Improve End-of-Packaging Line Sustainability

The sustainability of packaging is less about the physical package and more concerned with lowering the social, environmental, and economic impacts of packaging across the supply chain. Reducing stretch film consumption is essential for improving the sustainability of transporting pallet loads.

If at first glance conserving a packaging material as insubstantial as stretch film seems trivial, consider that in 2006, the year the Freedonia Group used as a base for an analysis of U.S. stretch film consumption, organizations spent $1.5 billion on this material. Freedonia analysts predict that the U.S. market for stretch film used in pallet wrapping will increase 4.7 percent annually from 2006 through 2011. At that time, more than 1.9 billion pounds of petroleum based resin will be consumed in the manufacture of stretch film for the U.S. market. With the cost of a barrel of oil at unheard of highs, companies must effectively reduce usage of all petroleum-based materials, including stretch film, to contain costs.

Another look at the impact of stretch film comes from the Dow Chemical Company. Dow reports that advances in chemistry and enhanced products, processes, and services have allowed it to down-gauge stretch film by more than 25 percent in the last decade. The company calculates that this reduction saves on a global basis one billion pounds of polyethylene resin a year. This is the equivalent energy savings of 293 million gallons of gasoline or heating and cooling for 643,000 homes for one year. As Freedonia and Dow indicate, there is nothing insubstantial about stretch film.

Application techniques

Stretch film is a highly engineered material and every film is designed to be pre stretched within a specified range in order to bring out the material's maximum strength characteristics. This range is usually between 200 to 300 percent.

There are two ways to apply stretch wrap, by hand and by machine. Hand wrapping is labor intensive and slow. Manual effort cannot effectively stretch the film greater than 10 to 20 percent on average. This has negative consequences on holding strength and unit stabilization. To increase stabilization, personnel often over wrap the pallet and consume more material than necessary. Workers are prone to injuries from tripping, falls, and repetitive motion.

Stretch wrap machines are the preferred means of obtaining high performance from the material and eliminating the negatives of hand wrapping. The more the material is stretched, the lower the usage and the greater the savings. Other advantages include lower labor costs, greater load stabilization, and less damage to pallet loads during transportation. Stretch wrap machines are typically justified on a return-on-investment basis by calculating material and labor savings.