In Packaging, Less May Mean More

In the 1980s, no one thought much about how hair stayed glued in position four inches away from the scalp, or what ingredient made eye shadow that infamous bright teal color. In the past, consumers may not have questioned how hair gel retained such vibrant color or wondered what made hand lotion smell so sweet. However, today’s more environmentally aware consumer is of a different mindset, and raises questions about chemicals, trace contaminants and the use of petroleum-based plastics — questions that the industry as a whole sometimes struggles to explain or justify.

Further, consumers today expect brand owners to provide sustainable solutions that perform, and brand loyalty can be weakened or strengthened depending on how well the owners embrace these solutions. Being proactive in finding both better and cleaner packaging goes a long way in building branding loyalty with these consumers. In fact, according to a recent Green AMPlified survey conducted by the AMP Agency (an Alloy Media + Marketing company), 60% of consumers are more likely to buy a company’s products or services if they feel confident that the company is mindful of its impact on the environment and society. Packaging plays a particularly hefty role, as 40% of consumers in the survey gauge a company’s sustainability efforts by the packaging of its products. With a quick look at the label, consumers have complete access to the ingredients found in all of the personal care products they purchase. While the packaging materials used in the supply of these products may be a little less obvious, brand owners and retailers are continually trying to keep ahead of the curve by offering improved package designs that support key societal and global issues.

On the processing side, converters continue to find ways to improve the efficiency of their products and processes. These companies invest capital in changing their machinery and molds to produce smaller lightweight containers for use in the personal and health care marketplace, but many such applications require the use of mold-release agents to optimize cycle time. To address these needs, new polymer technologies have been developed.

In the personal care marketplace, in general, there is a lot of confusion about the use of plastic resins and the necessity to include additives such as slip and mold release in order to make the packaging process more efficient. However, if properly formulated, many plastic resins can be used in the personal care marketplace with fewer additives, allowing for a more sustainable package by offering reduced costs and lighter weight plastic packaging that can replace glass or other non-plastic packaging.

For many marketplaces that fall under the general well-being umbrella, inclusion or removal of packaging additives is especially important because they can sometimes impact the product contents—either through reduced shelf life, reduced product quality or aesthetics. By reducing the amount or need for certain additives, brand owners are afforded the opportunity to offer more appealing products to their customers.

For example, in applications where the product can be in intimate contact with the body, i.e., eye makeup or lipstick, converters must consider the fact that mold release additives used in the production can actually leech from the container and contaminate the product. This has led to advances in bimodal polyethylene resins that have been designed for such applications and to eliminate the need for mold-release agents, thus reducing concerns about product contamination.

Performance Remains an Issue

While consumers often want the packaging of their personal care products to be eco-friendly and free from things such as additives, they don’t want them to fail. Brand owners are held to a standard of providing products that perform as expected and stand up to consumer daily use, such as tossing the container into toiletry bags or purses without leaking, swelling or bursting. In addition, consumers expect squeeze bottles to expand to their original shape, thus requiring resins with good flexibility that might require plasticizers, which can be another cause for contamination concerns. To strike a balance between these performance and aesthetic characteristics, converters must utilize the most innovative processes.

Again, using bimodal polyethylene resins allows converters to fabricate plastic containers with desired characteristics that are essential for personal care items. The bimodal resins offer attributes such as better toughness and stiffness for “squeezable” bottles while maintaining excellent environmental stress crack resistance (ESCR) without the use of slip/mold-release additives.

Converters must also consider the process equipment. Mold release agents frequently cause plate-out or mold fouling issues that require equipment shutdowns for die cleaning, sometimes as much as once a day. Other options, such as chrome-plated injection blow molds, may be designed to allow for the use of resins without mold-release additives, but this usually requires an investment in expensive tooling to accommodate the change. Such investments and maintenance issues can be eliminated by a simple switch to a bimodal resin.

The advantages of using a bimodal resin versus the alternative with an additive are many, and their performance is especially apparent in terms of sustainability. When extrusion blow molding is used, the resin offers optimum impact strength that allows converters to design containers that maintain durability even with thinner walls. By down-gauging the weight of these containers, converters eliminate costs associated with unnecessary material use which may lead to less energy consumption.

Creating Flare

Marketing of personal care products relies heavily on the use of creative packaging, and converters must continually search for materials that aid in the creation of more dynamic branding effects—often, again, with an eye firmly on sustainability—i.e., “less polymer.” In those applications where light weighting and/or clarity is critical, certain polymers can deliver improved toughness while maintaining stiffness and clarity, thus allowing the converter to design and deliver package designs at much lower packaging weights. This capability to create lighter weight package designs with excellent clarity is especially appealing to the cosmetic and personal care consumer interested in the environmental footprint of a product—often expressed through the packaging.

According to the recent Sustainability: Balancing Opportunity and Risk in the Consumer Products Industry study by Deloitte Consulting LLP and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), consumer packaging companies are implementing sustainability programs to alleviate costs, avoid regulatory issues and prepare for possible commodity shortages. While many are ahead of the game, there are still additional opportunities to implement material changes that will help make packaging more appealing for both retailers and consumers. Depending on what process is used, the material solution may be different. Ultimately, these goals can be achieved through selecting materials that demonstrate a range of improved characteristics—including improved stiffness to allow for light weighting, improved clarity, improved ESCR properties to allow for squeezable packaging, and lower package weight to product weight ratios to produce packaging that is designed to meet the needs of today’s personal and health care consumers.

Terry Glass is the application technology leader for rigid plastics at The Dow Chemical Company, working in various product development roles in chemicals, epoxies, new business development, central research, and plastics TS&D Businesses. For the past 15 years, he has been working in the development of barrier technologies for rigid packaging applications for both PET and polypropylene.

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