Plastic (normally polypropylene) box sealing tape is one of the most popular materials for sealing corrugated boxes. It is relatively inexpensive, easy to apply, durable, and holds up under a wide range of environmental conditions. For those reasons, plastic tape usage has grown steadily over the past three decades, replacing alternate carton closure materials such as paper tape, staples, cold melt glues, and hot melt glues. Today, however, concern about the environmental impact of plastic materials is causing packers to reevaluate their options. Here are the most promising avenues packers can explore to reduce or eliminate their plastic tape consumption.
Automate. When plastic box sealing tape is applied manually, it is almost always over-applied. Packers perceive tape to be flimsy, so they tend to apply several long strips when a single, shorter one will do. In reality, most grades of plastic tape have outstanding holding and cross directional strength. Running boxes through an automatic case sealer ensures that a consistent length of tape is applied to the box every time, and that no more tape than necessary is used. Case sealers are available in random and adjustable modes to accommodate multiple box size or single size package flows.
Downsize. Again considering the strength of a quality plastic tape, packers can often reduce the thickness and width of their tape without sacrificing package integrity. The standard plastic tape put up is 2.0 mil thick, 48 mm wide. I have seen scores of applications which were successfully downsized to as low as 1.6 mil thick, 36mm wide. A 20% reduction in thickness and a 25% reduction in width make a significant difference in the amount of tape mass being introduced into the box recycling stream. Considering that about 50% of corrugated boxes are recycled in the US market, downsizing has enormous impact.
New Box Design. A new box design can drastically reduce plastic tape usage. A common example is switching from an RSC style to an end loading box. Think of a box used to package a DVD player. Typically, the box lays flat and opens at the top with two very large exterior flaps. This is an RSC style box. Now imagine the box still laying flat, but opening at one end. This is an end-loading box. We no longer have two large flaps to seal on the top and bottom of the box. Instead, we seal the end loader with one or two small L-clips on either end of the box. With this simple design change, we eliminate almost 100% of the tape mass applied to the box. In addition, the end loader design contains less corrugated material than the RSC, increasing sustainability all the way around.
Paper Tape. From an environmental standpoint, paper tapes are more attractive than plastic, although the comparative impact of the two in terms of recyclability and disposal is a hotly debated issue in the packaging industry. From a performance standpoint, paper tape offers at least one undeniable benefit - speed. Used in conjunction with an automatic length dispenser, paper tape allows manual packers to seal boxes far more quickly than with manually applied plastic tape (and in some cases, even automatically applied plastic tape).
Hot Melt Glue. Widely used in the food industry, hot melt glue remain popular for carton closure, mainly because of its extremely low cost per application. While some hot melt formulations contaminate the corrugated recycling process, hot melt is an option worth pursuing for high volume packing operations.
Mailing Bags. Padded or unpadded paper mailing bags are ideal for small and/or non-fragile or semi-fragile products. Besides eliminating tape and corrugated, bags are less expensive, less expensive to ship, and easier for consumers to handle and recycle.
Self Closing Boxes. Various corrugated box designs require no sealing method at all, file storage boxes being a familiar example. Other designs suitable for primary and secondary product packaging include boxes with tuck folds, self-locking bottoms, lids, and two piece telescoping construction. These options are particularly attractive for storage, intra-plant or inter-company transport, and palletized loads of uniform box sizes.
The key to reducing or eliminating plastic tape is to consider all aspects of your packaging, not just the tape. The greatest improvements come not by changing sealing method, but by changing the corrugated box being sealed.
Brad Shorr is a sales and marketing consultant with an extensive background in the packaging industry. He was inspired to write on sustainable packaging topics by one of his major clients, Salazar Packaging Inc., who has great expertise in that area. Brad's company, Word Sell, Inc., offers sales training and coaching, business blog development services, and a variety of marketing and copywriting services. To learn more visit his Web site and blog at www.wordsellinc.com.