Manufacturers of any plastic-based products are faced with the challenge of finding ways to continue to produce product in ways that support sustainability and minimize waste. This is a difficult dilemma for many manufacturers that don’t have the resources to invest in new, more efficient machinery, or a budget to conduct research and development into state-of-the-art sustainable materials. Furthermore, certain communities have begun to support or pass legislation that further limits a manufacturer’s ability to operate its business profitably (See California Legislation). So, what can a heavy-duty plastic bag manufacturer do to keep up with sustainability best practices without compromising quality for its customers? Let’s explore some common, lower cost sustainable practices for plastic packaging manufacturers like Primary Packaging that can be used to stay competitive and compliant without sacrificing quality.
Primary Packaging Inc. is focused on good manufacturing practices to minimize waste in its operations or take materials out of the waste stream. In the heavy-duty bag production process, there can be many sources of waste. Not all product at our facility is the same size and shape. In fact, we pride ourselves on catering to the exact needs of each of our customers with great attention to detail. These frequent differences in the product scope create excess material that is cut away from the plastic film to create the right dimensions for the final product. To address the waste issue, PPI has found ways to minimize that excess scrap material, and what is left as scrap is sent to a recycling facility to be reused in the production of other products.
Equally important to managing outputs, finding more sustainable inputs allows us to cut back on truly single-use plastic material. PPI has found success incorporating post-consumer recycled content (PCR) into mailer bags and other heavy-duty bags.
PCR, which is a raw material for the extrusion of plastic film and bag conversion composed of the remnants of recycled plastic items by consumers and businesses, allows a manufacturer like PPI to produce its high-quality product using a recycled material and cut back on single use plastics. PPI has been able to achieve the strength and performance benchmarks needed by its customers with up to 80% PCR material. PCR does have some limitations, which are determined by the use case of the film or bag. Film created with PCR is typically hazy or even opaque as its not feasible to achieve a clear film with recycled materials.
Additionally, the recycled film will undoubtedly have more impurities than a brand new resin film, so the use case for the bag will determine if and how much PCR the final product can use. These limitations are not prohibitive but do require a very thoughtful approach to using PCR as a viable input for products to maintain quality and performance standards for your customers. This is why PPI has found great success with PCR in its mailer bags and some heavy-duty bags.
Inks are another significant contributor to the sustainability dilemma. In Flexographic printing, the common options are water-based or solvent-based inks, and each have pros and cons to consider. Given the recent emphasis on environmental sustainability, companies have been exploring a change from solvent-based to water-based, but not all jobs are compatible with both types of inks. When making the decision, the manufacturer must consider many business-related factors such as cost, energy consumption for curing or drying the ink, and wear and tear on the machinery. Just as important is considering how the customer needs the product to perform under various conditions. There is so much more to this decision that cannot be summarized in this article.
When switching to more sustainable materials like PCR is not an option, another solution is to down gauge the material used. This essentially means using as thin a film as possible that still maintains the performance needs of your customer to reduce the amount of new plastic used per product. When producing on large scales, even a small reduction in gauge can create a positive impact, both for the environment and for your company’s bottom line.
Working with experts to develop alternative film materials is a great way to reduce impact on the environment and waste from the manufacturing process, but it can be cost prohibitive to many. If you have the budget to go this route, exploring films with different base materials that allow film to be compostable is a significant trend recently. A compostable film will breakdown under the right conditions in a matter of weeks instead of the decades that it takes conventional plastics to degrade. PPI has worked closely with a team of experts to develop such a compostable film and make it available for some of its product lines. There is a long way to go to increase the number of viable compostable options out there and make them available to more customers, but it’s a strong step in the right direction.
These are just a few of the sustainable practices for plastic packaging manufacturers that have allowed Primary Packaging to reduce waste in its manufacturing process. Primary Packaging Inc. continues to stay up to date on advances that are being made and work with its customers to create high quality sustainable films and bags for a wide range of applications and industries.