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P&G utilizing post-consumer waste in new diaper packaging film.

P&G Utilizing Post-Consumer Waste In New Diaper Packaging Film

Procter & Gamble has taken an active leadership role in the debate surrounding disposable diapers and the environment, but previously most of its well-publicized efforts have centered on making the diapers themselves more environmentally compatible. Research work on biodegradability, composting and recycling have received the bulk of media attention.

But recently receiving more of this attention is the work P&G, in conjunction with a number of its suppliers, has been doing in improving the environmental qualities of its diaper packaging. A recent, in-depth article that appeared in Packaging Digest ("P&G recycles from top to bottom," January, 1991) for the first time gave the trade a good look at what has been accomplished in this area.

Last fall P&G, which had begun the switch from cardboard packaging to plastic bags some time ago, began to test in Pittsburgh, PA its "Ultra Pampers" and "Luvs Deluxe" disposable diapers packaged in flexible film that contained a minimum of 25% post-consumer recycled plastic.

According to Packaging Digest, this is believed to be the first time post-consumer recycled plastic resin has been manufactured into flexible packaging, certainly in the U.S. and perhaps anywhere in the world. The project has gone a step further than the work done by grocery sack manufacturers to recycle used plastic grocery bags and by flexible packaging producers to make film from recycled plastics.

P&G's partner in the recycled packaging development has been Exxon Chemical Film Products, Mar-Lin, PA, which, according to Packaging Digest, is blending ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) with post-consumer recycled homopolymer high density polyethylene to make clear film. The post-consumer polyethylene is almost exclusively obtained from milk jugs and water bottles.

This film is then laminated to another printed film from Exxon to make the P&G two-ply diaper bags. The laminating is being done by Sengewald USA, Marengo, IL, and Cello Foil Products, Battle Creek, MI. The bagmaking is being done by Sengewald and Film Fabricators, Orland, IN.

The new diaper bag for Ultra Pampers and Luvs Deluxe that is in test remains a three mil structure, just as it was previously. The inner ply is pigmented white virgin low density polyethylene, again the same as before. The outer ply of 1.5 mils contains at least 50% recycled HDPE blended with EVA; the outer ply was previously LDPE. The inner ply is gravure printed by Sengewald and Cello Foil in up to seven colors before the outer ply is adhesive laminated. Sengewald and Film Fabricators then convert the bags and P&G ultimately utilizes the new compression packing technology.

The Key Is Post-Consumer

The only way this packaging concept could work to P&G's satisfaction was if the recycled plastic could indeed be from post-consumer waste. According to the PD article, it was this requirement that forced Exxon to work with waste from rigid containers.

"Although some film recycling into film bags is now underway, it wasn't a reality when we got started on this," said Ed Milbrada, recycled project leader at P&G. "Equally important to all of us was a consistent source of supply. And that meant rigid containers."

Exxon was also determined to find a polyolefin material that could bond well with other olefin-based films, an Exxon strong point both from a resin production and film manufacturing perspective. It was this combination of restrictions that ultimately led to the use of HDPE. The homopolymer used for milk jugs and water bottles was selected to try to minimize the variables of resins in post-consumer HDPE.

Naturally, P&G had a number of other requirements that needed to be met before the project could bear fruit. One was the use of a two ply laminate, which the company has always used to achieve a better quality shelf appearance. Because the printing is trapped between two layers of film, the package has been more resistant to damage.

However, PD reported, as an added precaution against consumer concerns P&G decided that the film containing the recycled plastic should not be in direct contact with the diapers. That meant the inner ply of pigmented film made with recycled resin together with an outer ply of clear virgin film was not feasible.

Very Few Details Available

Procter & Gamble is always very quiet about its technical developments and Exxon is understandably reluctant to share the specifics about how it has met the strict P&G demands. Yet Packaging Digest was able to offer this fairly indepth case history.

Exxon purchases the RHDPE in pellet form mostly from one supplier, although other sources have been used as well. Aside from the RHDPE, all resins for the new package are virgin and come from Exxon. The new film is produced at its Pottsville, PA plant.

About the only noticeable change in the new material is its matte finish, which replaces the rather glossy look of the LDPE film used previously. PD noted that this actually improves the readability of the package since it no longer reflects lights as much as the former glossy finish.

Exxon continues to work on other developments utilizing recycled materials in flexible packaging applications. "I think we'll see explosive growth in flexible packaging using recycled materials," Doug O'Connell, business manager for volume films at Exxon Chemical's Film Products Group, said in the article. "I think this will be similar to what we've seen in the plastic bottle area where the use of recycled materials has become widespread."
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Title Annotation:Procter and Gamble Co.
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Mar 1, 1991
Previous Article:Recofluff: can recycled fiber deflect consumer hostility?
Next Article:Spunbonding in the 1990s: a technology on the move.

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