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New void fill boosts sustainability

Creative Memories switches to a new kind of air pillows to support its brand’s environmental positioning.

DISPENSING UNITS. Five dispensing units like the one shown on the left are mounted on a mezzanine level over the packing statio
DISPENSING UNITS. Five dispensing units like the one shown on the left are mounted on a mezzanine level over the packing statio

Creative Memories, St. Cloud, MN., specializes in helping people preserve the special events in their lives through a 2,000 SKU line of traditional and digital scrapbooking materials and accessories.

The company’s traditional products are primarily sold through its 40,000 sales consultants via home parties. The consultants also support the digitally-created keepsakes created via the company’s website. This results in more than 2,000 orders being shipped each day out of the company’s 250,000 square foot distribution center to sales consultants and customers in nine countries.

“The image that we present to both our consultants and our consumers is very important to us,” explains Roger Olson, technical resources group manager, Creative Memories. “One of the ways we support that is by brand positioning that promotes the use of packaging materials that are as earth-friendly as possible.”

As part of that initiative, Creative Memories switched to air-cushioning pillows from polyurethane foam-in-place about six years ago. But Olson still did not feel that the air cushioning offered the appropriate environmental profile.

“Our corrugated shippers are both recyclable and biodegradable, but we couldn’t say the same for our air pillows,” Olson points out. “That’s why when we heard about Pregis Corp.’s  new film we were interested in taking a look.”

In the spring of 2009, Pregis introduced EP-Flex™ Renew™, a high-performance, low-density polyethylene air pillow film that is made with up to 50% less resin than competitive inflatable void-fill products. The new film structure also contains a proprietary organic additive that accelerates microbial biodegradation—without compromising recyclability. Further, it is 100% recyclable and contains up to ten percent recycled content.

Unlike other air pillow films which are marketed as “environmental, or biodegradable,” EP-Flex Renew doesn’t contain any heavy metals or salts (which, says Pregis, are found in oxo-biodegradable options.) Additionally, the product can be transported in high heat and has a longer shelf life than starch-based degradable products, says Pregis. The material uses a water-based ink and is tinted green using an organic colorant to provide consumers with a visual cue.

It will not begin to biodegrade until it enters a landfill (anaerobic), compost pile (aerobic), or other environments that contain microbes. Complete biodegradation typically occurs within one to five years, depending on conditions.

Need for certainty

“The film appeared to have all of the performance characteristics we were looking for but we did not want to go forward without being certain. So we worked with an independent laboratory to make sure that the material was biodegradable in accordance with the ASTM standards,” Olson says.

EP-Flex Renew is compliant with ASTM D5511 (determines the degree and rate of anaerobic biodegradation of plastic materials in high-solids anaerobic conditions such as landfills).

“We also did additional performance testing to simulate a variety of shipping conditions, including temperature, humidity, vibration, etc. We wanted to make sure the cushioning held up in Arizona in July as well as Alaska in January,” Olson says.

After receiving validation from the independent lab, as well as favorable results from the performance tests, Creative Memories put the conversion plan in place. Five Pregis AirSpeed 5000 units were brought in and placed over each of the packaging lines.

Creative Memories houses each unit on a mezzanine over its respective packing station. The pillows are fed through a hole in the platform, down to the packaging station. The operator simply reaches for the pillow, tears off the desired number and places it/them in the open, filled shipper on the conveyor belt.

Pregis’ AirSpeed 5000 machine is fast (75 ft/min), quick to load, and easy to operate. The film is tough yet highly flexible, and it conforms to the product for exceptional protection. The rolls are lighter, which makes them easier and more ergonomic to load.

“Another benefit we discovered is that the film’s color makes it easier to feed into the machine. The light green is easier to see vs. clear film and speeds up the loading process,” Olson says.

EP-Flex Renew also provides greater puncture resistance and improved tensile strength compared to competitive products. The line has been engineered to provide stronger, more resilient air pillow seals.

The film is available in 8-, 10-, and 12-inch wide rolls. Longer length bulk pack rolls are available for high-volume users to minimize changeovers, while eliminating cartons and reducing the amount of pallets and cores used.

“We have also promoted the switch in the bi-monthly magazine we send out to all of our sales consultants. In addition to getting positive feedback from them, our employees also like the fact that we have upgraded our environmental profile,” Olson concludes.

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