Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

Plastics Continue to Solve Serious Health Problems in Africa

Every person in the plastics industry can take pride in how plastics are solving some of the problems that for so long have afflicted people in many parts of Africa. A simple example: Put impure water in a plastic bottle, leave it in the sun about six hours, and the UV rays purify the water.

Here are two other noteworthy plastics-based solutions to African problems, one as simple as the plastic bottle water purification, the other an ingeniously creative life saver.

The simple first: “Plastic Bags to Keep Premature Babies Warm” is the headline of a short New York Times article whose hero is the plastic bag erroneously considered a villain by many. A study of newborn babies in Zambia showed that a technique practiced in the USA, swaddling premature babies in sterile plastic wrap to keep their body temperatures from dropping dangerously, can be copied in poorer countries using plastic bags similar to grocery bags.

Water evaporates rapidly through the thin skin of premature babies and that can lead to life threatening heat loss. The study published in the journal Pediatrics showed that wrapping babies in plastic bags and then in a blanket was better at keeping babies warm than a blanket alone, with no instances of overheating or skin rashes.

The AidPod medicine packages fit in the spaces between Coca-Cola bottles

The AidPod medicine packages fit in the spaces between Coca-Cola bottles for travel to remote African villages.

Now the creative solution: The U.K.-based design firm pi Global, recently won the Diamond Award, the top honor at the 25th anniversary edition of the DuPont Awards for Packaging Innovation, as well as the Special Food Security Award. Pi Global developed the AidPod package for ColaLife, an independent non-profit organization (NGO) that works with The Coca-Cola Company’s distribution network to bring medicines into remote areas of Africa.

A Eureka moment came to Simon Berry, a former British aid worker in Zambia, when he realized that he could get a Coca-Cola virtually anywhere, yet one in seven children were dying from preventable causes before turning five, most from dehydration due to diarrhea. Berry founded the ColaLife organization and is now its CEO.

The AidPod is purpose-designed to nest between the bottles in Coca-Cola crates (see photo), thereby gaining a ride to remote villages for life-saving medicine it carries. Pi Global created a package that is also a functional part of the kit, both as a measured-dose mixing container and a drinking vessel. Early in the AidPod’s development, according to Berry, plastics were selected over cardboard for barrier properties, light weight, and the ability to design in the dosage-measuring water cup.

The AidPod package took top honors in DuPont's Packaging Awards 2013

The AidPod package took top honors in DuPont’s 2013 Packaging Innovation Awards.

In presenting the Diamond Award, William J. Harvey, President of DuPont Packaging & Industrial Polymers, pointed out that the awards originally sought to champion collaboration as a critical component in innovation. “Twenty-five years later … it’s clear that collaboration remains central to bringing innovation to market,” he said.

A blog post by plastics journalist Doug Smock on the PlasticsToday website details more of the AidPod collaboration: pi Global “…designed a patented wedge-shape, vacuum-formed container made of 80% recycled PET, the plastic used as virgin material in soda bottles. Other partners joined the effort. Charpack makes the container and lid; Amcor Flexibles produces P-Plus perforated peelable film to seal the pack closed; and Packaging Automation makes the machinery that heat-seals the film to the AidPod.”

Coca-Cola is generally considered the most recognized single brand in the world, and thanks to the company’s distribution skills, you can find a cold one pretty much anywhere in the world. The AidPod has the potential to improve world health on a large scale. Pretty impressive for a plastic package made mostly from recycled PET (polyester terephthalate).

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

Another Misadventure of Fact-Challenged Anti-BPA Activists

I think you should read a very informative online article about a recent

event in the ongoing activist attacks on Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical found in a few plastics, including the epoxy liners of food cans that prevent botulism and spoilage. It’s an enlightening, easy to understand piece of scientific journalism with sharp insights on the chemiphobic and/or plastiphobic activists.

The article is on the Forbes website, the author is Jon Entine, and the title is “Bisphenol A (BPA) Found Not Harmful, Yet Again — So Why Did So Many Reporters and NGOs Botch Coverage, Yet Again?” In it, Entine, a senior fellow at the Center for Health & Risk Communication at George Mason University, describes how a press release from the University of California titled “BPA’s Real Threat May Be After It Has Metabolized” about a recent BPA study quickly turned into articles on numerous websites, including those of well-known news sources and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Many of the NGOs and journalists are anti-BPA activists that have been on the attack BPA for years, so the press release headline likely caused them to think the new study may be what they need to finally bring about the banning of the chemical. The articles they quickly published carried headlines such as “BPA is Bad to the Bone, Now We Know Why,” and “New studies add fuel to concerns over BPA.” Some reprinted the press release verbatim.

But there was a catch. As Entine writes, the “…study, when analyzed, does not support that view. Rather, it provides additional confirmation of the unlikelihood that BPA or many other so-called “endocrine disrupting” chemicals pose serious health threats.” The catch is in the words “when analyzed.” Since the NGOs and activist journalists were predisposed to believe BPA was bad—despite more than a dozen reviews of BPA by independent government scientists since 2007 that concluded the current uses of the chemical are safe—it appears they did not examine the study, instead going solely with the misleading press release.

With the study’s erroneous rise to prominence as his starting point, Entine goes on to provide a broad commentary on the chemophobia-driven, crusade against BPA. He even provides clear information on how BPA is processed and disposed of by the human body. The article is a compact education about BPA and the anti-BPA crusade. Sadly, it’s wasted on those who need it most.

There is little reason to think the NGOs, labs, websites and others

with vested interests in advocating against BPA will read, let alone accept, the facts Jon Entine presents. Besides being prisoners of their ingrained beliefs, their continuing livelihoods require not accepting such facts. Evidence of that is apparent in the reader comments on Entine’s article. Many commenters make it clear by what they write that they are true believers, largely ignoring or denying the facts. To his credit, Entine patiently—for the most part—responds specifically to each comment. It’s an enlightening dialog with the chemiphobic and plastiphobic.

If you want to better understand the continuing anti-BPA activism, and like your information factual and brilliantly presented, Entine’s article and his responses to the comments are well worth your time. The information here just scratches the surface.

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

BRIC Countries to Drive Flexible PET Packaging Growth

A Packaging Digest article about a new report by GBI Research says that the growing economies of the BRIC countries—Brazil, Russia, India, China—will make them the dominant growth agents for flexible PET packaging materials between now and


The report notes that the Asia-Pacific region, which already made up 40.6% of global PET demand in 2010, should reach 47.8% of the total market by 2020.

China, not surprisingly, is expected to be the global flexible PET packaging market leader by 2010, and the report notes that major new PET production capacity has already been built in China, and that major PET resin producers are still focusing much attention there. Significant capacity additions also are in the forecast for Russia, Brazil, and India.

The GBI Research report says that food, CSD, and beer packages will be the key applications for growth in flexible PET packaging, and will be helped along by demands from major retailers for better product protection and longer shelf life.

There are more stats, plus the market factors behind them, in the Packaging Digest article here, and details on the now-available full GBI Research report “PET Global Market to 2020” can be found here.

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

A Blogger’s Realistic Take on the Beleaguered Plastic Bag

A pre-Christmas blog post titled “In defense of the plastic bag” by Marc Guntherplastic shopping bags in use of Green Biz.Com should be required reading for anyone taking sides in the current plastic bag bans and taxes – whether for or against. Gunther is one of the few surviving specimens of a once-numerous breed called realists, and a reality-based perspective is exactly what this contentious issue needs.

Beginning January 1st, the county where Gunther lives began a five-cent charge for carryout bags at retail stores. He’s not persuaded that plastic bag bans or taxes make sense, and he has his reasons, such as:

They’re not based on science. Studies show plastic bags have less environmental impact than paper, and if reused, are preferable to reusable plastic or cloth.

Some arguments favoring bans don’t hold up. You’ve heard about plastic waste in the ocean, but it’s really not as big as Texas nor is it made of plastic bags.

It’s not a long-term solution for plastic waste. The best solution is recycling, which we’re doing but not nearly as well as we could be.

green plastic shopping bag“You may disagree,” writes Gunther, “but after digging into this subject for a while, I’m certain about only one thing: It’s complicated.” As it happens, that complexity also is a major obstruction to resolving the issue: Environmentalists favor a black and white solution — ban all bags — that avoids dealing with details like the plastic bag’s relatively small carbon footprint.

To make clear the complexity, Gunther gathered information from the head of “Rise Above Plastics” at the Surfrider Foundation, from Mark Daniels, VP of sustainability at plastic bag maker Hilex Poly, from Oprah Winfrey, and from an oceanographer that actually studied Pacific plastic debris at the site.

The oceanographer said  the common expression about the Pacific Garbage Patch, that it is twice the size of Texas, is flat wrong, and is the kind of exaggeration that undermines the credibility of scientists who gather real data. Many websites campaigning for bag bans state that recycled material is more costly than virgin material. Yet Daniels told Gunther that even though virgin material for plastic bags is made from currently cheap natural gas, it costs  less  for Hilex Poly to collect, buy, transport, and reprocess reclaimed material than to buy virgin material.

Near the end of his blog Gunther says we still don’t have a clear answer to the question “paper or plastic” — even when “or reusable” is added as an option. However, at the end he describes his personal solution, which you can find by clicking here. It is worth reading, and here’s a hint about it from Gunther himself: “The plastic isn’t the problem; litter is the problem.” Did I mention he’s realistic?