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Plastic strapping and sustainability

Here's a look at how plastic strapping fares in the era of sustainability.

Sterling Anthony, CPP
Sterling Anthony, CPP
For many CPG companies, plastic strapping is an overlooked opportunity to improve the company's sustainability profile. That's true, even though most consumer packaged goods (especially non-durables) are delivered to retail unitized in stretch wrap. Plastic strapping can't provide the full-enclosure protection of stretch wrap, nor can it match the strength of steel strapping (routinely associated with industrial use, anyway). But in those applications suited to plastic strapping, its ease-of-disposal, compared to stretch wrap and steel, gives it sustainability points.
First, some introductory information about plastic strapping might prove helpful. There are two principle types: polypropylene and polyester. Polypropylene is more cost-effective for light-duty applications, polyester is better for heavy-duty applications, and the two types slug it out in the middle-duty ring. The most important characteristic regarding plastic strapping is tensile strength, which, in simplest terms, is the ability to resist forces that pull and stretch. Aspects related to tensile strength include break strength (force required to snap the strapping) in addition to several others that speak to the strapping's ability to remain tight even if the load shifts, settles, or contracts. As for ambient conditions, both types resist moisture, however, polyester is more resistant to higher temperatures.

The preceding is useful in the determination of which type of plastic strapping is best for a given application. After the choice is made, the two are, for all intents and purposes, equal in terms of sustainability. Following are several scenarios under which a CPG company can incorporate plastic strapping into its sustainability efforts.

Incoming supplies

Some packaging supplies (non-packaging supplies, too) arrive strapped. An example is plastic bottles, palletized, with corrugated tier separators, the load held together by plastic strapping applied vertically. (Cans are another type of package received that way.) The load is taken to the plant floor, after which the straps are cut and the containers are fed into the packaging line. The straps (and corrugated tiers) score well on source reduction, but there's still the question of disposal. Rather than relegate the straps to the dumpster, the CPG company can collect them for recycling. Whether that's practical hinges on factors such as volume and storage space. Even simpler, the determining factor can be the extent to which costs are offset by revenues (price-per-pound).

Other recycling streams

Some CPG companies have publically claimed a goal of zero per-cent waste sent to landfills. This results in a diversity of post-production materials that are submitted into recycling streams. Some of those materials lend themselves to being bundled or baled and restrained with plastic strapping. Such would suggest that those companies that are not acquainted with plastic strapping should get acquainted.

And regardless of the type of strapping favored by the circumstances, the company will have to decide on the means of application. There are hand tools, justifiable when volume is small and erratic or when strapping is done away from an electrical power source. Powered models can be either semiautomatic or automatic, but in keeping with the theme of sustainability, energy-efficiency should be an evaluation factor.  
Primary users

CPG companies that use plastic strapping to reinforce the primary package have additional opportunities for sustainability. An example of such a company is a manufacturer of a product that's packaged unassembled in a specialty corrugated shipper, individually strapped because of the unit's size and weight. Being a high-volume user, the company should order strapping in the largest strapping-to-coil ratio feasible. There are productivity benefits, i.e. less equipment downtime because there're fewer reloadings; however, sustainability also benefits because fewer coils (typically made of paperboard) are left to be disposed of.

There are varieties of plastic strapping that are made from recycled material, and their use can be advisable, provided that cost and performance are in line. Beyond that, a company can advertize downstream (most notably to the retailer and the consumer) that it has made a sustainability-driven choice with strapping made from recycled plastic. That advertizing can be done with printed strapping. Typically, printed strapping sports the user company's name, logo, corporate colors, etc.; as such, there are no technological barriers to printing a statement on the strapping regarding its sustainability. After all, it's become commonplace for other packaging components (including bottles, cartons, boxes, films, and trays) to carry such statements.
Consumer safety should be a consideration when plastic strapping is a component of the primary packaging; for, it's not a stretch to contend that the wellbeing of people (a pillar of sustainability) has safety overtones. It's possible for high-tensioned plastic strapping to whip when cut and lacerate a body part that's in close proximity──the face and eyes, for example. It would be wise for a company to give instructions/warnings relative to the cutting of the strapping.
On the other hand, some strapping is applied with less tension or initial tension eases over time, in either case resulting in slackness that can allow the consumer to use the strapping as a kind of handle. The problem is twofold: one, that's not the function of strapping; and, two, the strapping might snap, resulting in drops that can injure. If it's foreseeable that strapping might be used as a handle, instructions/warnings proscribing such use would be good; however, it would be better to design hand-slots or a similar feature into the shipping carton, if size and weight of the unit warrant.

Sustainability includes everything

Nothing is so incidental that it can't be made more sustainably and used more sustainably. For packaging, that statement pertains to materials and containers, for sure, but also to auxiliary components, such as plastic strapping, even when not part of a company's product packaging. Hence, when coming up with ideas for enhancing its sustainability profile, no company need ever consider itself strapped.

Sterling Anthony is a consultant, specializing in the strategic use of marketing, logistics, and packaging.  His contact information is: 100 Renaissance Center-176, Detroit, MI 48243; 313-531-1875 office; 313-531-1972 fax; [email protected];
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