One need look no further than local grocery shelves to witness a quiet revolution, embodied in various forms of innovative new plastics packaging for food and beverages. The pace of progress in this area is remarkable, and rivaled only by the pace of change among the players that make such products. Consider:
Single-serve milk containers — led by Dean Foods Co.'s Milk Chugs — that are helping to drive up milk sales.
High-end, high-barrier films, known as modified-atmosphere packaging, that extend the shelf life of various meats and breads.
Plastic beer bottles.
Such innovation is encouraging. Just one word of caution: Packagers would be well advised to place the highest possible priority on the recyclability of their products in the design stage, as opposed to after those items hit the shelves.
As an example, we've reported how some dairies harmed one of the few plastics recycling success stories when they rolled out pigmented HDPE milk bottles to differentiate their products. Instead, they angered recyclers concerned about how colored bottles might adversely affect the recycling stream. Another issue that designers must take care to address is recyclability of caps, liners, adhesives and labels. Such issues cannot be afterthoughts, or they threaten to undo much of the good created by new products in the first place.
Food packagers should keep up the good work. But, in the environmental sense, they also should borrow a page from the medical profession, and vow to ``First, do no harm.''