In less than 10 years, Eastman Chemical Co.'s Tritan copolymer has become an industry standard for consumer water bottles and containers. And it is now extending its market reach in bisphenol A-free plastics.
Tritan is being used in serving trays and containers for restaurant kitchens. Rubbermaid Commercial Products has changed all of its parts previously made of polycarbonate over to Tritan.
“This is a very different conversion than some of the consumer brands which are done one at a time,” said Tim Dell, vice president of innovation, marketing and sales for Kingsport, Tenn.-based Eastman, in a June 20 telephone interview.
For Rubbermaid Commercial Products, the switch meant coordinating production of 174 different products across global manufacturing, while meeting a strict two-year deadline RCP had set for itself to offer only BPA-free plastics for anything involving food handling.
“This was a comprehensive line of products,” added Mark Jackmore, RCP marketing president.
RCP makes a variety of plastic food-handling products used in restaurant and facility kitchens to store and serve foods. Consumers might see some of those containers in a salad bar, but the bulk of them remain behind the scenes.
The company has much of its production in Winchester, Va., and additional production in Asia and Europe. It wanted to retain the best benefits of clear PC — which is durable and allows food handlers to see what's inside — while offering a BPA-free resin.
Restaurants have asked for alternative materials. Some of those customers are looking at their own sustainability targets, Jackmore said, while others are facing potential government regulations banning food contact with items that have BPA content.
Once RCP went public with a BPA-free pledge, it spent six months in due diligence with a variety of materials, including Tritan. Its sister business, Rubbermaid Home Organization Products and Solutions, had already shifted production of its housewares to Eastman's material.
However, commercial kitchens are more demanding environments than the home kitchen, Jackmore said. Commercial dishwashers run at higher temperatures and food containers withstand more day-to-day abuse.
Dell said Eastman was fairly comfortable with how Tritan would do in RCP's testing. The material is already used in some restaurant glasses and has withstood tests of 1,500 washing cycles without cracking, while retaining a clear surface.
Once RCP was satisfied, the two companies still had to work closely together just to iron out the logistics of a simultaneous material changeover in more than 150 different products — many of them large containers with deep-draw shapes.
“There would be issues you experience any time you move materials, especially with engineering plastics,” Jackmore said. “The ramp-up time always takes longer.”
RCP wanted to drop Tritan right into existing molds for PC in some production. In other cases, it developed new molds to take advantage of improvements in mold-making and molding technology.
Eastman and Rubbermaid said they drew heavily from each other as they collaborated on the product launch to make sure the resin would perform, and the firms collocated teams of engineering, marketing and consumer-product specialists.
“All the groups were engaged and cross-engaged,” Jackmore said.
“It got to a point where I knew all the Eastman engineers by name — and I'm in marketing.”
The Tritan line of commercial products officially launched in time for the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago in May and is available worldwide, Jackmore said.
RCP and Rubbermaid Home Organization Products and Solutions are units of Atlanta-based Newell Rubbermaid Inc.