Opinion: COVID-19 Swings “Reusable” from Good to Bad

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“These are environmentally challenging times for packagers, particularly those who pack water and beverages in plastic packages.”

That’s how I had started this column in early February. A notice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) changed that. The matter-of-fact wording of the notice – “A respiratory disease caused by a novel (new) coronavirus was detected in China” – belied the impact the announcement would have on life in China and around the world in the days that followed. Early on, there were hints that the spread of the coronavirus might compromise the availability of some materials–non-woven polypropylene, for instance–and some healthcare supplies and machines–face masks made of spun-bonded PP and portable ventilators. Some of us began to wonder if and how the growing pandemic would affect our families, friends, and associates in the packaging business.

Over the next couple of weeks as the disease was officially declared a pandemic and spread from China to Europe, North America, and beyond, packagers moved to make online contact with vendors and, when possible, take early delivery of needed materials, parts, and equipment.

Meanwhile, public concern over marine plastic waste, a high- profile issue at the beginning of the year [and a well-documented one in this issue, see more on page 28], drawing more public criticism than the 23% or so presence of plastics in the overall U.S. packaging mix warranted, has been recast since the emergence of COVID- 19. Seen as a villain in the marine plastic waste issue, single-use plastics are now seen, if not as a hero, at least a positive force versus reusables in the war against coronavirus. “Personal drinking cups and reusable shopping bags are being shunned,” noted the March 19 Wall Street Journal. Several states that had weighed bans on single- use plastics are now rethinking the pros and cons of disposables vs. reusables.

The virus causing COVID-19 can be detected in the air and is “stable” on plastic and stainless-steel surfaces for “up to 2 to 3 days” and “cardboard” for up to 24 hours, according to a study appearing in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study was co-authored by scientists at the National Institutes of Health, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, UCLA, and Princeton, who suggest that people may acquire the virus through the air and after touching contaminated objects.

Despite the results of their study, the authors caution misinterpretation of their findings: “Individual replicate data were noticeably noisier for cardboard than other surfaces, so we advise caution in interpreting this result.” it says.

Organic Infant formula canister debuts in China with non-detachable TE tear band
In China, where package tampering was a major concern long before the appearance of COVID-19 in Wuhan, Shijiazhuang Junlebao Dairy Co., Ltd. has launched the Youcui brand of premium, organic infant formula in a plastic canister featuring a two- color bi-injected flip-top lid with a non-detachable tamper- evident tear band. When the product is opened for the first time, the tamper-evident band drops into a slot within the lid decreasing the possibility of it falling into the container and contaminating the product. The canister emits an audible click when reclosed. The tamper-evident system was developed and produced by Aptar Group.

As the Coronavirus pandemic spread, packaging conferences and shows were still being held, although some were transformed into online events. Cancellations and postponements were beginning to pop up on packaging calendars. Among them:

  • Interpack 2020, Düsseldorf, Germany, expecting more than 170,000, was “postponed” per its website, until February 25-March 3, 2021. The website is providing guidance to exhibitors and visitors regarding rebooking exhibit space, hotels and flights: www.interpack.com.
  • Metpack 2020 (www.metpack.de), Essen, Germany, hoping to draw 7,000, has now also been rescheduled until February 23-27, 2021 to overlap with Interpack 2021.
  • At Drupa 2020, Düsseldorf, Germany (www.drupa.com), attendance of 200,000 was expected before it was rescheduled for April 20-30, 2021. PW 
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