Packaging puzzle: Small things come in big packages

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Frank Esposito Plastics problem solvers, start your engines!

Let’s call it The Box That Ate Wickliffe.

Once a month, my family receives medication in a large cardboard box sent to our house in Wickliffe, Ohio, near Cleveland. The medication needs to be refrigerated. It comes in a smaller box about the size of a business-size envelope — roughly 4 inches wide and 8 inches long.

The larger box, however, is more than a foot high and more than nine inches on each side. Inside the box is a large block of expanded polystyrene foam that completely fills the cardboard box.

Inside of that is some bubble-type protective packaging — likely made from polyethylene — and a couple of cold-gel packs containing some type of refrigerant chemical covered in what’s likely PE film.

(The current box I believe is a little smaller than the previous box. That one was so big I thought we had somehow ordered a mini-fridge for one of our kids’ college dorms.)

My question is: Is this the best the packaging industry can do? The cardboard box is likely to be recycled, but the EPS foam block won’t, and those pieces of PE film likely will slip between the cracks of recycling infrastructure as well.

I checked with Kimble Cos., the Dover, Ohio-based firm that handles trash and recycling collection for Wickliffe. They confirmed that they don’t recycle PS foam or similar products. When they began serving our town a couple of years ago, they said right away that they couldn’t recycle plastic bags or film.

Kimble operates a recycling plant in Twinsburg and an operations center in Canton, where plastic items can be dropped off for recycling. Everything else is taken to the firm’s landfill in Dover, a town of about 13,000 located 50 miles south of Akron.

I’m glad this medication is available and that the medical companies have found a way to ship it to us instead of us having to make a trip to get it. But there has to be a better way to reduce or consolidate the cardboard and multiple pieces of plastic involved.

Plastics problem solvers, start your engines!