In 2012, a slew of major household cleaning product brands introduced a breakthrough technology in a category that had long lacked innovation. Packed in water-soluble film, new single-dose laundry detergent packets provided consumers with a premeasured dose of product in a tiny pouch that could be tossed directly into the wash. While extremely convenient for consumers, the packets had one very dangerous unintended consequence: Children, attracted by the bright colors of the detergent, were accidentally ingesting the product.
In the first few months following the launch of these single-dose packets, press reports indicated that nearly 250 people had called poison control centers as a result of accidental ingestion. Especially attractive to children was Procter & Gamble’s Tide Pods product, sold in a clear plastic tub. To a child, the tub looked strikingly similar to a candy container, and the bright, multicolored pods within like candy.
P&G was swift in its response. In 2013, it launched a new tub design with a child-resistant lid with latch and decorated the container with opaque packaging materials that made the pods inside less visible.
Since 2012, nearly every major brand as well as smaller players in the laundry and dish-cleaning products markets have launched single-dose detergent packs. With the increase in these products however, the incidence of harmful contact with the detergents has risen as well.
Recently P&G and natural cleaning supply products company Boulder Clean both introduced new secondary packaging for their single-dose detergent packs that offer child-resistance, in a pouch.
P&G at the forefront of pod safety
According to data from the American Association of Poison Control Centers, more than 35,000 children aged five and younger in the U.S. have had accidents involving the single-dose laundry packets since they were rolled out widely in 2012. Several children have died after ingesting the concentrated detergent, and hundreds have been hospitalized for serious injuries, including breathing problems, repeated vomiting, corneal abrasions, and central nervous system depression.
In September 2015, ASTM International announced a voluntary safety standard for labeling and packaging individually wrapped liquid-detergent laundry packs (F3159-15, Consumer Safety Specification for Liquid Laundry Packets) aimed at reducing the risk of accidental ingestion, particularly among children. P&G was part of the group—which also included the Consumer Product Safety Commission, consumer advocates, and other manufacturers—that developed the standard. “And we fully met its requirements,” says Elizabeth Kinney of P&G Communications.
“When the ASTM standard for liquid laundry detergent packets was finalized, we worked to research and qualify a new Tide Pods and Gain Flings bag design that meets this standard and helps safeguard children from accidents,” she adds.
In April 2016 P&G introduced a new pouch incorporating a Child-Guard™ zipper. The zipper was co-developed by P&G and Presto Products and has been tested and confirmed to meet child-resistant criteria.
Said Sundar Raman, North America Vice President of Fabric Care for P&G, at the time of the launch, “We are deeply committed to reducing access to these products by young children. Many people, especially families, love the convenience of Tide Pods, but with this comes the need to keep them up, closed, and safe—away from kids.”
To use the Child-Guard track-and-slide zipper, consumers line a red slider up to a notch on a white zipper track, press the slider down, and move it to the right to open—all the while holding the slider down. If the consumer slides the zipper without first hooking it onto the track, the pouch will remain closed. Says Brad Hansen, President of Presto Specialty at Presto Products, “We tested the Child-Guard zipper, and 90 percent of kids under age five could not open it, even after being shown how to open the bag. It’s important that people close the package to get the full benefit of the new Child-Guard zipper.”
Instructions on how to use the zipper are communicated on the front of the package. “Calling out ‘Child-Guard’ also helps alert consumers to the change in design and also helps explain why the design was changed,” says Kinney. In addition, on the front and back of the pouch is comprehensive warning information as well as circle-backslash symbols advising consumers to keep the product out of reach of children, and away from the eyes.
The zippers are being used on the full range of Tide Pods and Gain Flings bag sizes, including 16-, 20-, 31-, and 35-ct sizes. The pods are also still available in the original rigid plastic tub.
Another part of the ASTM standard relates to making the detergent product itself less desirable to children. To meet these guidelines, with the launch of the Child-Guard pouch, P&G added a bitter-tasting substance to the outer film of the pod as a deterrent, designed the packet to delay the release of the liquid, and increased the strength of the packet’s film.
Safe for the environment, and children
Boulder Clean, a 1908 Brands company, is a maker of household cleaning products that are “Impressively powerful, inspired by nature.” Its offerings include laundry detergents, dish detergents, and surface cleaners that are made with biodegradable, plant-based formulas. Due to its natural formulations, Boulder Clean was named an EPA Safer Choice Partner of the Year in 2016.
With this emphasis on products that are safe for the environment—and for humans—it was only natural for Boulder Clean to seek out a packaging solution for its newly designed single-dose laundry detergent packets that would provide child-resistance.
“The laundry pack market grows over 15 percent each year, and we want to be a part of the innovation—but not at the expense of a family’s safety,” says Carly Marriott, Director of Operations at 1908 Brands. “We love the convenience of laundry packs, and we are excited to bring an effective and natural laundry detergent to market that does not compromise household safety.”
Boulder Clean began development of its Natural Laundry Detergent Packs in 2014 and introduced them December 2016 online and in Lucky’s Market, a Missouri grocery chain focusing on natural, organic, and local products. Explains Marriott, the difference between Boulder Clean’s pack and competitive brands in the natural household cleaning products market is that it is a liquid, not a powder. In addition, she adds, when tested against other products, Boulder Clean’s formulations have proven to remove laundry stains more effectively than its natural competitors.
Boulder Clean’s choice of a flexible stand-up pouch to hold the pods was based on three things, Marriott says. First, the company liked the idea of using a format having reduced plastic versus a rigid container. Second, its pouch converter, Accredo Packaging, was a “like-minded company,” practicing sustainability standards in the flexible packaging industry. And third, the CR zipper closure it selected, the Presto Slider-Guard™, was developed to meet the criteria for the U.S. Poison Prevention Packaging Act for child-resistance. “The Slider-Guard is difficult for young children to open, but easy for adults to use,” says Marriott.
The Slider-Guard uses the same track-and-slide mechanism as the Child-Guard zipper. Printed at the top of the pouch near the slider, are the same use instructions as used on the Tide Pods pack. A window at in the top left of the pouch shows the zipper, with the callout “New!” above it. “We wanted the consumer to be able to see the slider before they purchased the product,” Marriott explains. “We think showing the slider through the window and including the instructions about the Slider-Guard zipper on the front of the package is a great way to educate the consumer at the shelf.”
To access the zipper, consumers remove a laser-scored hood that fully exposes the Slider-Guard. The hope is that with the zipper fully exposed, consumers will remember to close the bag after use. As an additional safety measure, Boulder Clean uses similar warning information and interdictory circle symbols on the front and back of the pouch.
While Accredo can engineer recyclable single-layer pouch material, Marriott says that with this first packaging iteration, safety was the top consideration. “Currently we have chosen to use a multilayer film that is very strong,” she says. “I would love to develop a package that is safe for the family and recyclable—the best of both worlds. It’s in the works!”
The Boulder Clean pouch is constructed of reverse-printed PET adhesive-laminated with solventless adhesive to a proprietary nylon/polyethylene sealant. Accredo prints the film in seven colors, using expanded-color-gamut process printing on machinery said to produce the pouches in a more sustainable way by reducing waste and increasing productivity. Accredo applies the zipper during pouch making, using a custom-made applicator.
According to Malcolm Cohn, Director of Sustainability for Accredo, the company is “currently the only vertically integrated converter with a specialty custom-made applicator capable of inserting the proprietary press-to-engage child-resistant slider by Presto Products during the pouch-making process.”
Like the Tide Pod and Gains Flings pouch, Boulder Clean’s CR pouch meets the voluntary ASTM Standard.
Child-resistant carton offers another packaging option
Originally geared toward pharmaceutical applications, the Locked4Kids carton from Netherlands-based EcoBliss is now being offered for laundry detergent packets and tablets. The patented reclosable, child-resistant, senior-friendly package design consists of a tear-resistant outer carton with a locking blister tray inside. Slots on the edges of the carton align with hooks on the blister tray. In order to remove the tray, hooks near opposite corners of the package must be simultaneously pressed—a task nearly impossible for a child’s hand to execute, Locked4Kids says. Adults, however, are able to press and slide the tray quite easily.
“With the increased popularity of unit-dose packs in laundry and detergent, the convenience should not have to come at the expense of child safety,” says Ron Linssen, Managing Director of Locked4Kids. “Locked4Kids delivers a very simple user experience for the adults who should be handling the pods, and protects young children who should not have access to them.”
The Locked4Kids package has been certified child-resistant, per the US 16 CFR 1700.20 child-resistant and senior-use effectiveness packaging requirements and testing procedures, to meet F=1, the highest level of CR protection. Additionally, it has been certified in the EU to the ISO 8317 standard.
Other advantages of the carton, explains Terri Westerhaug, Director, Business Development for Locked4Kids, include great visibility and billboard space on the store shelf and in the consumer’s cabinet, the ability to hold multiple product counts, and suitability for e-commerce packaging, offering shipping economies by being flat, lightweight, and cube-efficient.