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The results are in! How did the PET thermoform recycling pilots go?!

Posted by Chandler Slavin on Dec 4, 2014 3:47:46 PM

Hello world!

Not too sure if you caught this press release by SPI describing the results of the NAPCOR/SPI PET thermoform recycling pilots. To refresh your memory, SPI awarded grants to three recyclers following a RFP in 2011 to implement PET thermoform recycling programs. The press release summarizes that these actions lead to an increase in PET thermoform recycling in the US and Canada, hurray!

I, however, was left unsatisfied at the conclusion of the release. While I think it is positively fabulous that the three different PET thermoform recycling programs resulted in the increase of PET thermoform recycling in the country, I wanted to drill down and understand the pros and cons of each program. After all, SPI/NAPCOR chose the recyclers they did because they all represented a different set of collection methods and service demographics, which dramatically impacts a recycler's bottom line. So, my sustainable packaging friends, I have analyzed the Report, "SPI and NAPCOR Study on Increasing PET Thermoform Recycling through Education, Access, and Collection Programs," and am here to report back.

First of all, I think the aforementioned Report is sensational; it is well written and presents an objective treatment of the success of the pilots. So kudos to all those involved. It's existence speaks to the tremendous progress in PET thermoform recycling the last 5 years, which I am happy to have been a part of.

But now let's get onto the good stuff.

So here is the deal: SPI selected three very different recyclers to implement their own version of PET thermoform recycling. First up, and receiving the largest portion of the SPI grant ($63,000), is Montgomery County. Based in Central Maryland and owned by the County, this recycler provides waste management services to 1.5 million county residents; including, single and multi-family residential, commercial, governmental, and away from home collection like private and public schools and local/regional events and festivals. Montgomery County's goal upon receiving the grant was to develop an efficient urban/suburban model for PET thermoform recycling.

Next up, receiving the second highest chunk of grant money ($25,000) is Pennsylvania Recycling Markets Center, Inc. (hereafter, RMC). Based in Pennsylvania, RMC is a non-profit corporation providing waste management services for 165,000 residents of Elk and Lebanon Counties. Elk County has a population of 31,946 and offers public, private, and non-profit recycling collection operations including two curbside and six drop off programs sponsored by local government. The Lebanon County Recycling Program serves a population of 133,568 and like Elk County, offers public, private, and non-profit recycling programs; including, 17 curbside collection programs and eight drop off programs, all sponsored by local government. RMC's goal upon receiving the grant was to develop a successful rural collection model for PET thermoform recycling. 

Last but not least, though receiving the least amount of grant funding ($10,000), is Firstar Fiber, Inc., a privately owned recycler providing waste management services to Omaha and Lincoln metropolitan regions, central and northeastern communities of Nebraska; and, the Sioux City, Woodburry County, and western regions of Iowa. With its diverse customer base and collection methods, Firstar built a strong collaborative PET thermoform recycling program team that includes Omaha's recycling office, local college sport venues, and regional grocery representatives. Firstar's goal upon receiving the grant was to implement a sustainable residential and away-from-home PET thermoform recycling model.

Just as much as these grant recipients differed in demographics and collection programs offered, so too did the differ in the types of education they used to inform their participants that PET thermoforms are now recyclable. Montgomory Country employed the most extensive forms of education, investing in everything from advertisements in cable television, radio, movie theater previews, print publications, and use of transit advertising; consult the Report for a list of all communication methods employed. RMC invested in more moderate educational messaging, including residential mailers and radio advertisements. Firstar focused on targeted messaging, like video advertisements at sporting events (to facilitate away from home recycling) and "I'm Recyclable" stickers on grocery products.

And now we get to the real meat of the discussion; that is, processing and intermediate processing methods employed. As argued in my Recycling Report, the issue of look a likes, like PVC clamshells, are one of the largest obstacles facing the inclusion of PET thermoforms in the recycling infrastructure. As such, each grant recipient had to develop its own approach to removing this barrier to recycling PET thermoforms from its existing sortation processes.

Montgomery County collected clear and black PET thermoforms for recycling; the latter coming directly from school and foodservice program partners. It processed clear PET thermoforms in secondary sort, once all the fiber, metal, PET bottle and HDPE containers had been removed. The recycler trained sorters to visually identify PET thermoform packaging from other look a likes, relying on NAPCOR's technical training. Grant funding was used to purchase two hoppers and hire two individuals devoted to sorting PET thermoforms. 

RMC relied on source separation at drop off locations as the primary processing method for PET thermoform recycling. Those thermoforms not readily distinguishable as PET were put aside for further analysis via portable plastic resin analyzing equipment procured by RMC through grant funding. Also acquired with grant funding includes durable storage containers that could be easily broken down when not used, bulk mailing of education material, and radio advertisements.

Firstar processed curbside collected thermoforms via manual sortation into mixed plastic loads. The process to recover PET bottles and thermoforms was neither manual nor strictly mechanical insofar as requiring optical sorters; rather, both were left on a conveyor feeding the container sort line so as to fall off the end along with aluminum cans, which were removed with eddy current. Firstar sorters removed only plastics #2-7, letting PET stay on the line. Sorters then visually identified PET thermoforms on the line via NAPCOR technical training. Grant funding was used to situate participating colleges with recycling containers and the aforementioned-targeted educational medias.

Soooo what program proved most successful?

The results are in.

In Montgomery County, the total PET thermoforms shipped during the grant period was 258.67 Tons vs. the 40.14 Tons shipped six months before the grant. For RMC, the PET thermoforms collected were mixed with bottles, with 10% of each bale by weight estimated to be PET thermoforms. Mixed PET bottle/thermoform bales sold to Evergreen in Ohio totaled 27.4 Tons, 2.74 Tons being PET thermoforms. And at Firstar, a study performed on the PET sorted identified that PET thermoforms represented 9% of the total PET processed; the company estimates that thermoforms were approaching 1% of PET bales, though no definitive figures exist for total PET bottle and/or thermoform Tons shipped/sold. Firstar suggested that allowable levels of thermoforms may be 5-10% by weight of PET bottle/thermoform bales; that only a manual sort could maintain low capital costs; and, relying on sort crews further provides responsiveness to match the developing supply chain i.e. scale up or down thermoforms collected to match intermediate PET processors' tolerance. It was determined that end market value related to combining thermoforms with bottles would inform material handling procedures at the MRF level; similarly, the market would determine levels of tolerance. The low-tech approach to sorting at Firstar proved effective to capture PET thermoforms but has a greater margin of error for look a like contamination. The recycler's approach neither adversely impacted pricing nor quality from end markets. If the markets determine that thermoforms degrade the value of bottles to the point that there is no choice but to reduce their price when included, however, it will leave Firstar with few options other to be pulled with the lowest value mixed plastic bales. The key is for MRFs to employ auto-sorters to reduce the margin of error for including look a likes in PET only bales.

In summary, Montgomery generated $41,899.41 in revenue from the sale of PET thermoforms, RMC generated $9,478.42 in revenue for PET mixed bales, and Firstar reported no sales figures. The total cost to Montgomery Country to recycle PET thermoforms was $136,251.31, though I don't know if this includes or omits the grant funding; for Firstar, $120,000, and for RMC, no systems costs were made available.

Wow. I will let y'all chew on all this fabulous data for a day or two before we develop some take-aways. I have been asked by Plastics in Packaging Magazine to describe the pilots' takeaways in a new feature. Stay tuned! Plastics in Packaging Magazine previously awarded me the cover story for my second Recycling Report, "The State of Post-Consumer PET Thermoform Recycling: Past, Present, & Future."


Above: Dordan custom PET thermoformed clamshell packaging

Dordan's Customer Analysis gives way to GREAT customer testimonials

Posted by Chandler Slavin on Nov 18, 2014 11:19:00 AM


As you may recall, I completed an Executive Management Program at the University of Chicago BOOTH School of Business last winter. One of our seminars on business strategy involved how to conduct a customer analysis, as you don't have a business if you don't have customers. Seems simple enough but it was crazy how few of my classmates had actually taken the time to speak with their customers. You know, hit the street, meet with customers face-to-face, and learn how they see the company; not how you think they see it.

Our professor asked each of us to conduct a Raving Fan interview where we literally met with a customer and asked them a list of questions, all aimed at getting to the core of a customers' perception of our companies. My favorite question that concluded the interview was, "If Dordan were a car, what kind if car would it be and why?" While you may see your company as a BMW, your customers may see it as a Toyota, which totally changes the way you market yourself and differentiate yourself from your competitors. Afterall, not everyone wants a BWM, some people want a reliable, affordable, and hard-working Toyota!

Several months later I am happy to report that our customers actually, like, sort of love us. I did not perform a single customer interview where our customers were not totally happy with our products or services. I suppose that makes sense, because if they were not happy, they would probably look elsewhere, as thermoforming isn't some innovative new technology that only Dordan can do (though we like to think we do it better than everyone else, ha!).

And thank goodness that they have not looked elsewhere as I would say about 80% of our customers have been customers of Dordan for over 10 years. 10 years! Now if that isn't a good company, I don't know what is.

Below are some of my favorite customer testimonials derived from my customer analysis. Who knew our customers were better marketers than ME, ha! More customer interviews and testimonials to come!

If you have a story that you would like to submit about your experiences with Dordan, please do so here!


"Dordan is a family manufacturing business that cares about its customers and the quality it produces."

[CEO of OEM industrial sealant supplier]


Dordan Interviewer: Would you recommend Dordan to a colleague who does not know about us?

Customer: "Dordan would be highly recommended. Aric Slavin is very professional and very helpful. I have numerous vendors that I have to babysit; it is so refreshing to have a vendor that I don't have to!"

[Materials Manager at interventional pain management specialist]


"Only about 10% of the vendors we use are rated as A suppliers in our vendor scorecard system. If I could rate [Dordan] as a vendor, I would put it in that top 10% of A vendors. There are just no problems."

[Project Manager at point-of-purchase display supplier]


Dordan Interviewer: Is there anything that Dordan could do to increase its value to you as a thermoform supplier?

Customer: "You guys have already done that. When we had to change the part due to some fulfillment issue, we worked closely with Rich on how to improve part performance. We have revised this part two times now to improve its performance and durability, and Dordan was there every step of the way."

[Purchasing at global product leader of powertrain solutions]


"I am constantly learning what is possible with thermoforming. Unlike a lot of engineering processes, thermoforming is a little bit of an art form, so I have a lot of respect for the designers and Engineers at Dordan. They really have a deeper understanding that you can only get through experience. Dordan also has one of the most professional and cleanest shops I have ever seen. They have a nice layout and nice equipment."

[Sam Harrington at Ecovative Design, LLC.]


"Dear Dan, Rich, Aric, and John,

We would like to extend our appreciation for hosting our team at Dordan to show us the capabilities and capacity at your company. Dordan demonstrated strong attributes from your engineering design, to the tool making, to the manufacturing that makes Dordan a strong thermoformer. Thank you for sharing your site and expertise, which demonstrates the pride that Dordan has in providing customers with quality packaging solutions."

[Fortune 100 company that creates solutions to the world's toughest challenges, including security, clean energy, and safety.]


Fom our hearts to yours, THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!

Warm Wishes,

Representatives of Dordan Sales and Management Team at this year's Pack Expo in Chicago

Pack Expo, good times

Posted by Chandler Slavin on Nov 12, 2014 12:39:00 PM

Hey guys!

Sorry for the delay in posting about Pack Expo! Stupid work!!!

Anyway, this year was prrrrrretty cool, I'm not going to lie. We had a killer booth location right on the corner and literally across the aisle from the Italian beef and pizza slingers. 

This is basically what I ate every day. 


Though I was confided to our 10 x 10 plot and therefore didn't get to see the latest and greatest, I did get to see many friendly faces and talk sustainability and packaging, which I love. 

AND our booth did serve as an oasis for many an aching foot, thanks to the 2-inch plus carpet padding! 

See the disparity between the aisle and our booth cush?!


Here are I am with my boys! Aren't they handsome?!


And, here I am, you know, selling stuff, like awesome plastic clamshells. 


I DID get to sneak away just for a moment to see my friend Jason of Replenish giving a presentation about his recent collaboration with Berry Plastics to bring his reusable vision to the masses. Learn about how Replenish, Berry Plastics and Wal-Mart are changing the way consumers shop and clean for a more sustainable planet here


And, to top off a great show, a free case of beer, thanks to an awesome pallet supplier and fellow exhibitor just trying to get home. 


Until next year!

But don't forget to shop at Dordan for all your thermoformed packaging needs!

Dordan featured in "Seeing the Big Picture of Sustainability"

Posted by Chandler Slavin on Oct 31, 2014 8:01:37 AM

Hello and happy Friday / Halloween, aka, the BEST day ever!

And it just got better because DORDAN is featured in Food & Beverage Packaging Magazine's "Seeing the Big Picture of Sustainability," which describes the sustainable packaging on display at Pack Expo.

Author Tom Egan begins,

As consumer demand for sustainable packaging continues to rise, brand owners and manufacturers across the packaging and processing supply chain are looking for solutions to reduce the carbon footprint of their overall operations. And solutions are rarely, if ever, restricted to any single focus: Energy use, water conservation, heating, cooling and other building specifications, packaging materials and equipment choices all affect your environmental impact.

Packaging certainly plays an important role as part of a wide-ranging sustainability program. The right material specification during the package design phase can help cost-effectively minimize waste, without sacrificing form or function. PACK EXPO International 2014 (November 2-5; McCormick Place, Chicago, IL) will offer manufacturers the opportunity find the right packaging materials and equipment to efficiently and effectively reach their sustainability goals, adding credibility to environmental efforts and enhancing consumer perception of their brands.

...And enter Dordan's cameo...

Dordan Manufacturing, Inc. (, Booth #8403) an engineering-based designer of custom thermoformed packaging solutions,  traditionally highlights a variety of resins that support sustainability goals, such as cellulous acetate developed with cellulous sourced from Sustainable Forestry Initiative-managed forestry in North America. The resin, which has earned the Vincotte OK Compost Home certification, complies with EN 13432 and ASTM D 6400 standards for industrial biodegradability and compostability, and the film is recyclable – along with paper – in a re-pulping process.

Dordan’s 4th Annual Bio Resin Show ‘N Tell at PACK EXPO International will offer an overview of alternative resins, including comparative specs and cost analysis.

This year, Dordan’s Show ‘N Tell will also include its latest generation of algae-based biodegradable plastics and its “Design for Thermoforming Process,” a service that enhances customers’ understanding of the steps required to take a thermoformed package from concept to reality.

“Now more than ever, brand owners and their suppliers are held accountable by consumers, retailers and regulatory agencies to reduce the environmental impact of their supply chains,” says Chandler Slavin, sustainability coordinator and marketing manager, Dordan Manufacturing, Inc. “Our philosophy behind the ‘Design for Thermoforming Process’ was to empower them with a holistic approach to design strategy, material selection and machinery usage — minimizing inefficiencies along the way and helping fully understand the sustainability-enhancing measures behind their packaging.”

Click here for the full article.

Gosh, don't I sound like I know what I'm talking about!? Come talk to me at Pack Expo, booth #8403.

algae plastic

Above: thermoformed algae plastic

Pack Expo Attendees: check out these local eateries!

Posted by Chandler Slavin on Oct 29, 2014 8:29:00 AM

Pack Expo attendees, Welcome to the Windy City!

Ditch the long lunch line at McCormick Place in favor of some superb South Loop fare! Lucky for you, this sustainable packaging blogger knows the neighborhoods around the Expo like the back of her hand. I have put together a list of some of my favorite eateries and watering holes, all of which are walking distance from McCormick Place. Who wants to wait in long lines to eat an overpriced cold ham sandwich!? Not my readers!

For delicious Mediterranean Tapas, check out Kurah at 1355 S. Michigan Ave., just over 1 1/2 miles from McCormick Place.

Steakhouse Chicago Firehouse is where former Mayor Daley took former President Bush when last visiting Chicago. Set inside an old firehouse, this classy joint is the perfect spot to sign that million-dollar contract. Located across the street from Kurah at 15th and Michigan.

Can't miss that sports game? Popular sports bar and grill The Scout is where the Blackhawks brought the Stanley Cup the night (or morning?!) of their victory; located about 2 miles from McCormick Place.

While Chicago is known for its deep-dish pizza, neighborhood favorite Flo & Santos' thin crust specialties give that reputation a run for its money! A must-try for pizza enthusiasts, located about 1 1/2 miles from McCormick Place.

More interested in liquid libations? Trendy lounge Square One, across the street from Chicago Firehouse, has all the beards and bitters to make any mixologists' heart sing.

And last but not least, nautical-themed Weathermark Tavern, where you can just get a beer and a burger like a normal person. Also about a mile and a half from McCormick Place.

And of course, don't forget to visit Dordan's booth located in the Lakeside Upper Hall, #8403.

LOOK! It's me! Pointing at a Pack Expo sign; see how welcome you are?!


Dordan Manufacturing receives Sustainability and Innovation in Business Award

Posted by Chandler Slavin on Oct 9, 2014 3:49:00 PM


Dordan Manufacturing Receives Sustainability and Innovation in Business Award from Northern Illinois Renewable Energy Summit

Rockford, IL, October 10th Dordan Manufacturing has been selected by Northern Illinois Renewable Energy Summit to receive the Sustainability and Innovation in Business award. Dordan will receive the award at the Renewable Energy Summit and Expo in Rockford, IL, on October 10th at 11:30 AM at the Radisson Hotel & Conference Center.

This “Leadership by Example” award is meant to highlight area individuals, businesses, organizations, and Municipalities that have implemented sustainability practices in transportation, construction, manufacturing, waste-to-energy and recycling.

Since 2009, Dordan Manufacturing has developed sustainability tools and services to help our clients achieve more sustainable packaging solutions. These include: LCA-based comparative packaging assessments via COMPASS; bio-based/biodegradable/compostable R&D via Dordan’s Bio Resin Show N Tell; and, a 4-step Design for Sustainability Process.

In addition to its customer-centric sustainability services, Dordan has been an active player in working to incorporate thermoformed containers into the Nation’s curbside recycling infrastructure. As a result, plastic thermoforms are now recyclable in the majority of American communities. These recycling efforts were featured in Green Manufacturer Magazine's 2011 cover story, “Thermoformer Chases Chasing Arrows for Clamshell Packaging.”

Dordan’s Sustainability Coordinator was surprised at being awarded the “Leadership by Example” award from the NI Renewable Energy Summit, exclaiming, “But we didn’t even apply!” To which she was told that Dordan was nominated by municipal representatives and players in business and manufacturing in Illinois who have been following the company’s sustainability efforts.

About Dordan Manufacturing Co. Inc.

Dordan Manufacturing is an engineering-based designer and manufacture of custom thermoformed packaging solutions, like plastic clamshells, blisters, trays and components. Based 50 miles Northwest of Chicago in Woodstock IL, Dordan is a 50,000 square foot facility equipped with sophisticated software and machining technologies. Family owned and operated, Dordan has 50-years-experience designing and manufacturing thermoforms parts that perform. Dordan Manufacturing is ISO 9001:2008 certified for the design, manufacture, and distribution of thermoformed packaging.


Above: Left (ME!), Right, Ida Mannertorp, Sustainability Coordinator @Multi Film Packaging Corporation

Dordan to display sustainable trapped blister packaging at Pack Expo

Posted by Chandler Slavin on Oct 8, 2014 7:59:00 AM


Dordan Displays X Card at Pack Expo, Sustainable Trapped Blister Packaging for Retail

Pack Expo is produced by PMMI, which is a trade association with more than 560 members representing packaging material manufacturers, converters, machinery suppliers and service providers across the packaging supply chain.

Chicago—November 2, 2014—Dordan Manufacturing to display sustainable trapped blister packaging solution X Card at International Pack Expo, booth #8403. For the first time since it began exhibiting at Pack Expo in 1994, custom thermoforming company Dordan Manufacturing will be showcasing a sustainable union of paper and plastic aimed at the Big Box buyer desiring this type of retail packaging.

Following introductions to VP of Business Development Todd Brandel at Aurora, IL-based Excel Displays & Packaging this summer, Dordan’s Sustainability Coordinator Chandler Slavin learned about X Card; which, unlike many trapped blister packs, uses cohesive sealing technology that reduces the energy required to seal the package when compared with traditional, heat sealed trapped blister packs.

While cohesive sealing is not a new technology, Excel has innovated the process by which the boards are coated. Normally, the process of cohesive sealing is an offline process, meaning it is done as a separate operation to die cutting. Excel, however, coats the cards inline using a pre-determined pattern; this allows for total control over what parts of the board are coated with adhesive and consequently, total control over the seal. The result is material savings and complete recyclability of both the thermoformed blister and paperboard component at end of life.

Excel’s Brandel explains, “Our X Cards are superior to their heat-sealed counterparts because both the thermoformed blister and SPF certified paper can be easily separated and recycled because there is no adhesive contaminating the thermoform. This is not often the case for heat sealed trapped blisters.”

On Dordan’s motivation for showcasing this technology at Pack Expo, Slavin explains, “We understand that different customers have different needs; some buyers truly appreciate the ease of fulfillment and shelf impact of trapped blister packaging. As such, we want to be able to offer this type of retail packaging solution. However, it wasn’t until I understood Excel’s cohesive sealing technology that allows for total recyclability of both the paper and plastic packaging component that I thought this was a solution worth endorsing, as end of life management of packaging is a top concern for Dordan and our clients.”

Located in the Lakeside Upper Hall, booth #8403, Dordan looks forward to showcasing Xcel’s sustainable trapped blister packaging solution.

About Dordan Manufacturing Co. Inc.

Dordan Manufacturing is an engineering-based designer and manufacture of custom thermoformed packaging solutions, like plastic clamshells, blisters, trays and components. Based 50 miles Northwest of Chicago in Woodstock IL, Dordan is a 50,000 square foot facility equipped with sophisticated software and machining technologies. Family owned and operated, Dordan has 50-years-experience designing and manufacturing thermoforms parts that perform. Dordan Manufacturing is ISO 9001:2008 certified for the design, manufacture, and distribution of thermoformed packaging. Learn more at

About Excel Displays and Packaging

Established in 1989, Excel Displays & Packaging is a privately owned designer and manufacturer of temporary point-of-purchase displays, high-graphic retail packaging, in-store signage, and industrial packaging (a.k.a., "brown boxes"). Its main converting facility and home office is located in Aurora, Illinois, and it operates a Sales & Design Center out of Bentonville, Arkansas. The company also has an ownership interest in two corrugators near South Bend, Indiana.


Above: X Card

Visiting Chicago for International Pack Expo?! Check out these Chicago events!

Posted by Chandler Slavin on Oct 2, 2014 1:48:00 PM


Happy October!

Plans to attend Pack Expo in Chicago in November!? If so, make sure you plan time for some of these awesome Chicago events:


David Bowie Is at the Museum of Contemporary Art: The first retrospective of the extraordinary career of David Bowie—one of the most pioneering and influential performers of our time. More than 400 objects, most from the David Bowie Archive—including handwritten lyrics, original costumes, photography, set designs, album artwork, and rare performance material from the past five decades—are brought together for the first time. Only showing in United States at the MCA in Chicago, September to January.

Patty Smith at Chicago Humanities Festival: This year’s Chicago Tribune Literary Award pays tribute to rock legend Patti Smith. At the heart of New York’s downtown scene with the likes of Andy Warhol, Lou Reed, and Allen Ginsberg, Smith enchanted the avant-garde. Spend an unforgettable hour at Symphony Center November 1st with this American icon.


Magrite, "The Mystery of the Ordinary" at The Chicago Art Institute:

20th century Belgian artist Rene Magrittee worked to make "everyday objects shriek aloud" or make the familiar infamiliar. See his most influencial pieces in November at this impressive exhibition.

Next blog post to include list of favorite Chicago eateries!

And of course, don't forget to visit Dordan at Pack Expo.

Happy Chicagoing!

Innovations in trapped blister packs for retail

Posted by Chandler Slavin on Sep 26, 2014 8:50:00 AM

In my last post I allude to this “trapped blister” packaging for retail, which, as the name implies, consists of a thermoformed blister sandwiched between a paperboard based “frame.” For years CPG companies have looked to trapped blister packs as a replacement for large clamshell packs at Big Box Retail, citing consumer frustration, sustainability, and cost savings as the driving motivations. Wrap rage and concerns about sustainability aside, these packs are often times cheaper than their clamshell counterparts, while maintaining similar shelf impact.

While the sustainability of these trapped blisters vs. clamshell packages remains to be third-party verified, many have claimed that simply the reduction in plastic renders the paper-based packs environmentally superior. Paper good, plastic bad, right? Recent research points to the exact opposite, however. In addition, many have noted that the plastic thermoform and paper-based portion of the trapped blister are not recyclable when separated at the MRF, due to the adhesive that exists on both substrates following the sealing process. Combined with the fact that PET thermoforms (clamshells) are now accepted for recycling in the majority of American communities, there are some compelling counter arguments to the “paper is good, plastic is bad” rhetoric.

So color me surprised when I stumbled upon Excel’s X Card, a trapped blister retail solution that does not require heat sealing; hence, leaves no adhesive contaminants, rendering both the plastic and paper component recyclable. Hurray for innovation!

While apparently this sealing technology—cohesive sealing, cold sealing, pressure sealing, etc.—has been around for a minute, I just learned the details while interviewing Todd Brandel, VP of Business Development, at Excel Displays and Packaging. He has been championing this retail packaging solution for the past two years, articulating its benefits from both an environmental, and cost savings standpoint. I was fortunate enough to have him answer a few of my questions about his X Card:

Me: Hey Todd, can you give me a little background on trapped blisters for retail and heat-sealing technology?

Todd: “Trapped blisters” is a subset of high visibility packaging; that is, any package where you can see the product through the window, be it via die cut window, transparent clamshell, or trapped blister pack. Blister cards and heat-sealing for retail have been around forever. Then club stores came along, with these huge trapped blister billboards. The reason they were so big is so you couldn’t stick the merchandise in your pocket and walk out of the store. Hence it eliminated the need for sales reps and security and saved retailers money. All these blisters and trapped blisters were done via heat sealing. The problem was, however, that heat sealing was a slow and frustrating process. Corrugate is a natural insulator so it takes a while to drive the heat through the board to activate the adhesive. So it was a love/hate relationship: CPGs and retailers loved it, but those creating the package—often times the co-packers—grew frustrated with the process.

And then came along some smart people that said, “there has to be a better way to do this!”

Me: And that’s where Excel comes in??? Tell me about how X Card solves this frustration.

Todd: Our X Card uses cohesive sealing, which means we use a cohesive glue to coat the board that only sticks to itself; think of Velcro—cohesive sealing is the same idea. While cohesive sealing, like heat-sealing, has been around for a bit, only Excel has innovated the process by which the boards are coated. In other words, most people in the industry using cohesive sealing use an offline process, meaning it is done as a separate operation from die-cutting. They use a flood coat of adhesive, and coat the entire card with glue. If you have seen this, it looks a lot like snot, a heavy coating of latex-based adhesive. What we do at Excel is coat the cards inline using a pre-determined pattern, depending on the requirements of the seal and package. Instead of coating the entire card with glue, we only coat the parts that will create the seal, saving material (glue), and also presenting a clean look behind the product.

Me: So you sell inline coated cards to those sealing the card to the thermoform, like the co-packers you mentioned; and, this makes their jobs easier, saving time and money they can then pass on to their retail partners?

Todd: That’s correct! And, our cards can be sealed on existing heat-sealing machines. It’s a win-win.

Me: And sustainability wise, these packs are superior to their heat-sealed counterparts because both the thermoformed blister and paper card can be easily separate and recycled. There is no adhesive contaminating the thermoform. And, you can use high concentration of post consumer recycled content in the thermoform and your board is already SFI certified?

Todd: You nailed it!

Me: Awesome, thanks for your help!



Above: X Card trapped blister solution for retail

Changes to CA's Rigid Plastic Packaging Container Program

Posted by Chandler Slavin on Sep 12, 2014 8:17:00 AM

Hello and happy Friday my sustainable packaging friends!

Today I am going to pick up where I left off re: California's Rigid Plastic Packaging Container program (hereafter, RPPC). Please see my August 25th post, "California's Rigid Plastic Packaging Container Program, is it working?" for context on this legislation.

Below is an overview of CA RPPC program as per Victor Bell's (President of Environmental Packaging International) presentation at the Annual AVPM meeting last year during Pack Expo in Las Vegas. Dordan is attending Pack Expo in McCormick Place this year, so feel free to stop by to continue the conversation. Click here to register for FREE with Dordan's comp code

As of January 1, 2013, regulatory changes to the CA RPPC program were made effective, expanding the types of containers now liable; hence, all the recent hoopla. 

Enacted in 1991, the RPPC law intended to reduce the amount of plastic waste disposed of in California and increase the use of recycled, post-consumer plastic in packaging. The law applies to manufacturers/producers/generators of products sold in regulated RPPC's.

As originally defined, an RPPC meant:

  • A relatively inflexible container
  • Made entirely of plastic
  • With a capacity of 8 ounces or more, up to 5 gallons
  • Capable of multiple re closers (this one is a biggie)

All subject RPPC's were required to be made with at least 25% post consumer plastic OR meet one of the other statutory compliance options (there are a bunch).

To clear up confusion, changes to the program were made that provide guidance on:

  • Number of closures
  • Hinges and handles
  • Foldable/tube containers
  • Long-life packaging

For some reason, plastic bags are always exempt; and, containers without lids (like buckets), since they are not capable of closure.

What is now liable, fortunately or unfortunately, are trapped blisters. You know, those fancy paper-based billboards with a "trapped" thermoform blister in the middle that you often see at Costco or Sam's Club? "Trapped" means that the plastic blister is literally trapped (via flange or other design elements) within the paper-based component, be it by sealing or design technologies. Pretty much every competitor of Dordan has developed some type of trapped blister for retail solution with a printing or thermoforming partner, the idea being that you reduce the amount of plastic needed when converting from clamshell to a largely paper-based package; "paper based" can be anything from thin-flute corrugate to SBS board and everything in between. If you mill it, they will come.

Who knows why these trapped blisters are now liable under CA RPPC as they are made largely of printed and laminated paper and contaminated plastic (think glue, adhesives); both of which, a real heel to recycle.

But moving on, and this is where it gets better, now packages capable of at least one closure are liable. Originally, only those RPPC's capable of multiple closures were subject. That means those that would be closed and re-closed with an attached or unattached relatively inflexible lid. Now, any package that is designed to close, including during manufacture and fulfillment processes, will be subject to regulation. You show me a container that isn't designed to close and I will show you a Chicago Indian summer (it's 56 degrees downtown right now).

For example, previously, caulking tubes sold with a lid were regulated while those without were not; now, both are subject.

The updated regulations include factors for identifying responsibility, like:

  • Ownership of the brand name
  • Primary control over product design
  • Primary control over container design

Product manufacturers who are found to use RPPCs are notified of the registration requirements in writing. The product manufacturer must register by submitting contact information within 90 calendar days of receiving a notice. The penalty for late or non-registration range from $1,000-$50,000, depending on time frame.

Each year, a portion of product manufacturers who registered are notified that they have been selected for precertification. These manufacturers have one year's notice that they may be select to certify compliance.

A small number of product manufacturers who received precertification notices will be randomly selected to submit a compliance certification.

To comply, the RPPC must meet one of the following options:

  • 25% post-consumer material content
    • Corporate averaging
  • Source reduction
    • Reduced by 10% by one of four methods: container weight or product concentration or both or comparison to a similar product
    • Corporate averaging
  • Reuse
    • Reused by end of life at least 5 times
  • Refill
    • Replenished by product manufacturer at least 5 times
  • 45% recycling rate
    • If it's a brand-specific package used in conjunction with a particular generic product line or that holds a single type of generic product or is made of a single resin type
  • Floral industry
    • Reused for at least 2 years
  • Alternative container compliance
    • PCM (at least 25%) was used in the manufacturing RPPCs subject or not subject to the law
    • CA-generated post consumer material used in other products or packaging to be credited toward the PCM-content option (I don't know what this means).

While the presentation from which I take this information was delivered in 2013, there was only violation data from 2005:

PETCO, container violation, $42,025.23

Office Max, container violation, $34,350.61

Sony Corporation, container violation, $50,000

In my August 25th I pose the question, "Is it working?" That is, is this legislation working to increase plastics recycling and post consumer recycled content in plastic packaging sold in California? How do the economics play out? Who is supposed to eat the price premium of post consumer plastic material? How can California keep the recycling and re-manufacturing plastics market within the confines to California when we live in a global market of production and consumption? How are California recyclers supposed to compete with Chinese buyers of plastic scrap? 

I emailed my friends at the California Board of Integrated Waste Management, who are responsible for drafting and enforcing this legislation, inquiring into the economics of the program. Unfortunately, I received no response and continue to remain dumbfounded at this program and how it is supposed to help plastics recycling. If you have any insight on these issues, please comment in the comment field below! 

To learn about the efforts of the plastics and recycling industries to incorporate PET thermoform containers into the existing recycling infrastructure, I encourage you to download my 2013 Recycling Report.
Above: trapped blister package, now liable under CA RPPC