every entrant, and it is our pleasure to recognize the select few entries that we felt went above and beyond to advance the state of sustainable packaging.”

Congratulations to the winners and honorable mention recipients:

Page 1: Packaging Innovation winner is Coca-Cola North America, with an honorable mention to Earth-To-Go.

Page 2: Breakthrough Process winners are Envision and ViTA.

Page 3: Outcome of a Partnership winners are PepsiCo, Natureworks, Danimer Scientific, Omya, Berry Plastics and Johnson-Bryce, with an honorable mention to American Packaging Corp.

Page 4: Outstanding Person awards go to Ashley C. Hall, senior manager of sustainability, Walmart, and Victor Bell, president, Environmental Packaging Intl. (EPI)

Here’s why they deserve praise…

Packaging Innovation winner: Coca-Cola improves the recyclability of its 89-oz Simply Orange juice container

A three-prong improvement for Coca-Cola’s 89-oz Simply Orange juice bottle vastly improves its recyclability, and presents a technical “first” in plastics manufacturing.

1. Development of a new polyethylene terephthalate (PET) resin that can be extrusion blow molded on shuttle machines allowed Coca-Cola to switch materials from a hard-to-recycle “Other” (resin code No.7) to the widely-accepted PET (resin code No.1).

2. By also optimizing the bottle design, Coca-Cola is able to reduce annual plastics usage by more than 1.5 million pounds.

3. The pressure-sensitive label on the bottle now uses an innovative adhesive that separates the label from the bottle during the recycling process, further improving the package’s recyclability.

Accepting the award are Sarah Dearman, sustainable packaging program director, and Jordan Mattison, senior engineer, R&D packaging, at The Coca-Cola Co.

“When we work together, great things can happen,” Dearman says. “The sustainability improvements to the Simply [Orange] 89-oz bottle, including enhanced recyclability and material reduction of 1.5 million pounds, is a great collaboration example. Suppliers and numerous organizations worked together to make this packaging innovation a success with benefits that will be realized throughout the recycling community.”

Packaging Innovation, honorable mention: Earth-to-Go expands PLA for foodservice packaging

Most sustainable packaging professionals are well aware of the bio-based polymer polylactic acid (PLA). This is the first time I’ve heard of PLA being “expanded” with air, and by up to 40%. Made with NatureWorks Ingeo PLA biopolymer resin, the resulting line of Earth Maise products from Earth-to-Go were designed to replace the typical polystyrene packaging used in foodservice applications. The compostable material is lightweight, able to withstand heat for use in microwave ovens and yet is cold tolerant to -4-deg F. It is also resistant to moisture and grease, which is critical for many foodservice uses.

According to Nina Goodrich, SPC executive director, expanded PLA introduces a lower-cost opportunity for PLA to find new footholds in the market.

Accepting the honorable mention is Kevin Duffy, president, Biodegradable Food Service LLC.

NEXT: Winners of the Breakthrough Process category


Production efficiencies, ecommerce challenges, sustainability trends, new bioplastic technologies and more are among the topics on the agenda at the new Packaging Education Hub at EastPack 2018 (June 12-14; NYC). This free educational program will have more than 15 hours of can’t-miss presentations, demonstrations and hands-on activities. Register to attend for free today!

Breakthrough Process: Envision creates the OceanBound Plastic Bottle for ViTA

How to best fight marine debris? Prevent the plastic from entering waterways from the start. That is the goal behind the OceanBound Plastic Bottle. Envision has organized special collection of plastics within 50 kilometers of a coast line at known at-risk areas for marine debris and then recycles the material. Its first customer, ViTA, is using the 100% of the recycled plastic in bottles for hair care products, disproving the myth that recycled resin is low quality and can only be used in small percentages. Additionally, the resin used in the masterbatch also carries the colorant, a pearlescent hue.

• Colorants and inks were chosen with attention to toxicity;

• Energy use through the production cycle was offset with carbon credits;

• Labels and related adhesives separate easily during recycling;

• Water usage was extremely limited and kept solvent-free so that it could be repurposed as grey water for landscape irrigation;

• The distance between manufacturers and warehousing was calculated and used in a proprietary scoring system to best choose manufacturing partners for the lowest possible carbon emissions.”

“Plastic in our oceans is perhaps the greatest environmental tragedy of our day,” says Sandra Lewis, director of business development, Envision Plastics. “It is an honor and privilege to prove to the world that we can intercept this plastic before it reaches our waterways, recycle it into a high-quality resin and use it in bottles at 100%. We ask others to follow the example set by ViTA in using Envision’s OceanBound Plastic in your products and packages. By creating the demand for this resin, we can keep more plastic from ever reaching the ocean and put it back in the value chain so that it can be used again and again.”

Accepting the awards are Sandra Lewis, director of business development for Envision, and Andrew Hood, chief business development officer for ViTA.

NEXT: Winners of the Outcome of a Partnership category


Production efficiencies, ecommerce challenges, sustainability trends, new bioplastic technologies and more are among the topics on the agenda at the new Packaging Education Hub at EastPack 2018 (June 12-14; NYC). This free educational program will have more than 15 hours of can’t-miss presentations, demonstrations and hands-on activities. Register to attend for free today!

Outcome of a Partnership: PepsiCo, Natureworks, Danimer Scientific, Omya, Berry Plastics and Johnson-Bryce commercialize bio-based barrier films

Through strategic partnerships with key material suppliers, PepsiCo has been able to develop, test market and then commercialize new bio-based compounds for flexible packaging for several of its businesses, including Frito-Lay.

PepsiCo worked with key resin manufacturer, NatureWorks, and leading bio-polymer compounder, Danimer Scientific, to produce the new bio-based compounds. Calcium carbonate additives, supplied by Omya, were modified to create the right interaction with the bio-polymers and to make the materials more cost effective. Berry Global adapted its film extrusion lines to handle the compounded resin and produce high-quality films. And converter Johnson Bryce optimized its process to print and laminate the new films.

“It is an honor to receive this award from the SPC. PepsiCo has the privilege of working with some great vendors within our supply chain and it is with their help that we were able to introduce the next generation of bio-based/compostable packaging,” says Brad Rodgers (pictured above with the bag), R&D director of sustainable packaging and advanced materials research at PepsiCo. “We look forward to continuing to expand the use of these materials over the coming years.”

Accepting the awards are (from left to right) Sridevi Narayan-Sarathy, senior principal scientist, global snacks packaging R&D-discovery, PepsiCo; Darrell Kellner, senior manager, R&D/quality, Johnson Bryce; John Moore, svp, business development, Danimer Scientific; Brad Rodgers, R&D director, sustainable packaging and advanced material research, PepsiCo; Monroe Moore, senior manager, technical services, Omya; David Stanton, North America retail, NatureWorks; and Wesley (Wes) Porter, sales director, Berry Global.

Honorable mention, Outcome of a Partnership: American Packaging Corp. creates a stand-up pouch with rigid fitment that is entirely recyclable

By redesigning the traditional stand-up pouch with a fitment closure, converter American Packaging Corp. was able to create a clear barrier package that can be recycled through store drop-off. The development required collaboration throughout the supply chain:

Material manufacturers include Dow, ABX, Jindal, Isoflex, Charter-NEX Films and Berry Global.

Fitment manufacturer is Hoffer Plastics.

Pouch maker is Widmann Ultrasonics.

Recycling validation was performed by TREX.

Karlville Development played a crucial role in facilitating the pouch production effort.

Accepting the honorable mention is Chris King (right), product development engineer with American Packaging Corp., and Mercedes Candedo, new business development leader with Karlville Development.

NEXT: Winners of the Outstanding Person category


Production efficiencies, ecommerce challenges, sustainability trends, new bioplastic technologies and more are among the topics on the agenda at the new Packaging Education Hub at EastPack 2018 (June 12-14; NYC). This free educational program will have more than 15 hours of can’t-miss presentations, demonstrations and hands-on activities. Register to attend for free today!

Outstanding Person: Ashley C. Hall, senior sustainability manager, Walmart, and Victor Bell, president, EPI

This year, the judges found two people worthy of the Outstanding Person award.

As senior sustainability manager at Walmart, Ashley Hall has been instrumental in the roll out of Walmart’s Sustainable Packaging Playbook and implementation of SPC’s How2Recycle labeling system. She has also built the packaging pillar of Project Gigaton, Walmart's ambitious pursuit to remove one gigaton of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

According to the entry: “[Ashley Hall] has driven change on every front of sustainable packaging, from sourcing recycled content and plant-based plastics, to optimizing material usage and enhancing product protection, to designing for recycling and improving recyclability messaging, to driving down carbon footprints. Driven by her inexhaustible motivation and ability to build momentum internally and with key partners, the scope and reach of her work is enormous.

“Ashley is creating a blueprint for sustainability professionals to follow, demonstrating the power of one individual to lead change at one of the world’s largest companies.”

Since becoming one of the founding members of the SPC in 2002, Victor Bell, president of global environmental packaging and product stewardship consultancy Environmental Packaging Intl. (EPI), has not only contributed greatly to the organization but has also influenced many local, state, federal and global governments. He has shared his knowledge with so many people by mentoring them about sustainability that it would be hard to find a sustainable packaging professional he has not touched.

An outspoken New Englander, Bell challenges people to think. His passion, insights and knowledge make him one of the great ambassadors of sustainability today.

Accepting their awards are Ashley Hall (above via a pre-recorded video because she was not able to attend in person) and a stunned and nearly speechless Victor Bell.


Production efficiencies, ecommerce challenges, sustainability trends, new bioplastic technologies and more are among the topics on the agenda at the new Packaging Education Hub at EastPack 2018 (June 12-14; NYC). This free educational program will have more than 15 hours of can’t-miss presentations, demonstrations and hands-on activities. Register to attend for free today!

Ecommerce repacking: Necessary evil or godsend?
It's time to rethink product packing, and repacking!, for ecommerce.

Ecommerce repacking: Necessary evil or godsend?

If you’ve ever received a chargeback from Amazon for “repacking” for ecommerce fulfillment, then you already know how costly it can be. Is there a better way? Consumer packaging expert Michele Barone of PA Consulting Group will share his provocative ideas to fix the repacking problem at the 2018 TransPack Forum (Mar. 20-23, San Diego, CA), organized by the Intl. Safe Transit Assn. (ISTA).

Barone's presentation “Let’s Fix Re-Packing” is scheduled for Thurs., Mar. 22, at 4:00 p.m. He outlines the issue here, along with a seven suggestions for how packaging professionals can handle it.

Is repacking a necessary evil or a godsend when it comes to ecommerce distribution and why?

Barone: I think repacking could be at least reduced if not completely eliminated if manufacturers invested in long-term disruptive solutions.

Today’s repacking model was established as a stop-gap to overcome inflexible supply chains, but has now become an expensive and inefficient way to respond to evolving needs of consumers and distribution channels. Ecommerce is no exception. It grew more than 20% in 2017, with shrinking pack sizes (due to new consumption patterns) and high costs (especially in terms of pack material and density).  Most of the consumer goods packaging formats are designed for retail distribution and shelf displays rather than ecommerce, and therefore requires repacking.

To reduce or eliminate the need to repack, ecommerce requires a rethinking of the packaging concept. For example, we’ve designed a new pack format based on cushioned film that is suitable for both ecommerce and retail distribution, single products or bundles, and potentially eliminates the need to repack all together. We’ve also created a collation system that is suitable for both retail and ecommerce channels. It can be built in-line, saving up to 50% of material costs, and is adaptable to multiple product counts, sizes and pack strength levels, depending on the supply chain requirements.

How is repacking costing $26 billion?

Barone: This is a global figure in U.S. dollars related to contract packaging and is forecast to reach almost $50 billion by 2022. It’s an unsustainable cost, especially with today’s pressure on margins for consumer goods manufacturers. Often companies are not able to retrieve detailed repacking costs, which makes the business case difficult to define. Prolonged focus on short-term fixes has now become a huge liability.

You’ve said that, for the repacking problem to be fixed, or at least significantly reduced, there needs to be a system-level solution. Why and what would that solution look like? How can technology help?

Barone: There’s a portfolio of approaches, including both incremental and transformational solutions, which combine operational and technical elements. Each solution inevitably impacts multiple elements of the supply chain and requires a holistic system-level thinking.

Incremental solutions tend to be simple to implement in the short-term and many companies are already working on that.

• Reducing the amount of material in the secondary case through more efficient designs can reduce repacking costs by approximately 10%. Here we are referring to minor design changes that allow for using the current infrastructure.

• Designing cases for easy and efficient repacking can save material and labor costs by 25% to 30% (based on our experience on past projects). This solution influences both manufacturers and co-packers.

• A less widely used solution is returnable packaging, which would obviously eliminate repacking material costs. Returnable pack designs can be flexible (adaptable to a range of products), easy to handle (such as foldable) and, in our experience, allow for one year payback. Returnable cases can incorporate sensors and connectivity features to monitor product, and environmental and location data—generating more efficiency throughout the supply chain. This solution would potentially impact the entire supply chain, and potentially involve manufacturers, distributors and retailers.

More disruptive transformational solutions can potentially eliminate the need for repacking altogether.

• A first focus area is flexible packaging equipment. Using today’s digital manufacturing technologies, packing lines can produce a range of formats, and changeovers are only applied via software without the need for replacing parts. Manufacturers could deploy flexible packing equipment to effectively handle a range of pack formats, reducing or potentially eliminating the need for repacking. Technologies like adaptable product handling, in-line case construction and decoration, and modular pack design support this vision, while sustainable materials can minimize the impact of waste.

A retrofit flexible packaging system we worked on delivered more than $200 million in savings over five years. To be effective, this solution requires manufacturers to gather data on where the pack is going to be delivered, requiring end-to-end supply chain integration.

• Consumer goods manufacturers could deploy a distributed packing model, where the packing process is broken down into multiple stages and completed as the product goes through the supply chain. For example, companies could ship semi-finished cases and add products or print to the case at a warehouse close to the final destination, once demand is fully defined. Solutions usually combine packaging, product and equipment design, factory and distribution center operations.

• Another disruptive option is the complete elimination of corrugated cases. If the primary pack is strong enough, products can be connected using adhesives, bands and tapes. This creates custom collections that can be divided into smaller groups as needed, whether that’s in the supply chain or by the consumer.

• Consumer goods companies could introduce transformational packaging designs suitable for multiple distribution channels, eliminating the need to repack altogether. The approach can focus on developing formats suitable for multiple distribution channels, or innovative ways of building product collations without the need for repacking. The challenge is to identify a single pack design that is able to fulfill a complex set of requirements from retail and ecommerce distribution and consumer across all touchpoints.

The consumer goods supply chain revolves around the consumer and influencing their behavior could have a huge impact on repacking. Consumers are the drivers for many repacking needs but they’re often unaware about how their choices affect the environment. Ecommerce platforms could show consumers the environmental impact of their choices (Amazon, for example, already offers customers the option to ship orders in as few packages as possible).

Increasing consumer awareness, and shaping their behavior, is essential to driving substantial change, create a sustainable future and save companies from the high-cost repacking model.


Ecommerce challenges, sustainability trends, new bioplastic technologies and more are among the topics on the agenda at EastPack 2018 (June 12-14; New York City). This free educational program will have more than 16 hours of can’t-miss presentations and demonstrations. Register to attend today!

P&G’s PureCycle cleans recycled PP to ‘near virgin’ quality
Would you use more recycled-content polypropylene in new packaging if it was cleaned of contaminants, odor and color?

P&G’s PureCycle cleans recycled PP to ‘near virgin’ quality

To meet its sustainability goals for recycled content in polypropylene packaging, Procter & Gamble searched for recycled material pure enough to meet its quality standards. When enough of that couldn’t be found, scientists at P&G invented a process to purify recycled PP and licensed the technology to PureCycle Technologies.

P&G announced the technology during a ribbon-cutting ceremony in July 2017 at the plant in Lawrence County, OH, that will produce about 105 million pounds of purified polypropylene a year. With patents granted and others still pending, the PureCycle technology is capable of making recycled PP suitable even for use in food-contact applications. It will help divert plastic otherwise headed for the landfill or into waterways and remove previous limitations on the use of recycled PP because of low quality.

Brent Heist, who leads the global packaging sustainability team at Procter & Gamble, will talk about the proprietary PureCycle process at SPC Impact (Apr. 24-26; San Francisco, CA) on Thurs., Apr. 26 at 10:45 a.m. PST to noon. (There’s still time to register to attend, but hurry!)

In advance of the event, Packaging Digest interviewed John Layman, P&G’s R&D technology manager and founding inventor behind the PureCycle technology, to get more details about the development and its impact for Procter & Gamble and for the packaging industry at large.

Of all the plastics out there being used in packaging, why focus on recycling polypropylene?

Layman: Polypropylene (PP) is one of the most versatile polymers ever created, with global annual production of around 60 million metric tons (second only to polyethylene). Recycled PP is almost always grey or black in color and is difficult to incorporate into plastic articles. This technology purifies recycled polypropylene back to a virgin-like polymer. It will remove colorants, odor and other contaminants from the recycled plastic, enabling the recycled plastic to be in nearly virgin-quality—which was not possible before.

How do you think this development will impact the plastic packaging recycling industry in general?

Layman: This technology offers the recycling industry a cost-effective method to produce virgin-like recycled polymers without trade-offs in performance.

According to the Assn. of Plastics Recyclers (APR), demand for recycled PP in North America alone is estimated at 1 billion pounds, 720 million pounds of which is identified as “high-quality” recycled PP. Why such a high demand for rPP in general?

Layman: Consumers want to feel good about the products they put in their carts. This technology enables companies to provide more sustainable choices.

Why does it have to be “high quality”?

Layman: Brand owners want to offer superior products and packaging is an important part of the consumer experience.

Couldn’t the impurities be hidden inside layers of packaging?

Layman: Our technology removes virtually all containments and makes virgin-like PP, which enables the material to be used in any application where virgin PP is used today.

What percentage of rPP is P&G currently using in its packaging?

Layman: While we cannot share a specific breakdown, we use approximately 34,400 metric tons of PCR [post-consumer recycled] in our plastic packaging. [Click here to see P&G’s sustainability report.]

What will that percentage be after PureCycle begins producing rPP?

Layman: P&G has a long-term environmental vision to use 100% renewable or recycled materials for all products and packaging. The rPP from PureCycle will help P&G make progress against this vision.

Can PureCycle be used to clean other recycled plastics? If so, will it be used for other plastics?

Layman: We are starting with PP and looking at a range of other opportunities.

How would you describe the PureCycle process?

Layman: A solvent-based physical separation/purification process.

Why is it important to note that this is a non-chemical process?

Layman: We want to avoid confusion of the PureCycle process with other chemical depolymerization processes. In chemical depolymerization, a chemical reaction occurs when the polymer is depolymerized back into monomer.

What can you tell us about the purification process? How does it work?

Layman: The purification process is a physical process that uses a solvent to first remove impurities that can migrate and then removes non-soluble contaminants from the rPP.

Is the process to remove impurities, odor and colors done in one step or multiple steps?

Layman: Multiple steps. Each of the two stages of the process plays a specific role in removing different types of unwanted contamination from the rPP.

What percentage of impurities will remain in PureCycle rPP?

Layman: Virtually none. PureCycle aims to make an ultrapure recycled PP product that is comparable to virgin.

How does PureCycle remove nearly all impurities and residual dyes from recycled plastics without negatively impacting the materials performance and properties?

Layman: The PureCycle process purifies recycled plastics at the molecular level. Since there is no chemical reaction taking place, the polymer molecules remain intact as the impurities are removed.

Does it work with different formats of recycled material (such as flakes and pellets)?

Layman: Yes, the process is agnostic to the sample form.

Has the plant’s feedstock evaluation unit come online as expected in January 2018?

Layman: The feedstock evaluation unit (FEU) will come online in the last quarter of 2018.

What does the feedstock evaluation unit do?

Layman: The FEU will be an ongoing asset that will enable PureCycle to screen feedstocks as scrap markets change and evolve over time. Ensuring feedstock flexibility is a critical element to success for any plastics recycling enterprise.

Why is this a necessary step before the plant is operational in 2020?

Layman: In addition to screening feedstocks, the FEU will enable PureCycle to develop a product portfolio and provide samples to offtake partners.

How much of the recycled PP produced is expected to be reused in packaging?

Layman: The recycled PP can be used in any application that virgin PP is used in today, including packaging.

Reports say that, at maximum operating capacity, the plant will accept up to 120 million pounds of plastic per year and produce 105 million pounds of rPP. Why will there be a 20% loss of material?

Layman: The yield loss depends on the amount of contamination in the feedstock. For example, if a PP feedstock contains 5% calcium carbonate, 3% polyethylene and 2% pigments, then that feedstock will only yield 90% PP.

PureCycle rPP will be available for sale to outside organizations; it won’t just be made for P&G. What kind of interest have you gotten from the industry?

Layman: We have received tremendous interest and encouragement from a broad spectrum of companies in the plastics industry. Many companies desire to sell more environmentally responsible products to their customers and PureCycle is a way for companies to do this without trade-offs in performance.

What main point do you want people to take away from Brent Heist’s presentation on PureCycle at SPC Impact?

Layman: This technology demonstrates P&G’s commitment to sustainability and helps in achieving P&G’s 2020 recycling goals—that is, doubling use of recycled resin in plastic packaging and ensuring 90% of product packaging is either recyclable or programs are in place to create the ability to recycle it.

PureCycle technology supports P&G’s vision of using 100% recycled or renewable materials and having zero consumer waste go to landfills. P&G has a long history of sustainability leadership and bringing innovative firsts to the industry—like recycled packaging, concentrated product and sustainability reporting. This technology is another innovative first and will help us achieve our sustainability goals.


Production efficiencies, ecommerce challenges, sustainability trends, new bioplastic technologies and more are among the topics on the agenda at the new Packaging Education Hub at EastPack 2018 (June 12-14; NYC). This free educational program will have more than 15 hours of can’t-miss presentations, demonstrations and hands-on activities. Register to attend for free today!

Challenges remain in online packaging procurement experience
Packaging procurement continues to use the internet and other online tools to identify, vet and select suppliers, but it's still not a smooth process.

Challenges remain in online packaging procurement experience

It’s still too hard to get prices of packaging products online, say respondents to the 2017 Packaging Buyers Online Behavior Study. And social media is not much help for facilitating a purchase. So what do most packaging buyers rely on the most when it comes to validating suppliers and solutions? A majority of respondents (60%) say “Recommendation/advice from a colleague or friend.”

These are just some of the highlights of our third annual packaging purchasing study—done in partnership with Fontys University of Applied Sciences—that identifies trends in how packaging professionals use the internet to research and buy packaging products and services.

New this year, a fully interactive online “story” using Tableau data analytics reveals the results of our exclusive research and allows you to manipulate pivot charts to uncover your own insights or customize the data that matters to you.


You can also easily download and share static results below (site registration is required but allows you to freely download any other content, as well as to comment on any article).

More than 30 “story chapters” (tabs), with 30+ charts, present data on:

• Geographic locations of respondents

• Why the Internet was not used

• How easy is it to find online information about a product or service?

• Does the size of the buying team influence the effort to gather information online?

• Age of respondent versus ease of gathering all info

• Markets served versus ease of gathering all info

• How do buyer roles influence online buying behavior?

• Buy roles versus smoothness of the entire purchase process and distance searched

• Is it easier for some buyer roles to find purchasing information and pricing online?

• Is social media used by different buyer roles to facilitate their purchase?

• Why was it hard to gather information online?

• Length of purchase cycle for different kinds of products or services

• How easy was it to complete the entire purchase of the product or service?

• Does the frequency of the purchase influence the smoothness of the entire process?

• How does the length of the purchase cycle and budget effect the smoothness of the process?

• Purchase cycle length and budget versus smoothness chart

• Does the ease of gathering online information influence the smoothness of the purchase?

• Chart: ease of gathering information versus smoothness of purchase

• Does the distance searched for information online influence the smoothness of the process and ease of gathering information?

• Internet usage during different stages of the buying cycle

• Charts: internet usage during different stages of the buying cycle

• How hard is it to get pricing information online?

• Reasons why pricing information is hard to get online

• What kinds of online sources do buyers use to help their purchase?

• Interactive chart of online information sources versus various demographics

• Detailed look at online information sources versus frequency and smoothness

• Detailed look at online information sources versus various demographics

• Benefits of social media usage

• Conclusions 1

• Conclusions 2

• Research methodology

• Survey questions

• About the author and contact details


Click these headlines to read the results of our previous studies:

Internet research aids decisions of packaging buyers – Oct. 2016

Online packaging information is relatively easy to get but not to share – Dec. 2015

Is the internet nurturing a new breed of packaging buyers? – July 2015

Or download the free, static results of the 2017 study below in a PDF version.


Production efficiencies, ecommerce challenges, sustainability trends, new bioplastic technologies and more are among the topics on the agenda at the new Packaging Education Hub at EastPack 2018. This free educational program will have more than 15 hours of can’t-miss presentations and demonstrations. Register to attend today!

New in-line metal detector shrinks metal-free zones for VFFS
The Xtreme VFS metal detector mounts easily on vertical form-fill-seal equipment, and without having to replace metal hoppers and pipes.

New in-line metal detector shrinks metal-free zones for VFFS

Installing a metal detector on a vertical form-fill-seal (VFFS) machine is common for companies that use foil packaging for their products. Until now, this required an extensive “metal-free zone” in the VFFS—but a new product dramatically eases that requirement.

The Xtreme VFS metal detector from Eriez reduces the space requirements for in-line metal detection by as much as 300%, and eliminates the need for plastic hoppers and pipes. This means it can be used on many more existing VFFS systems than conventional VFS metal detectors.

Ray Spurgeon, Eriez’ metal detection product manager, explains the significance of the Xtreme VFS.

Why is an in-line metal detector on VFFS machine preferable to running sealed packages through a metal detector that uses a belt?

Spurgeon: Inspecting sealed packages using a metal detector conveyor system is the most desirable approach. However, when foil packaging materials are used, conveyor-style detection systems do not provide acceptable detection thresholds the food industry requires. Therefore, this is why installing a metal detector on a VFFS machine is best.

Why doesn’t the Xtreme VFS need metal-free zones?

Spurgeon: Because of proprietary shell and coil architecture used with state-of-the-art signalprocessing algorithms.

What is the practical significance of shrinking the metal-free zones?

Spurgeon: There are tens of thousands of vertical form-fill-seal machines in operation—some have metal detectors, some don’t.

Historically, to add a metal detector to an existing vertical form-fill-seal machine required the removal of all metallic components above and below the detector (specifically cones and tubes), replacing with costly plastic alternatives. Additionally, in most cases, the VFFS machine needed to be raised to accommodate the metal detector’s large metal-free zone. Accordingly, for most it became prohibitive to add a metal detector.

The Eriez Xtreme VFS has Jacobs flange connectors, allowing the existing stainless steel cone to connect directly to the metal detector. Similarly, the outfeed can be connected right to the forming tube. Very, very simple. All those modifications and requirements for non-metallic components and raising the equipment are gone. All you’ll need is the detector’s through dimensions for installation that, in some instances, is as small as 8 inches.

Exactly how much space could be saved?

Spurgeon: Let’s start with the relationship of aperture dimension to metal-free area for a traditional VFS metal detector. Assuming a 3-inch forming tube is used, a 4.25-inch aperture opening would be recommended, requiring at least two times this dimension above and below for moving metal. Accordingly, a 4.25-inch aperture requires 8.5 inches above and below, plus the through dimension of the metal detector, which in some instances is as much as 6 inches. Doing the math: 8.5 + 8.5 + 6 = 23 inches.

Conversely, with our newest models, our 4.25-inch detector would require a little more than 7-inches of metal free area, which, again, is the through dimension of the detector. It’s a dramatic decrease in the amount of metal-free area!

What are some other advancements that have been made to the Xtreme detector?

Spurgeon: A full color, touchscreen interface that is icon driven offers its users the most user friendly experience in the industry. The HMI has been modeled after today’s smartphones.

The ability to remotely access and support metal detectors continues to be a hot topic. Eriez offers SMART Link that enables users to connect their detectors with Eriez technicians live 24/7 via a secured shared server, saving thousands of dollars in service-call visits.

Additionally, Eriez detectors offer an optional PLC module that accepts commands from most standard PLCs. The I/Os [input/output points] can say, “Hey, we’re switching to Product 2,” and our metal detector would say, “Thank you for that command. I’m switching to Product 2,” making product changes seamless.

The Xtreme detector comes standard with nine total outputs, each with one set of contacts. There are four programmable Form C relays rated at 5A up to 250VAC that are often used to shut the VFFS machine down upon detection.

Freelancer Pan Demetrakakes began his trade publishing career in 1992 by covering packaging, which he has done for several publications over the years. Other areas of coverage in his career include the food supply chain from production through retailing, as well as specialty coffee retailing, gift and housewares retailing, and electrical equipment.


Production efficiencies, ecommerce challenges, sustainability trends, new bioplastic technologies and more are among the topics on the agenda at the new Packaging Education Hub at EastPack 2018. This free educational program will have more than 15 hours of can’t-miss presentations, demonstrations and hands-on activities. Register to attend today!

Package Integrity Testing: What Do You Use for Your Sterile Medical Devices?
Image source: Shutterstock/Doro Guzenda

Package Integrity Testing: What Do You Use for Your Sterile Medical Devices?

Testing is one of the most critical endeavors of packaging development for sterile medical devices.

A few years ago we put together this overview of then-available package integrity test methods--and it is now time for an update, with your help.

To help us better understand the current state of the art, we invite you, the users of these methods, to complete a short survey on package integrity test methods. We’d like to know what the most popular test methods are, what challenges you are facing, and how you might be addressing those challenges.

Our survey is anonymous, and we’ll share the results and anonymous comments in an upcoming article. We'll also share details in an upcoming presentation at EastPack/MD&M East in New York City on June 12. This presentation will offer a comprehensive overview of available package integrity test methods, detailing their operation, sensitivity, and alignment with industry and FDA consensus standards.

Please help us by clicking here.

And be sure to join us at at EastPack/MD&M East in New York City on June 12-14. In addition to hearing the results of this survey, you'll have the opportunity for 3 days of free packaging education at the on-floor EastPack Hub theater.

Harmonizing ISO 11607 with the EU's Medical Device Regulations
Image source Shutterstock/Elena100

Harmonizing ISO 11607 with the EU's Medical Device Regulations

Revision of EN ISO 11607, the guiding standard for medical device packaging, is progressing toward completion later this year. With many of the changes prompted by EU’s new Medical Device Regulations (MDRs), could harmonization with the EU’s new law be next?

ISO Technical Committee 198 Working Group 7 met earlier this year in Copenhagen to resolve comments received after ISO 11607’s Draft International Standard (DIS) document was balloted last year. The next step will be to finalize a Final Draft Standard (FDIS) for ISO Central Secretariat to review and then send out to ISO members for final balloting this summer. 

Michael Scholla, global director, regulatory standards, and Thierry Wagner, regulatory affairs director, EMEA, both with DuPont Protection Solutions, discussed the unfolding developments at HealthPack in March. Scholla also serves as global convener of ISO TC 198 WG 7.

EU’s regulations were top of mind during ISO 11607’s revision. Wagner called the rules “new-approach regulations,” meaning that the law is meant to provide “high-level” Essential Requirements while leaving the details to harmonized standards. If harmonized standards are considered insufficient to meet the law’s high-level expectations or if there are no harmonized standards, the law provides the authority to the EU Commission to  develop Common Specifications, which could direct medical packaging decisions.

To avoid these Common Specifications, which some experts worry could be overly prescriptive, the working group is aiming for a standard that could be harmonized. The EU commission has rejected many proposed standards for harmonization under the current law, the Medical Device Directive (MDD), and is working on establishing a new system for harmonization of standards with the new law, the MDR, while applying a much more rigorous approach, Wagner told PMP News.

Revisions were made specifically to support compliance with the EU MDRs emphasizing packaging validation and usability for aseptic presentation. For instance, the MDR expects that sterile packaging designs allow for easy and safe handling to eliminate or to reduce as far as possible the risk of infection to patients. It also requires that contents remain sterile under the transport and storage conditions specified by the manufacturer until the point of use and that package integrity is clearly evident to the final user, Wagner explained. To align with these expectations, ISO/FDIS 11607:1 currently states that “A terminally sterilized SBS with its protective packaging, if included, shall be designed to maintain sterility through exposure to expected conditions and hazards during the specified processing, storage, handling, and distribution until that SBS is opened at the point of use or until the expiry date.” 

To address usability, ISO/FDIS 11607:1 currently outlines in section 7 under “Usability evaluation for aseptic presentation” that “a documented usability evaluation shall be conducted to demonstrate that the sterile contents can be aseptically removed from the sterile barrier system for presentation.” Such an evaluation shall include an assessment of “the ability to identify where to begin opening,” “the ability to recognize and perform the technique required to open the sterile barrier system without contaminating or damaging the contents,” and “the ability to subsequently present the contents aseptically." If instructions for use for aseptic presentation are required to support the user, then the ability to follow these instructions and successfully open and present the contents shall also be evaluated.

The MDRs also outline expectations of “adequate” packaging validations and inclusion of validation reports, with respect to packaging and maintenance of sterility into the technical documentation that will be reviewed in the frame of quality management system audits, Wagner told PMP News. To align with these, ISO/FDIS 11607:1 currently states that “packaging systems that meet the requirements of design, usability, performance testing, and stability testing shall be considered validated.” Sections on documentation have been aligned with terminology of quality management system standards. ISO/FDIS 11607:1 includes a new section on packaging system design change control.

For background on the impact of the EU MDRs on packaging, please see this whitepaper and this webcast

While ISO/FDIS 11607 is intended to address the EU regulations, it is expected to support packaging efforts outside European Union markets, too. Scholla emphasized at HealthPack that “the purpose is to create a global standard,” he said.