Manufacturing News

Lies, damned lies and degradables

The drought breaking winter rains had not dampened Richard Smith’s passion to debate claims made about bio-degradable plastic films at the Back to the Future conference in June. Richard who is Technical Development Manager for Amcor Flexibles Asia Pacific joined with Grant Davies National Innovations & Development Manager at Amcor Australasia to present the program at the October meeting of Australian Institute of Packaging in Melbourne.

Grant Davies gave a brand owners’ perspective on Shelf Ready Packaging based on work done by Amcor to deliver what was termed as Shelf Friendly Packages to the supply chain. His selection of friendly is because indications are that approaches are quite different the second time around. [After six years of misadventure there are some positive results coming to the surface]

More than simply a package the thrust now is to deliver solutions, but to do this the question “what product are we packaging?” needs to be addressed. Often the optimum solution may entail a new primary and secondary pack combination rather than trying to adapt a shipper to accommodate existing retail units. Grant used an example from the United Kingdom but had to convince the audience that the product CRIPS was real.

CRIPS are a newly launched competitor for traditional fried crisps and are lower in fat and have no additives, but to get retail space or as Mr Davies called it your billboard an attitude similar to a whole of life analysis is needed. Some Brand Owners have determined that retailers push to newer packaging as negatives but the CRIPS people obviously saw opportunities to evaluate the costs of both the primary and secondary packs.

Many have tried to hide from the fundamental fact that altering the shipper may have a deleterious impact on the primary package. This would have undoubtedly been the case with packages of potato crisps. Based on the truism that altering the functionality of a package will materially alter the previous we saw some graphic examples of the whys and wherefores of the project.

In this study there were five different flavours of CRIPS, cleverly named and subtly distinctive but ultimately required to be packaged in the spirit of retail ready to ensure brand acceptance and shelf space differentiation. Rather than keeping the status-quo the product strategy seems to have been to find a shipper that could encompass any of the five flavours whilst reinforcing the brand-mark or billboard. The visual impact of colour and in particular CRIPS distinctive green underpinned all considerations.

The final RRP package in the supermarket was a convertible shipper [perforated sides for easy conversion to a shelf friendly display] which boldly carried the same distinctive colours as the packets to be selected by the shopper. The photo of the final packaging shown by Mr Davies showed clear sharp images that subliminally cried “buy me”.

If the CRIPS experience is repeated for another brand, market presentation and penetration will surely follow.

Richard Smith initially came across more as a consumer advocate that a packaging technologist and some may have thought that the sheet lightning outside the auditorium was of his making, but he settled into the presentation professionally and succinctly. He said that Amcor believes in responsible packaging for now and forever and uses the four [4] R principles: reduce use, recycle, recovery and renewable.

His main concern was to debunk commentators who misrepresent the degradability of plastics and gave definitions of degradable, oxo-degradable and compostable. The contention raised in June was about the ability of some materials to breakdown into inert components which revolves around the concept of oxidative degradation. Products such as polyethylene shopping bags that have been made from material altered in composition by additives are designed to break down to levels that can be ingested by micro-organisms.

Amcor does not dispute that treated plastics do break down over time into small pieces but have not found any substantiated research that shows total degradation. Smith has researched globally and discussed research that found that these oxo-degradable materials may take as much as five years to degrade into fine particles.

Unanswered is the outcome as the polymer particles get smaller, more un-saturated and water soluble they become easier for micro-organisms to consume. If micro-organisms consume these active and potentially toxic particles they will act to introduce toxins into the food chain. A telling slide showing the impacts on the environment were shown and none, showed benefits over conventional films that can be recycled, or reused without possible environmental impacts.

Richard Smith’s final statement was “It’s our packaging industry — lets look after it” after he had told us not to confuse the customer and put industry credibility in doubt.

More questions came for Richard than Grant but both dealt with the issues raised succinctly and professionally; but there is no doubt that the debate about plastics will continue long after we have all developed Shelf Friendly Packaging.

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