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Brentwood Plastics Blog

" Gen 3 " Plastic Packaging

Posted by Joel Longstreth on Mon, Jun 04, 2018 @ 06:01 PM

Giant retailers and consumer product companies are under tremendous pressure to be perceived as green and sustainable.  They are somewhere between frantic and panic.  Rumor has it the CEO of WalMart wants produce bags to contain partial bioplastics by 2020. Meantime, the major plastic resin producers are doubling down on conventional fossil-fuel based resins.  Sounds like a script straight out of  The Innovator's Dilemma.

handplant

Jimmy Durante said "everybody wants ta get inna de act" apparently does not apply here.  Timing is just as important to biodegradablity as it is to comedy. ( Dow divested their interest in Nature Works years ago. ) At the recent NPE show, there were only two new US based exhibitors and they were not from the major resin producers.

Biologiq
a
nd
Danimer Scientific

the rest were from China

Jinhui
a
nd

Kangrunjie  ( can't link to their site )

 

Gen 1 " is defined as plastics derived from fossil fuels.

"Gen 2" is plastic derived from agricultural sources or "biopolymers ".

Nobody knows what " Gen 3 " will look like.  Maybe a hybrid ?   The first forays into Gen 2 did not catch on initially because a) consumers will not pay a green premium and b) timing.  Bags put on the shelf in May fell apart in stores by July.  Large food companies have seen what ethanol has done to raw material costs.  If plastic packaging made from agricultural sources crowds out arable land, food costs will skyrocket.  

Another aspect to consider is the involvement of the FTC.  They are finally cracking down on ostensibly biodegradable plastics, or what we call " additive cowboys ".  

medicineshow

It's all about perception.  Anything derived from fossil fuels is perceived as inherently evil and made from a source which is not sustainable.  Braskem has done a fabulous job marketing their "green" polyethylene and polypropylene made from sugar cane.  They get a premium and won't talk to you unless your volume is 1,000 metric tonnes annual - take or pay.  These resins do not biodegrade any faster than petroleum-based plastic.  Braskem is putting on a billion pounds annual capacity in La Porte, TX.  The feedstock ?  Fossil fuel natural gas.

With painstakingly politically correct word choice, Lego announced their selection of " green " plastic.  

There are two approaches to a quick fix.  Either "greenwash" ( defined as no change, spin only ) or make hasty changes out of fear of social media.  Notice how much emphasis is put on what a product does not contain these days ?

Bisphenol A is an excellent case study.   " BPA free" is an insult.  Only polycarbonate and PVC use it as a catalyst.  There are trace amounts in the final product.    If your product is made with any other resin, just say        " BPA free" and voila !   You take advantage of the consumer's fear and lack of understanding.which may be just enough to stimulate an impulse purchase.

Sometimes the alternative to the vilified material is worse.  Those who reacted to NGO's clamor for a BPA ban by substituting BPS and other materials were the biggest losers.  In retrospect they look impetuous.  The quiet epilogue: BPA's recent clean bill of health despite being put on California's prop 65 list and the EU's possible ban.  Did the NGO's give a public apology ?   A "never mind" a la Emily Latilla ?

emily

Of course not.  The disingenuous virtue signaling malcontents just move on to another faux outrage cause.

The latest angle is apparently a hybrid of fossil fuels and potato starch from a company called Biologiq.  They offer both compostable biopolymers and combo fossil fuel resin / biopolymers.  The hybrid is chasing arrow #7, or "other" which makes it is not recyclable with other polymers.  They say the time is right.  The CEO of Walmart wants all their potato and apple bags converted to Biologiq yesterday. 

Let's look at how this could play out.  For starters, well-meaning consumers will recycle the potato resin bags with the other bags at the store entrance resulting in contamination.   If it takes off, Biologiq will need more than the by-products of potato chips.  What do you think would happen next ?  If you said, "potato prices will increase", go to the head of the class.  For now, the claim of "eco friendly" is not on the FTC's radar.  If the FTC wants a more precise definition of "eco friendly" it's going to be a problem. 

H. L. Mencken said " for every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong".  

To make an informed decision about conventional or biopolymers, click on the purple box on this page.

 

 

 

 

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Topics: eco friendly plastic,, sustainable packaging,

Factors Determining Shelf Life

Posted by Joel Longstreth on Mon, Feb 19, 2018 @ 05:52 PM

Shelf life is subjective.   The definition of "use by" or "sell by" date depends on criteria and varying degrees of emphasis.   These dates are understandably conservative.  

 

Let's look at both the judging criteria and interdependent factors affecting shelf life.

The judging criteria are:

odor and taste      appearance      texture
Obviously the most common sense must-haves for consumer satisfaction, these criteria do not pick up on other factors which have the potential to sicken or kill the customer.

weight loss
Package must not dissipate moisture to comply with weight and measures.

micro loads  
Critical in fresh, unpasteurized food.   Judging by total micro load is an oversimplification and puts the processor in an impossible position.  Something is going to grow on the surface of the product, either friendly aerobic
( in the presence of oxygen ) or anaerobic ( no oxygen present ).   It's a zero sum game microbiologists call competition.  The battle between these types of bacteria dates back to pre-Cambrian times.  Aerobic = good, friendly.  Anaerobic = bad.  Anaerobic is where emerging pathogens such as shigella, campylobacter jejuni and classic clostridium botulinum thrive.  What's scary is listeria mycocytogenes  grows in both conditions and is undetectable to odor and taste.  A bag of salad which has been stored at 38 degrees for 25 days may look good, feel crunchy and taste fine while fraught with stealth populations of listeria.

Think petri dish.  The product is a growth medium for cultures of friendly and dangerous bacteria.  Microbiologists talk about " logs " of micro loads.  This is short for "logarithmic" growth starting with "seed" populations.  Fresh cut fruit has taken longer to catch on due to the higher amount of sugar vis-a-vis vegetables. 

Agricultural and Agri Food Canada ( AAFC ) for short usually picks up on listeria contamination in salad first.  No real surprize there.  The bags have a week to incubate in transport from California with greater chance of temperature abuse.

headspace analysis
Tracking headspace gases interpolates when the package will go anaerobic.  The biggest mistake in headspace analysis is not getting enough data.  Simply checking one or two packages every few days does not provide a true picture.  The right way is to sacrifice a lot of product, check several packages every day then graph the results after throwing out the highs and lows.

processing factors

raw material  
This refers to either the animal or vegetable and how it was handled not just in transport to the processing facility. In the case of vegetables, it's smart to look at conditions before the seed was put in the ground.  If manure was used to fertilize, Escherischia Coli has a way of finding it's way into the processing plant as seed populations.  Avoiding cross contamination requires close attention to HACCP.

processing conditions  
Before personnel set foot on the production floor, it is best practices to educate them about sanitation.  Seed populations of pathogens often enter the plant on the hands of employees.

packaging  
Packaging cannot make an inferior product into an acceptable product.  OTR is key.  For meats, fish and cheese, a barrier is essential.  For fresh produce the proper barrier or lack thereof is the lynchpin.  A lot of emphasis is put on OTR.  An overlooked factor is the CO2 transmission rate - about four times the OTR.  So the highest OTR without spoiling prevents the dnagerous anaerobic CO2 buildup.

distribution chain

cold-chain-logistics-5-728.jpg

Temperature during transit is not a factor with pasteurized canned or bottled product.  Wines can be ruined in just a few hours in a hot car.  For fresh products, when measuring headspace it is important to mimic as closely as possible the anticipated temperatures in the " cold chain".  This can be a touchy subject.  Who wants to be the one who has to tell their customer spoilage is due to breaks in the cold chain at  the customer's distribution hub ?  Besides, every Thermo King is at exactly 38 degrees F throughout the entire truck, right  ?   Sending the customer the impartial results from a Ryan often backfires.

I have seen several attempts to quantify the definition of shelf life by assigning a point value to each category adding up to a total of 100.  It never works.  If an item fails in any one of the criteria, it fails.

did you know ?

In the early 1800's there were an estimated 15,000 stills in Kentucky.  Distilling whiskey was a very rational alternative to selling corn.  The reason: practically indefinite shelf life.

The most toxic substance on this planet is not man made.  It is produced by C. botulinum to defend itself against other predatory micro organisms.   Botox anyone ?

Meals Ready to Eat, or MRE's are expected to have a shelf life measured in years.  Exactly how long is time and temperature dependant.  If an MRE is puffy, you now know why it's gone bad.  It has gone anaerobic.

It is estimated that 40% of food in undeveloped countries spoils en route to market.  In the US, consumers pitch about 40% of their food.  Neither one is good from a methane generation standpoint. 

 

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Topics: shelf life

Plastic Shortages

Posted by Joel Longstreth on Wed, Sep 06, 2017 @ 06:08 PM

Part of Harvey's aftermath will be a shortage of plastics.  The general public cannot see it yet.  Many plastic processors and especially their customers are in denial.  Many large processors have shut down and sent their employees home.  For us old timers, recent events conjure up shortages of 1973 - 1974, 1998 and 2005.

 

mothubbard.jpgmtshelves.jpgfishloaves.jpg

 

The irony is that black plastic trash bags are badly needed in Houston now.  

The following is a recap of causes and outcomes of the previous shortages.

First, let's review the definition of a shortage.  A shortage is simply not enough of a commodity available at the price the market wants to pay.  Simultaneous to the oil embargo, there was a shortage of beef.  Vegetarians were not particularly concerned.

GettyImages-563960371-56a9a70b5f9b58b7d0fdb1f0.jpg

73collage.jpg

 

                                                  1973 - 1974


The plastic industry was a teenager. 6 years earlier, Dustin Hoffman's character Benjamin Braddock got the famous career advice -  plastics !   Resin was made either by chemical companies who were not basic in feedstocks or by a few petrochemical companies.  The chemical companies bought ethylene and propylene on the "spot" market.  When the oil embargo hit and monomers were in short supply, guess who got first option on ethylene and propylene monomer?

Plastic processors went on allocation based on historical purchases.  List price for polyethylene was in the 15 cent per pound range.  When Nixon instituted wage and price controls, people got creative.  Suddenly there was a plethora of material available in the 50 to 60 cent range.  It was labelled "off-spec".  One legacy of the big one:  no more "list" prices for resin.  There was resin, but not much for 15 cents a pound.  

During the roughly 16 months of the shortage, pricing was hour by hour.  The phrase "prevailing price at time of shipment" was added to the terms and conditions of sale.  Look closely in the fine print of an old plastic processor 's terms and conditions and you will probably see it.  

The shortage pricing collapsed in a matter of days.  Many plastic manufacturers reinvested their windfall profits in more capital equipment thinking the party would go on.  Instead, it lead to a glut of overcapacity.

1988

was short lived.   Processors on allocation quietly exported their excess resin to maintain their allocation. The resin companies figured out they were better off dividing the fishes and loaves among their smaller customers for higher margin than unloading in bulk to large customers at rock bottom prices.  Ever since, credit managers have had more sway.

2005

was the aftermath of Katrina and Rita, often referred to as "Katrita".  Natural gas spiked to an all-time high of $ 15.  Search volume for "price of plastic" also spiked.  Buyers who were not around for 1973 / 74 simply could not believe the price for a cheap commodity could go up that fast.  The lasting effect of Katrita was agreement upon the CDI as a basis for price adjustment.  The other lasting effect has been discipline.  There was major bloodletting at the resin companies in 2006.  Ever since, the resin producers have shown remarkable discipline. Now it's no forecast, no resin.  They no longer just make resin for it's own sake. 

 

Skip ahead to present day.  The initial shock of Harvey has worn off.  Now customers want to know when they will get resin and when.  What is reminiscent about 1988 is smaller processors are getting better access to resin than large volume processors.  Smaller processors defined as less than roughly 25,000,000 pound per year usage have been relegated to buying through prime distributors.  The large volume users are calling distributors with orders for multiple railcars.  They are perplexed when their orders are respectfully declined due to overriding concerns about keeping long-term smaller customers stocked with material.  Several large plants have simply sent their people home.

There are three components to producing resin - monomer, polymerization and transport.  The monomer and polymerization bits are coming back quickly.  The transport part is the crux of the equation.  There is an embargo on rail traffic to most of Houston.  Anyone who has dealt with railroads knows they are not going to put equipment on tracks until there is at least 105% certainty that the tracks are intact. 

Plastic processors simply do not know if they will get resin, when, how much or what the replacement cost will be.
Many are reluctant to snap up resin because they are either in denial or they still remember getting burned back in October of 2008 when resin prices cratered 30% in a few days.  
The "prevailing price" lingo won't fly today.  The good news is there is plenty of capacity ready to fill the void.  If past is prologue, the Harvey shortage will end with a whimper.

Harvey's aftermath is a slow-motion catastrophe.  Volume buyers of finished product are in denial.  Behind the scenes, volume processors have resigned themselves to being out of some grades and shut down by November. The conversations between WalMart buyers and their suppliers are going to be interesting.  

Processors and their customers who eagerly anticipate running reverse auctions when 18 billion pounds of capacity comes on stream are going to be disappointed.  Their is plenty of worldwide demand to take up the slack and resin companies are disciplined about forecasting and scheduling.

Question: If polyethylene needs to be rationed, what items should be priority?

Who should decide?

 

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Topics: harvey plastic, plastic shortage, price for plastic

Hurricanes, Fossil Fuels and Plastics

Posted by Joel Longstreth on Fri, Sep 01, 2017 @ 04:40 PM

Although Harvey was tragic, it would have been much worse without the silent heroes of fossil fuels and plastics.
There was no plastic bashing, only tacit endorsement of both in a crisis.

plastic water cooler harveyplastic raft plastic bags harvey

 

harvey donations in plastic in austin, TX

All the plastics in these images were derived from fossil fuels.  The power for the boats and shelters was created by burning fossil fuel gasoline for the boats and fossil fuel natural gas for the electric power.  Not wind, not solar.

Eschewing something without a viable alternative is virtue signalling.  It is not cool to challenge the premise that all things derived from fossil fuels are inherently evil; we should not be using anything petroleum-based ( it is also impossible to engage in a dielectic about anything these days ).   Until practical alternatives are real, we will have to rely on what is available.

Imagine for a moment what would these people have done without plastic ?   Maybe wait for plastic derived from agricultural sources ?  They aren't a simple solution either. 

 FEMA is sending millions of bottles of water and MRE's.  Recyclable plastic is keeping the meals and water fresh.

gmaharvey.jpg

plastic rescuing harvey

harveychevronrelief.jpg&cci_ts=20170915143921&MaxW=1280.jpeg

Chevron, a manufacturer of plastic resin, dontated $ 10,000 to a local relief shelter and 
has pledged over $ 1,000,000 in relief efforts.

Take a look at all the plastic in the background of this video of Joel Osteen rebutting criticism of his church being closed. Now imagine the diapers, food and water being transported in an alternative to plastic.  What would it look like ?

Now let's look at all the items requested for relief:

  • clean up supplies and black trash bags
  • mops and buckets
  • inflatable mattresses
  • hand sanitizer
  • baby bottles
  • formula
  • diapers
  • blood

Note that there is no stipulation that no items containing or packaged in plastic would be refused.  Anybody got any better ideas of how to package blood ?

Those of us in the plastic industry cannot be held responsible for gouging and profiteering.  We just make the packaging that gives the water and food a practically infinite shelf life.  Packaging prevents spoilage and greenhouse gases, but we don't talk about that.

Even though tarps are a chasing arrow #7 and not practically recyclable, the red cross needs a lot of them.  If you want to donate, call Tim Wahlers at 703) 638 - 8906 or email him at tim.wahlers@redcross.org.

Ever since Chesapeake Energy stopped donating millions to the Sierra Club for " beyond coal" greens have added fossil fuels to their list of things they love to hate.  Imagine what the relief shelters would look like if they relied only on wind and solar for power.

Most hospitals in Houston have remained dry.  Where would they be without electricity from natural gas and plastic ?

At this writing,half of the capacity for plastics is shut down.  When the railroads will be back up and running is anybody's guess.

Albeit briefly, plastic bashers are going to get their wish this fall.

Update September 11, 2017.

A few days before hurricane Irma hit Florida, governor Rick Scott arranged for a few tankers of gasoline to be delivered to Tampa.  Not windmills, not solar panels.  Supplies are being airlifted in by airplanes which run on fossil fuel.

Today FEMA announced they will be sending millions more MRE's and bottled water to Florida.  To say both are overpackaged would be a tremendous understatement.  The total amount of plastic packaging is conservatively 
8 truckloads.  Just the packaging.  So much for government leading the charge for source reduction.

Update September 25, 2017

Somebody in marketing at Coca Cola must be happy about the free exposures at J Lo's press conference.

jenniferlopezplastic.jpg

By extension, New York must stand with with plastic too.

 

A plastics distributor teamed up with an injection molder to donate toothbrushes to the gulf.

water en route.jpg

 Water packaged in plastic en route to Irma relief in a plane made with plastic materials.

irmaplasticbags.jpg

supplies for Irma victims packaged in plastic carryout bags

 

Update January 22, 2018

I V bags are in short supply.  If you don't have time to read the text of this article, look at the pictures.  Notice the cables are coated in plastic, not paper.  I V bags are also made from plastic, not paper.

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Topics: harvey, harvey plastics, hurricane relief, irma relief

PE Resin in the Age of Madmen

Posted by Joel Longstreth on Fri, Jun 09, 2017 @ 11:46 PM

While spring cleaning, we found a cache of 1960's era letters from Union Carbide.  

st-louis-arch-under-construction.jpg  jfk.jpg cigarette-ad-1.jpg mcdonalds.jpg

 

 

wise-guys.jpg

The letters were from big shot execs in the mid-town Manhattan offices.  All were perfectly individually typed with no errors ( whiteout probably did not yet exist ).   While Don Draper was working on ads for mass marketing, the senior execs were incredibly creative by tying in first day of issue stamps to their new resins for the narrow nascent blown film industry.

Of course there were many things nostalgic and laughable - six cent stamps, new applications such as shrink film, juice packaging, frozen food packaging.  Recycling ?  Re-what ?  Linear Low Density was over a decade in the future.  In the First Man on the Moon issue, they bragged about their two billion pounds of capacity.  They went to great lengths to show literally how far their resin would stretch - to the moon and back many times. There is at least 35 billion pounds of PE capacity coming on stream in the US in the next few years.    

In the late 50's the commercial feasibility of blown film was uncertain.  Today there are over 27,000 known blown film shops.

Reminds me of when our founder used to line up his three martini lunches on successive days when he worked for USI Chemicals.

3-martinis.jpg

How times have changed.  

Enjoy the gallery.  ( Click the enlarge.jpg below the slide show for full screen )  Who knows ?  Maybe the collection will appraise at $ 5 at the Antiques Road Show in the year 2100.

 

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Topics: LDPE resins

Packaging: Leading Economic Indicator

Posted by Joel Longstreth on Tue, May 30, 2017 @ 06:03 PM

Many manufacturers were slow in Q1 of 2017, especially us.  It was difficult to square the booming stock market with what us groundlings were experiencing.

cobwebphone.jpg

The " Trump Bump" was more like the Trump slump.  I asked a friend who is an investment banker about the disparity.  His answer was simple.  He said that the money supply is finding it's level with traders and not capex.

While I'm not in total agreement, it turns out the research found us.

richmond fed.png

Anyone who has lived in packaging has sensed upticks and downturns before they become mainstream news. Back in 2007, we were beginning to wonder if people needed basic cotidien staple items.

The chart bears out what was weird about Q4 of 2016.  During the first week of October, things went quiet after a busy September.  Informal polling indicated the reason was the uncertainty of the election.  The resin companies said they felt the slump back in August.  December which is usually the doldrums was strong as Decembers go.

So what does the current data portend ?  Construction, junk food and staples such as rice are in good shape.  
Other sectors seem to be clawing their way back to normal.  Order quantities are smaller and no lead time. 

It's unlikely that hedge fund managers will ever deign to do research by finding out what's going on in fly-over country.

 

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Topics: economic indicators

The Fine Art of the Sabotage Spec

Posted by Joel Longstreth on Tue, May 30, 2017 @ 04:31 PM

Sabotage specs are written wholesale every day.  Not much is written about why and how to write a sabotage spec.

auctioneer.jpg

The impetus for making a sabotage spec is obvious.  The agendas of supplier and customer are at loggerheads. As soon as an project is developed to the point of solving a problem, purchasing is itching to shop and start the reverse auction.  The path of least resistance is the sucker play - the ostensible need for a spec sheet.  This saves the time and expense of reverse engineering.  
 
Where's the rational incentive to divulge the ingredients and know-how ?
 
card-players-in-the-market-at-ubud-on-bali-bj0ne4.jpg
Two things are often overlooked at this juncture:
 
1.  questioning the premise of the need to know.  If there is no legitimate need to know how any ingredients might affect the customer's plant or product, there is no need to know.  It is naive to believe NDA's will be honored.
 
2.  is the distinction between a typical property sheet / data sheet and a specification sheet.  The latter is for the protection of the supplier to prevent arbitrary rejections.  A properly crafted spec has a target and range for specific properties.  The supplier has every incentive to keep proprietary how the properties are achieved. If it meets the criteria, the customer buys it.  If not, the out-of-spec materials are returned to the vendor.  In theory anyway.  What usually happens is the full shipment is rejected if part of one pallet is defective.  A typical property sheet is more generic public information.
 
In both cases, the description of raw materials and test methods is key.  It makes total rational sense to throw the competition off the trail with misinformation about raw materials instead of showing one's hand.

Two common tricks which nobody talks about are:

1.  proprietary test methods  Instead of abiding by standard test methods, simply state that your product exceeds with a proprietary test method.  For example, 3M states that their masking tape elongates more than everybody else's with their black box test method.  I witnessed firsthand 3M winning a bid at a higher price from the state of Ohio because no other masking tape had 11% elongation. 

2. fake values   Simply enter values which if met will not work.  This is guaranteed to waste your competition's time and give them a mental hotfoot.  The deck is stacked against the new candidate anyway because line personnel are an openly hostile audience.

Follow these simple tips and you will have a good chance of not getting shopped and putting sand in your competiton's gears

sandgears.jpg

 

Did you know ?  " at loggerheads" is hundreds of years old.  A drink was made by combining rum and milk, then
heated by plunging a heated rod called a logger into the drink.  After a few too many, the logger was often used as a weapon.  The figure of speech connotes unresolvable conflict such as marriage and the middle east.

loggerhedd2.jpg

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Topics: spec sheets, sabotage spec, spec sheet, specification sheet

Buy American / Hire American ? - as if !

Posted by Joel Longstreth on Mon, Jan 23, 2017 @ 06:02 PM

When George W. Bush asked the premier of China what kept the premier up at night, the response was "finding jobs for 25 million people a year."  Products in the mature life-cycle stage are imported everyday to the US at artificially low prices.  Why does the U S government let this happen ?  Why is there no anti-dumping outrage ?

chinaworking.jpgchinaconst.jpgchinese rural workers

In retrospect, Smoot-Hawley was a causative factor of the depression.  Today's supply chain is interdependent and complex, so tariffs aren't the solution for complicated products.  

Simpler items are imported in large volume to the US at bargain-basement prices.  We're seeing a common thread.  The cost of the finished product mostly from China, is at the price of raw material here in the US, even in a capital-intensive industry such as plastics. Before getting into specific examples, let's look at why. 

( Personally, my cynical opinion is the U S government likes cheap goods to show lower inflation rates and lower COLA  )

My guess is it's a combination of factors.  The two biggest advantages for manufacturers in certain countries are currency manipulation and raw material subsidies.  American manufacturers have the disadvantages of higher wages and the not so hidden costs of regulations and taxes.  Ocean freight is cheap.  Inland freight is equal.

Taxes are a factor of production.  Much has been written about the additional burden of regulation and how it puts U S manufacturers at a disadvantage.  

" One of the single biggest areas we should see some immediate relief 
is from some of the regulations that have stifled our industry
and curtailed some of the growth. "

- William Carteaux, CEO of the Plastics Industry Association

Here is a summary:

  Factor of Production   Advantage   Comments
  direct labor   China  plentiful labor compliment but hard to train  
  freight    none  ocean freight is cheap
  regulations   China

fewer restrictions on solvent inks or disposal.  No OSHA.  No EPA, etc.

  taxes   China  
  resin cost   China US is low cost producer, but China gets big subsidies
  currency manipulation   China  
  electricity     ???  
   logistics   U S   China 
  X files factor   U S    

We have swerved into a few cases in our microcosm which just might be indicative of what's going on on a macro-scale.  Here are a few anecdotes:

                                                              Drawstring stock ice bags              

                                                                    drawstring ice bagstock ice bags
One of our customers does not understand why the cost of drawstring ice bags made in China is literally 1/4 the cost of US made.  The resale price of the finished bag is practically the cost of U S - manufactured. That's the resin pellets before being extruded into unprinted rollstock.   With UPS charges, the convenience store pays $0.04 each. American-made bags would cost about $ 0.09.  Let's face it - who wants to pay 6 cents more for a bag of ice ?  The convenience store operator would rather give up two pints of blood. 

                                                    Red and Yellow barricade tapes

barricade tape  

We make heavy metal free red and yellow rollstock, sell it to customers who print, slit and box, often untouched by human hands.  Our customers cannot compete with Chinese goods which contain 1% lead ( contact us if you want to see the test results )  printed slit and boxed at the same price as rollstock.  The imports are not constrained by HMF heavy metal free resins or water-based inks.  American consumers don't care about continual dermal exposure to lead, so everybody's happy.

shower curtains

showcurt.jpg

We have recieved several inquiries from manufacturers of shower curtains in China.  They see the handwriting on the wall.  Chinese labor and electricity are going to approach the costs here at some point.  They are also looking into complying with WalMart's P R ploy - U S made ( the reality is WalMart will only pay 5 to 7% more for American made because that's the maximum upcharge consumers will pay ).  They are incredulous about costs of production here vis-a-vis China.  They go into sticker shock about the price of resin and don't believe us when we go so far as to tell them what EVA resin costs. Everything - resin, ink, labor, electicity, payroll taxes, OSHA, etc. is more here.  Until the factors of production lines cross, they will continue operations in China.

There's no telling how many millions of pounds of plastic these 3 examples add up to, let alone how many U S jobs ( " American carnage" according to Donald Trump ) are at stake.

So there you have it.  Reality is the consumer is conditioned to paying lower prices.

The good news is there is a whole lot of "re-shoring" going on.  It started long before Donald Trump threatened to slap an import tax on companies who move operations outside the U S.  The low prices from China come at a price.  I have talked to many people who are animated when they say they are "through with China ! "  They have paid for the low prices with their sanity.  If they find one of a few suppliers who are not out to rip off the the importer ( with no concern for repeat customers ), the execution is slap-dash and the parts are sloppy.  It's like the X-files.  Nothing is as it seems.

x.jpg

Injection molders are pulling molds wholesale and telling customers to take or leave the domestic price.  To be fair, logistics from the producer to the port have improved.  Not so long ago, you didn't know where your container was until it got scanned in to the ship.  

When it gets to the point that Fox Conn gets serious about migrating operations to the US, somebody is getting frustrated.  

There's plenty of good news to go around these days especially in automotive, about domestic investment in manufacturing.   Who could have imagined that Mike Lindell would invent a pillow and employ 1,500 people in Chaska, MN ?  Then there's other news about labor-intensive industries mostly garments, moving operations to Africa for lowest cost " cut & sew".  

afroshirt.jpgafricans sewingafrica cut & sew

                                     Africa has been called the last frontier for cheap labor.

Can you blame the management of globocorps ?  It's nothing new and it's basic econ.  Factors of production flow to the most favorable environment.  Management has a fiduciary to maximize shareholder return.  Barry Bluestone wrote about it back in 1982 in the book " The De-Industrialization of America".  It's not enough to be profitable.  The profit center which is the least cost producer is going to stay open and get the CAPEX.  The higher cost plants get shuttered.   The Economist says the multinationals may be over the hill.

Since the 2008 downturn, US manufacturers have automated extensively, but there are limits. Consumers are not williing to pay $ 4,500 for a US -made iphone yet.

Trump's persuading Carrier to stay in Indianapolis is a great story, but could whipsaw into the government dictating labor costs.  The most labor-intensive industries would be most affected.  Only time will tell how unwinding trade agreemens will play out. 

In any case, American businessmen just want a level playing field.  Good luck with that.

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Topics: reshoring, buyamerican

Designing for Recycling and Sustainability

Posted by Joel Longstreth on Tue, Jan 10, 2017 @ 03:52 PM

Cradle-to-Cradle, Recyclability, Sustainability and reclamation have historically been low priorities in design considerations.  The biggest obstacle to these goals is dissimilar materials in the same product.  Just as form follows function, selection of raw materials teamed up to do a job is determined by the properties raw materials can deliver.

singlestream.png

Recycle Across America correctly attributes the recycling collapse and crisis to contamination.  

"... the collapse of recycling is primarily due to high contamination levels in the recycling stream.  Contamination cripples the economics of recycling.  The process to remove contamination reduces profitability, driving up the cost of recyclables, thereby preventing many manufacturers from reusing recycled materials. As a result, they continue to deplete finite resources at alarming levels." 

Note how economic sustainability dovetails with environmental sustainability.  The recycling business is tough at best because prices drop when there are more recycled materials are on the market.  There is not enough margin to absorb the additional cost of sorting.

It's not complicated.  The more dissimilar materials are contained in a product, the more difficult it is to
recycle for practical purposes.  If a product contains more than one polymer, it should be labeled a resin identification code ( or RIC for short ) symbol 7.

recycle7.png

Sweden has it down to a fine art.  They claim only 4% of their discards end up in the landfill. 

swedsystem.jpgfunnyswed.jpg

So just make the product out of the same resin.  Simple solution, right ?
Problem: one resin can't deliver all the attributes needed

Often the resolution to a problem is meeting halfway.  This mailing envelope solves the debate over paper or plastic.  Instead of an all polyethylene #4 recyclable envelope, it is made from both polyethylene bubble pack and kraft paper.  

pregis.jpg

Proponents of plastic often ask why cut down a new tree when you can use an old dinosaur ?  The rejoinder is usually "you're still usin' fossil fuels, man".  This brilliant example of an unrecyclable #7 satisfies all demographics.  Proof that it satisfies the demands of the consumer for green products is it's ubiquitous presence in UPS stores.  

A cotidien example of several resins in one product is a soft drink cup with a straw and lid.  It has three different polymers with three different job descriptions:  The stiff and pliable straw is polypropylene, the rigid lid is polystyrene and the paper is coated with low density polyethylene.  One resin is not versatile enough to do all three jobs.

sodacup.png

 

At Sustpack2016, the common threads of marathon presentations by large companies were source reduction and landfill reduction.  They have all made great initial strides mainly through reduction of corrugated packaging. Just my opinion - it will be more difficult to maintain the same rate of progress after another few years.  Corrugated recycles allright.  It also cuts down trees and uses oodles of fossil fuels.  Chemical runoff is minimal compared to decades ago.  

corrugatedrecy.png

Consumers feel best about recycled content to assuage their irrational conditioned consumer guilt.  Using less, or source reduction, is the most incontrovertible way to go green.  But it's too abstract and not fungible.  

It's an issue for not just the flexible packaging industry.  The green building culture is scrutinizing materials with emphasis on cradle-to-cradle. There are several recent success stories such as the Long Center for performing arts in Austin, TX.

longcenter.jpg

This is not new.  Humans have been recycling construction materials for millenia with an efficiency motive. Construction waste is one of the major contributors to landfill, but that's another conversation.  Here is a great infographic about recycling across the globe and in recent U S history.

Like everybody, the meeting and convention industry is under pressure to show they are going green.  
bins.jpgconstructiongarbage.jpgLVrecycle.jpg

Recently, it has become common practice to place a recycling dumpster next to the dumpster for non-recyclables.  What the convention industry used to pitch is turning out to be a massive trove of raw materials.
Here's the bargain: the recycler gets the cast-offs for free.  His cost of goods is the cost of hauling and sorting.

A big problem for both conventions and builders alike is carpet.  Carpet can have several components which makes it hard to sort.  Despite this obstacle, carpet recycling is catching on.  Cleaning and re-shipping carpet is a major headache for convention contractors ( the people who put up the booths, signage and install the
carpet ).  For example - Freeman the industry leader, has at any given moment 300,000 square yards of carpet in a cook's pot being cleaned and recycled.  The trend is toward nonwoven single-use polypropylene #5 used one time and sent to the recycler.  There will be a tipping point if the price drops to where the cost is less than transport + cleaning + transport again. 

The bad news is that even if products could be made with only one resin, it would not be a solution.  The major obstacle to recycling is indifference from the general public.  Proof is the low recycling rate of water bottles.  They are made from polyethylene terephthalate ( PET ) #1.  PET is the only commodity resin FDA approved for 
food contact and medical after repolymerization.  The recycling rate has dropped to 30.1 %.  More than 1 in 3 water bottles are discarded despite the efforts from giants like Coca Cola to make recycling easy.

Could it possibly be that consumers just aren't that concerned about the environment and only pay lip service ? 

It's more fun to blame and vilify evil corporations.

For more information on the 7 basic commodity resin identification codes, watch this short video.

 

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Topics: plastics recycling,, resin identification codes, sustainability, RIC

Multilayer Packaging Lexicon

Posted by Joel Longstreth on Mon, Dec 12, 2016 @ 05:28 PM

Humans like to communicate in acronyms, abbreviations and inside lingo.   After I set up an appointment for a medical test, I got a call back.  They said I didn't have an oth.  " What's an oth ?"  " An authorization, sir "   Brings to mind the scene in " The Heat"

The flexible packaging business is no exception.  The written descriptions of multilayer packaging structures can be confusing.  Here are some plain explanations of commonly encountered cryptic abbreviations followed by some examples:

/  designates a dividing line between two layers
adh.  short for "adhesive"
BOPP  biaxially oriented polypropylene
COPP  copolymer polypropylene
CPP  cast polypropylene
EAA  ethylene acrylic acid
EVA  or VA  ethylene vinyl acetate ( should specify % of VA copolymer )
EVOH  ethylene vinyl alcohol  natural habitat is in the core layer of coex for barrier
ga.   gauge  one mil = 100 " gauge"  manufacturers chisel thickness, so ".94 ga." is as close to 1 mil as you'll find for PET; 
       "48 ga." is popular in PP

foil   foil
HDPE  High Density Polyethylene
LDPE  Low Density Polyethylene
LLDPE  Linear Low Density Polyethylene
MDPE  Medium Density Polyethylene
METOPP  Metallized Oriented Polypropylene
METPET  Metallized Polyester
NYL    nylon
PA  nylon
PE  polyethylene
PET  polyester ( not to be confused with polyethylene terephthalate which has the same abbreviation )
PPFP  paper poly foil poly
poly  polyethylene
PP  polypropylene
prt   print
PVDC  polyvinylidene dichloride ( a/k/a Saran )
surlyn    Surlyn
tie    tie layer ( always found in coextrustions, never in laminations )
wht  white

Thus, a callout like this:

PE / adh. / METPET/ adh / CPP

would in English mean:  LDPE sealant layer ( the PE layer is always the sealant layer ) laminated to metallized polyester laminated to cast polypropylene.

There are a zillion possible combinations.  If you run into one you can't translate, call us.

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Topics: multilayer film, coextruded, coextruded plastic, coextruded film, laminated films

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