Packages and closures for packaging

Environment protection in detergents. How did a corroding spring influence green solutions in closures?

Detergent themselves aren’t associated with environment protection, but rather lead to negative associations with chemical substances which end up in sewage, and adversely affect water flora and fauna.
Fortunately, in fact in most Polish cities our home or factory sewage undergoes a long and complex purification process as part of which it’s filtered at many stages, and, to the greatest possible extent, restored a condition in which it can be reused.
However, it's impossible to prevent chemical substances contained detergents from getting to the ground water, which makes manufacturers look for new solutions. The task is extremely difficult, as, on one hand, the detergent is supposed to effectively eliminate various types of dirt, bacteria and viruses, and, on the other hand, be neutral to the human being and the rest of the natural environment. Various consumers’ attitude was verified by the pandemic, during which we took care of our health more than of the environment, and used really a lot of disinfectants.   

Not only the composition!
Another important element is the packaging, whose functions, contrary to appearances, are really complex and involved in various interdependencies of the economic, environmental and functional nature.
Its first task is the protection. It should be ensured at all stages of the product’s life cycle. Starting from the production, when the packaging must be tightly sealed and the product itself secure during insertion into cartons or other bulk packaging, through storage and subsequent transport to a wholesaler, distribution center or directly to a store, and, finally, to the consumer.
We should approach each product on the case-by-case basis, and be aware of its unique nature. A niche craftsperson who knows that the product from their studio will go directly into the hands of the consumer may plan their packaging differently, and the seller even has a chance to wink at the customer to vertically transport the product because it may spill....
It’s treated completely differently by factories which ship huge transports by lorry to the whole country or Europe. There, unfortunately, any compromise is out of the question. One leaking bottle can contaminate the whole carton, eliminating it from further sale. Each manufacturer wants to avoid such losses and eliminate them as early as at the stage of logistics planning.

Once the consumer decides to buy our product, the packaging mustn’t let them down also in places where it’s used.
The functionality required here sometimes boils down to such details, as making sure that the bottle, sprayer and trigger fit well. With a bottle featuring a long and narrow neck, it will be possible to press the long trigger all the way to the end without any problems, and the dosage of the product will correspond to what the closure manufacturer declares.
In the case of a cylinder-shaped bottle, which is already relatively wide below the thread, it’s necessary to fit a short trigger that won't be blocked by the bottle when the user presses it.

What demonstrates an environmentally friendly approach to changes in trigger sprayers and foam trigger sprayers is the resignation from small glass and metal elements.
Although the mechanism of such a closure is small, it's quite complex. It consists of a few small elements connected in a precise way, thanks to which dispensing is really smooth.
Until recently the mechanisms of nearly all trigger sprayers and foam trigger sprayers featured a stainless steel spring thanks to which the mechanism's piston moved. What was the second non-plastic element was a glass ball which sealed the unused mechanism, and opened it when it was in use.
The steel spring proved to be problematic in certain circumstances, which forced constructors to develop new solutions.
What initiated the change was the fact that stronger and stronger detergents started to be present on the retail market. The automotive industry needed more and more powerful cleaning products. Farmers who wanted to get rid of plant pests of diseases faster and more effectively were stepping up spraying. And also, and perhaps in particular, medical entities, hospitals or nursing homes dealing with specific microorganisms have forced manufacturers to boost the active substances in disinfectants.
In a similar vein, ordinary consumers too started to expect increasingly better cleaning and germicidal effects from their household detergents.  
What become crucial was matching a safe and durable closure to detergents which may be potentially dangerous to the skin.
One of the elements is CRC caps, which are intended to prevent children from opening and spilling the product on themselves, but, at the same time, they are a blockade for adults. A cap whose thread isn’t smooth, and near the closure, during the production, interlocks like a fishing hook is a perfect  safety measure against uncontrolled unscrewing.
The second important change was the resignation from the steel spring and using only plastic in the whole mechanism.
Strong chemical substances reacted with the spring made of stainless steel after long contact with it.
Uncontrolled chemical processes rarely lead to an explosion, but almost always are dangerous, as their result is often unknown. The smallest problem would be if the trigger sprayer ceased to work, as the damaged spring would lose its flexibility. However, more serious damage could result from a leak related to this, spilling liquid on the skin and causing burns.

Anticipating such consequences, manufacturers have launched on the market “all plastic” trigger sprayers and foam trigger sprayers, i.e. products entirely made of this material.  

The argument from the extreme end of the other side of the industry which called for changes in the design of the trigger sprayer’s mechanism was the emergence of plant-based products on the market. Although in the general perception such products are healthy and user-friendly, they turned out not to be always friendly to package and dispense. The precipitate can settle on the spring. The fact that such a small component is covered with it interferes with its movement in the piston, and, consequently, the entire mechanism is immobilized.

Furthermore, the glass ball was eliminated when the trigger sprayer’s mechanism was being reconfigured. It was achieved thanks to the fact that the entire product is made of plastic.

Selecting the packaging for a new product or making changes to an existing one, is based on specific research and test results. One of them is compatibility testing, the purpose of which is to determine whether the chosen packaging along with the closure is the best solution for the intended medium – cosmetic or detergent.
During long-term and cyclically repeated tests, it’s checked whether the packaging does not react with the medium, whether tightness is maintained, including at the level of penetration of aromas, and whether the mass doesn’t change its consistency, viscosity, appearance, smell and pH.
The closure is tested in terms of its functionality, amount of the product dispensed and compliance with the manufacturer’s declaration about the dosage size.
Products available on the market should undergo such testing every two years or so, to make sure that the packaging supplier hasn’t changed anything in the plastic used.
If, however, there are any changes in the composition of the medium, it’s necessary to carry out the entire testing cycle from the beginning, as if we dealt with a new medium.
During compatibility tests, the consequences of the wrong selection of the packaging for a given medium may become apparent. One of them is the formation of pitting corrosion in trigger sprayers and lotion pumps featuring a steel spring and ball, discoloration of the mass stored in highly transparent packaging, as well as swelling or concavity of the packaging under UV rays.
Stainless steel, although it has corrosion resistance in its name, loses these properties in certain conditions. Steel is covered with a layer of chromium oxides which protect it against corrosion. Unfortunately, these oxides reacting with chloride solutions contained, for example, in strong detergents, lose their anti-corrosion properties. Such reactions may take place in trigger sprayer mechanisms which contain a spring. This problem certainly won’t appear in the “all plastic” construction.

Identification of the entire set of the aforementioned changes prior to the product launch is therefore crucial to the market success and making the consumer like our detergent, but also for the brand as a whole.

Segregation as simple as never before!

Today more and more companies, when planning their packaging, know that it will become waste soon. Consequently, an additional factor is also taken into account when the closure is chosen: a recyclable closure.
Scanners used for waste segregation are able to detect the type of plastic, its color and fragments from other materials. Other sorting plants, after initial segregation, separate metal fragments using neodymium magnets, strong enough to pull even small metal parts out of the plastic fraction. Such well-developed segregation stations are, unfortunately, rare in Polish municipalities,  which is why it’s worth making the work of sorting plants easier at the stage of packaging planning.
“Packaging design” sounds light and pleasant... to those who don’t need to deal with it...
Professionals know that it's a complex process that needs to involve specialists from different fields – e.g. designers, graphic designers and UX specialists taking care of the ease of use, as well as the marketing department that knows the market, technologists, lab technicians and, finally, quality controllers. Since recently, each of them should in their work take into account elements of eco-design, which despite being laudable, complicate some processes.
Sometimes, however, solving one problem, as is the case with the rusty spring, helps solve others.  
The road to environmentally friendly solutions may be winding and far from obvious.