Packaging products made from plastic hollow twin-wall and triple layer materials such as boxes, sleeves and panels, have numerous applications for reuse. As was noted in the presentation abstract, “These products are known for their light weight but rigid and durable properties, folding characteristics for maximum shipping density, and customization capabilities to meet unique supply chain specifications. As companies are looking to get more uses out of their packaging, these plastic corrugated transport packaging products offer performance and economic solutions.”
Such characteristics were discussed recently at the PACK EXPO Reusable Packaging Education Center, during a panel discussion entitled Corrugated-Plastic Products for Reusable Packaging. The presentation included four industry experts in this area, pictured left to right, at top:
- Steve Harris, Sales Director, Coroplast
- Scott Starbuck, Packaging Sales Manager, Inteplast Group
- Jay Amatangelo, Director Business Development, AMATECH
- Christian Engelhardt, Business Development, Infinex
- Norm Kukuk, Executive Vice President, ORBIS Corporation (Moderator)
Here are eight takeaways from that panel session:
- Plastic corrugated has been in use for decades. For many people, corrugated plastic might seem like the new kid on the block for reusable packaging applications, but it has been around for years. For example, Scott Starbuck of Interplast has had over 35 years experience with this product, while Jay Aatangelo of Amatech has a background of over two decades.
- First came the graphics industry and later came packaging. The earliest adopter of corrugated plastic almost 40 years ago was the graphics industry, noted Starbuck. “You couldn’t give it away in a packaging application,” he said. Then, almost 20 years later, when major automotive companies began looking at reusable packaging as a way to resolve their solid waste generation problem, corrugated plastic began to make inroads for deliveries to the assembly line, especially in the form of reusable sleeve packs. Another pioneering application for corrugated plastic was for the ubiquitous postal tray. One of the panelists recalled the importance of weight reduction in the design of the postal tote. Given the amount of air freight involved in the mail system, for every ounce lighter the tote could be designed, it would save $1 million in avoided annual fuel expenditure. Snack food delivery boxes were also cited as an earlier application.
- Lower cost per trip results from reuse. Corrugated plastic packaging is advantageous for reusable packaging versus corrugated paper because it is durable and can be reused, resulting in a lower cost per trip. As one of the panelists noted, “One of the other things I have seen is that if you can get five or ten trips out of them, you’ve gotten the money back you would have spent on paper. Once you get over that threshold, it becomes gravy, money that goes right to your bottom line.” Another panelist reported having corrugated plastic applications that have lasted upward of 20 years.
- Superior reverse logistics efficiency and ergonomics. Corrugated packaging typically offers very attractive return ratios when flattened – in the order of a four or five to one or better. As a result, corrugated plastic can provide greater transportation efficiencies than other reusable packaging options, where it is a fit. And due to its lighter weight, it easily meets the ergonomics requirements for material handling applications across a range of industries.
- Increasingly popular for applications such as pharmaceutical. A few panelists commented on the interest of the pharmaceutical industry in corrugated plastic as a replacement for corrugated paper containers. The example was given of a pill bottle manufacturer which switched to plastic corrugated. The tablet manufacturer was receiving bottles from the bottle producer in corrugated paper containers and then repackaging them into plastic containers to prevent the introduction of dust and possibly mold which could develop on moist, absorptive packaging. By switching to plastic, the repacking of bottles was eliminated and resulted in a huge labor saving. Another comment: “The pharma industry is choosing to protect itself (by switching to corrugated plastic.) They don’t want fiber dust in their system.” One of the panel members reported that for pharmaceutical applications, corrugated plastic containers are used on a single trip basis and then recycled, due to sanitary considerations.
- Sleeve packs now can come with volatile corrosion inhibitors (VCI). Instead of having to wrap each part into a plastic bag containing VCI and evacuating air, stated Engelhardt, his company laminates the intermediate layers with Intercept, a corrosion inhibitor, which provides protection without the sealing of individual parts. The boxes have foam rubber seals both in pallet and lid, which reduces air exchange effectively so that individual bags are no longer needed.
- Design flexibility. Does not require expensive molds, so it becomes a more attractive option for smaller runs, or where a shorter development time is needed. Can be modified to optimize heavy or light loads, as well as the safe stacking of sleeve packs as required.
- Sustainability attributes include lightweighting and ease of recycling. As mentioned above, weight reduction and superior empty return ratios can help reduce fuel requirements. Also, of note, corrugated plastic is easily recyclable within corrugated plastic manufacturing facilities, as long as it is clean. Labels can be an issue, so care should be taken with regard to label usage so that it does not negatively impact recyclability.