For years, consumers have praised and condemned the plastic ‘peanut.’ Ubiquitous in many packaging operations, they stick to clothes as well as anything they touch and are a mess to clean. That’s changing, with a product from Storopack (www.storopackinc.com), Cincinnati.
Loose fill is often selected because it provides a cost-effective means of protection. In the past, shippers were faced with a dilemma of whether to choose natural, biodegradable loose-fill products or save ‘green’ by using petroleum-based material.
Available in multiple sizes and from many sources, loose-fill packaging is effective at filling voids between the protected item and the carton carrying it. Traditionally, the loose fill is manu-
factured from expanded polystyrene (EPS)—a petroleum-
based material. Natural products made of potato or corn starch are also available, but higher pricing (often as much as twice the price of their EPS brethren) realistically eliminated them from consideration for many shippers.
Dramatic increases in gas prices have adversely affected the price of petroleum-based materials like EPS loose fill as well, driving the cost up considerably. While this was occurring, manufacturing advances, coupled with the favorable economics of volume increases for starch-based products, have driven their pricing down. The result is that, while plastics pricing has increased, natural loose-fill pricing has fallen to the point where the two enjoy relative parity.
A Greener Choice
While price is certainly a factor, the prime consideration is still protection. Storopack Inc. recently conducted numerous tests on its new Pelaspan-Pac Natural, traditional Pelaspan-Pac (petro-based) and its old Renature (starch-based) products. Competitive loose-fill packaging was also tested under drop testing, creep testing and vibratory settling environments. All products scored within 1% of each other, so performance of the natural products was certainly equal to industry standards.
The combination of price and per formance prompted large mail-order sales company SMC Corp. to make the switch to natural products earlier this year. This high-volume shipper has multiple packing stations that fill three to five packages per minute, averaging 7,000 to 10,000 packages per day. It has used loose fill for almost 20 years, originally switching from shredded newspaper because of the increased flowability of the loose fill. Nearly a year ago, the company made the switch to natural loose fill.
Loose fill is poured into the package bottom. Then, the item is inserted and covered with loose fill. With the wide variety of products it ships—porcelain figurines, spun glass, mirrors and other fragil
e items, as well as books, wooden objects and different-sized objects—within the same box, a cushioning material that will migrate to open spaces within the box is required. Free-flowing loose fill fits the bill perfectly.
In addition to the aforementioned favorable pricing, the natural loose fill offered tangible results in terms of lowered return rates.
Advances in manufacturing technology allow current, all-natural products to be made with a harder outer surface, and a stouter overall design. This provides optimal interlocking of the ‘S’-shaped materials, with no breakdown into dust. The result is a cleaner, free-flowing material that protects like plastic but has all of the environmental benefits.
Natural products also eliminate static, which causes problems for shippers and end customers. From the packing and shipping side of the table, static electricity enables the loose fill to cling to packers, boxes, containers and more. When packages arrive, end customers learn that the pesky static causes loose fill to cling to everything. Natural products eliminate the static and therefore the problems associated with it.
Office-products retailer Staples develops and sources environmentally preferable products. Office Depot has a similar stance on environmental stewardship. Municipalities on the forefront of environmental awareness include Santa Monica, Calif., which recently banned Styrofoam food containers.
Customers, for their part, are concerned with dependence on foreign oil and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). While this is all well and good, how does an end customer really know whether the loose fill within his or her package is biodegradable or not? If it looks the same and has the same shape, how does the customer tell the difference?
Lamps Plus, a retailer of lamps and lighting accessories, uses a tip-in card to educate its customers. The card quickly calls attention to the fact that there are ‘no plastic peanuts crawling up your arm!’ and goes on to explain the environmental benefits of the green packaging. Customers can reuse the loose fill, recycle it or dump it out into the yard and turn the hose onto it. Within minutes, the loose fill will disappear, leaving no trace on the yard or in the groundwater.
Green packaging is becoming preferred by customers for many reasons. As the pricing of petroleum-based products has increased, so too has interest in natural products. And, that allows both shippers and customers to see green.