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Past Projects

2011 - 2012

Project 1. Effects of Heat and Microwaving on Off-gassing of Volatiles from Virgin and Recycled Plastics Onto Food

Wyatt Brown and Keith Vorst, Faculty Researchers

Project Description
There is increasing concern about the possibility of contamination to foods and the environment from plastics. Part 1) In this study, a pyrolyzer, or controlled-heat chamber, will be used to subject individual plastics, both virgin and recycled, to specific temperatures to determine the number and type of volatiles that are released. Temperatures will be as low as 104F (the lower limit of the pyrolyzer) and will be ramped up to 350F to simulate environmental and sealing/manufacturing temperatures. During ramping, samples will be taken periodically. The pyrolyzer will be connected to a gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer (GC/MS). Samples will be automatically sent through the GC/MS which will separate the off-gasses and identify individual compounds. A review of the literature will be conducted to determine the relative toxicities of the major compounds which are identified by this method. A future study will quantitate the amounts of gas which are released by individual plastics. Part 2) Plastic bags of varying composition and type --virgin and recycled-- and of standard size will be filled with 15 or 30 ml of pure water (high performance liquid chromatography grade) and microwaved at a high setting (1100 Watts) for 2, 3 or 4 minutes. The bags will be opened and samples will be removed and immediately placed in vials with Teflon septa, and sealed. The samples will be run on a gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer (GC/MS) to both separate compounds in the mixture and to identify them. A review of the literature will be conducted to determine the relative toxicities of the major compounds which are identified by this method. In this study, no food will be directly used since the compounds produced and released by food during microwaving will greatly confound the results and make interpretation difficult. 

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Project 2. Analysis of Retail-Ready Fresh Produce Packaging for Club Stores

Jay Singh and Koushik Saha, Faculty Researchers

Project Description
A relatively recent phenomenon, membership warehouse club stores are the fastest growing of all general merchandise retailers, posting sales of $127.8 billion in 2007—a figure expected to grow to nearly $200 billion by 2012. At the heart of the club-store model is a system of high-volume sales, low-cost purchasing, and efficient distribution, all of which are dependent in varying degrees to product packaging. While each of the top three club stores, Costco, Sam’s Club, and BJ’s, are constantly evolving their specific expectations for supplier packaging, there are several elements that have come to define the club-store pack. These include retail-ready designs, outstanding graphic communication, innovation, and most recently, low environmental impact. Retail-ready packaging is a system of packaging and merchandising that allows goods to be moved direct-to-shelf with minimal in-store handling, enabling products to be displayed effectively within a secondary packaging medium. A recent study shows an upswing in the produce packaging market, forecasting it to increase 3.6% per year to reach $4.8 billion in 2014. The growth is said to be fueled by a rebound in fresh produce production and growth in consumer spending as the US economy recovers. According to the study packaging demand will be further aided by preferences among retailers for retail-ready packaging that holds down labor costs and a favorable outlook for fresh-cut, ready-to-eat produce, which offers convenience and tends to use more value-added packaging than bulk produce. 

Objectives

  1. To analyze the current distribution, storage and display practices of fresh produce packages at club stores
  2. To conduct distribution testing for packages observed at club stores and
  3. To provide the consortium members an opportunity to comprehend the practical aspects of fresh produce sales at club stores.

This project will undertake an audit of approximately 20 fresh vegetable and fruit related distribution (from receiving to retail floor), storage and display practices at 5 locations (San Luis Obispo, Santa Maria, Goleta, SW Bakersfield and Bakersfield) of the club store, Costco. Country/state of origin, ergonomic features (handholds), material type (corrugated fiberboard type, RPC, etc.), package design (amount of material used, ventilation, etc.), barrier coating (if any), location on store floor (controlled and ambient display locations), preference to reuse (for carrying out mixed load of product from stores), etc. will be included in the study. Data related to 20 high volume perishable goods, based on consortium members’ input, will be included in the study. All designs observed will be recreated using identical material towards conducting physical distribution testing with the target of comparing performance. 

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Project 3. Heavy Metal Content and Potential for Migration from Biopolymers, and Continued Evaluation of Green-Market Claims for Flexible and Rigid Packaging

Wyatt Brown and Keith Vorst, Faculty Researchers

Project Description
Part 1) There has been a substantial push in recent years to use biodegradable packaging. At present, there is no strong oversight of the packaging industry and industry claims for plastics, whether conventional or biodegradable, are essentially “by trust.” With regards to plastics safety, there is little literature, if any, on the potential contaminants in biodegradable plastics. In this study, biodegradable plastics from various sources will be solubilized and run through an inductively-coupled plasma spectrophotometer (ICP) to determine the heavy metal content of the plastics. With an ICP, the solubilized plastic is burned in an argon plasma arc at 10,000°F. This produces spectra which are characteristic for specific metals and, in this study, chromium, nickel, lead and cadmium will be quantitated. A study is currently underway characterizing heavy metal concentration (chromium, nickel, lead and cadmium) in conventional plastics so the methodology is in place. It is working well. Additionally, the biopolymers will be tested for total migration per the Code of Federal Regulations. Migrants will be characterized using GC/MS. 

Part 2) Continued development and evaluation of flexible and rigid thermoforming films that are truly compostable and biodegradable in "backyard" or "landfill" environments. Market samples from retailers and members will be evaluated for compostability, biodegradation and post-consumer content for flexible, rigid and thermoformed containers. Label claims will be compared to lab findings. These results will be published in Plastics News, Plastics Recycling and Packaging World. 

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Project 4. Innovative Corrugated (Fiberboard and Plastic) Cut-back Designs for Standardized Fresh Produce Shippers

Jay Singh and Koushik Saha, Faculty Researchers

Project Description
According to a recent report, the US demand for produce packaging in the US is expected to increase 3.6%/year to $4.8 billion in 2014, indicating that the growth will be fueled by a rebound in fresh produce production and improved consumer spending in a recovering US economy. Corrugated shippers, which accounted for 38% of produce packaging demand in 2009, are expected to remain the leading packaging type through 2014 and beyond. The corrugated box demand is projected to increase a below-average 2.5%/year based on more moderate box price increases than in the 2004-2009 period, the maturity of most applications, and competition from reusable plastic containers. Corrugated (fiberboard and plastic) packaging is specifically engineered to maximize performance and merchandizing impact throughout the supply chain while minimizing material and its carbon footprint. Constant innovations in the area of corrugated shipper design helps achieve this to a great extent by using lesser material while providing adequate protection to the product. The investigators of this proposal have worked on and published several projects based on design and performance evaluation of corrugated fiberboard packaging. They have been recently funded by the USDA and the Mango Board to undertake a study for development of a standard shipper for imported mangoes to the US. 

Objectives

  1. To redesign 3 corrugated (fiberboard and/or plastic) fresh produce shippers submitted by the Consortium members with the goal of reducing the material while maintaining or exceeding their physical performance.
  2. To provide the consortium members an opportunity to take a leading role as innovators of sustainable packaging alternatives.

The hypothesis for this project is that a majority of the currently employed standardized corrugated (fiberboard and plastic) fresh produce containers can be redesigned with reduced material usage while maintain or increasing their overall performance during distribution. This project will delve into redesigning 3 styles of corrugated (fiberboard and/or plastic) boxes used for fresh produce with the aim of reducing the material while maintaining or exceeding their physical performance. Standardization will be considered based on the product type and these proposed packaging solutions will be designed based on the demands placed on them from manufacturing to filling to distribution to retail. Suggestions from the consortium members will be taken to decide on the styles of boxes to be used in this study. Lab based performance testing (ASTM/ISTA) as well as lifecycle environmental impact calculations will be conducted. 

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Project 5. Validation of Fresh Cut Produce Using Optical Fluorescence Technology

Keith Vorst and Wyatt Brown, Faculty Researchers

Project Description
Fresh-cut bagged salad products will be continuously (real-time) monitored for headspace Oxygen using a fluorescence sensor during a simulated distribution route. Values will be recorded throughout the distribution route and verified with a portable headspace analyzer. The fluorescence technology will be validated for robustness, accuracy and precision. 



2010 - 2011

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Project 1. Survey Analysis of Heavy Metals in Recycled Plastics

Wyatt Brown and Keith Vorst, Faculty Researchers

Project Description
Lately, heavy metal contamination has heightened consumer concern for the use of some jewelry, toys, etc. Little research has been conducted on the potential heavy metal contamination of recycled plastics, especially those plastics which may be shipped into the U.S. from overseas. This study therefore intends to proactively analyze a selection of post-consumer and post-industry plastics using inductively coupled plasma (ICP) spectrophotometry for contamination by the heavy metals chromium, lead, cadmium and nickel. The ICP is very accurate and sensitive and will be able to easily read contamination in the parts-per-billion range.

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Project 2. Evaluation of Micro-Perforation Technologies for Packaging Performance and Survey of Migration of Inks into Rigid and Flexible Packaging

Keith Vorst and Wyatt Brown, Faculty Researchers

Project Description
The gas transmission rates and mechanical properties of films either laser or mechanically perforated will be determined. This work will identify the most effective, repeatable and cost-effective method for creating perforations in packaging.

Migration issues have fueled public debate and the possibility of regulations requiring mandatory testing of films by suppliers. Printed packaging will be evaluated for the migration of inks to food products and food simulants to verify the safety of food-grade inks. Packages will be temperature-cycled to mimic actual transport scenarios prior to analysis. Temperature cycles will be dictated by product.

For packaging of pre-cut or whole produce, the performance of the packages will be more consistent, leading to increased shelf-life, less “shrink” and higher returns on investment.

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Project 3. Innovative Corrugated (Fiberboard and Plastic) Cut-Back Designs for Standardized Fresh-Produce Shippers

Jay Singh, Faculty Researcher

Project Description
Corrugated board packaging is specifically engineered to maximize performance and merchandizing impact throughout the supply chain while minimizing material and its carbon footprint. A few key developments towards this include recycling, use of environmentally-friendly inks, decreased formaldehyde use, and the practice of source reduction. The corrugated industry claims to use over 60% renewable energy from bio-fuels for fiber-based material production and of including 43% recycled content for corrugated board manufacturing. Constant innovations in the area of corrugated shipper designs helps achieve this to a great extent by using lesser material while providing adequate protection to the product. 

Goal
This project will delve into redesigning 3-5 popular styles of corrugated fiberboard boxes with the aim of reducing the material while maintaining or exceeding their physical performance. Suggestions from the consortium members will be taken to decide on the styles of boxes. Lab based performance testing (ASTM/ISTA) as well as lifecycle environmental impact calculations will be conducted. 

2009 - 2010

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Project 1. Life Cycle Inventory (LCI) as a Tool for Packaging Sustainability

Jay Singh, Faculty Researcher 

Project Description 
Driven by mandates or their own environmental stewardship goals, many manufacturers and marketers are learning how to reduce their company’s environmental footprint. This project focuses on packaging applied in a comprehensive, environmentally-sensitive method, including energy efficiency in plants, organic materials, reusability and much more. It will evaluate the LCI output of the packaging for three fast moving consumer goods (suggestions will be sought from consortium members) and will create a baseline to compare subsequent modifications to these packages. Based on the baseline LCI output, two modifications to the existing primary package systems will be executed. Each modification will consist of two subsequent steps: adjustments to the products primary package followed by a modification to the products secondary packaging aimed at optimizing the flow of products through the supply chain and will include an analysis for pallet pattern, truck load space utilization, and cube efficiency. The manufacturers of all products will be consulted to help identify adoptable/practical modifications to the present package systems.

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Project 2. Development of a Database of LCI Based Studies Conducted Worldwide for Packaging Applications

Jay Singh, Faculty Researcher

Project Description
Many criteria can be used to assess the environmental sustainability of packaging. Examples include selecting packaging options that are lighter in weight, reusable, made from renewable materials, or contain recycled content. However, in many cases, packaging options that are being compared have different characteristics so that a single-criterion approach cannot be used. Life cycle inventory (LCI) provides the quantified environmental information needed to make such decisions. The important benefit of LCI is that it provides a comprehensive, quantified basis for comparing the environmental results for packaging systems that have different sustainable characteristics. LCI translates qualitative characteristics into quantified results so that a decision can be made based on science rather than value judgments. LCI provides sufficient information for making system comparisons of results such as total energy and solid waste. This project will create a database of all published studies that relate LCI to package design and compare and contrast the employed methodologies, databases, etc.

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Project 3. Validation of post-consumer recycled (PCR) and bio-based, biodegradable substrate composition, ASTM label claims for sustainability, food safety, performance and regulatory compliance 

Keith Vorst and Wyatt Brown, Faculty Researchers
Greg Curtzwiler, Research Associate

Project Description
Previous research done at Cal Poly has shown high levels of contaminants with various fillers added to the packaging material that are not food safe. Resin suppliers and broker both foreign and domestic have been marketing these products as bio-based, sustainable and earth friendly. In addition to validating these claims, this study will also evaluate performance of commercially available bio-based and biodegradable substrates for product packaging (food and non-food).

Rigid and flexible converters, packaging suppliers and retailers are facing new challenges for traceability of packaging materials. International and domestic suppliers / brokers do not validate claims of post-consumer, virgin or post-industry polymeric materials used for packaging. Little or no oversight is being done by regulatory agencies. Currently, suppliers are at the mercy of sales people to ensure claims and traceability of polymeric materials. The purpose of this project is to create a model for identifying post-industry and post-consumer content in rigid and flexible packaging materials. This model will enable converters, suppliers and retailers alike to verify domestic and international label claims of postconsumer, post-industry and virgin content. This project will allow for a correct assessment of sustainability initiatives by major retailers to facilitate fair access to retail markets.

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Project 4. Migration of Low-molecular Weight Compounds from Polymeric Substrates


Wyatt Brown and Keith Vorst, Faculty Researchers

Project Description
There is increasing interest in the safety of plastics used for packaging and the possible effects of heating, whether through microwaving or sealing, on possible migrants onto and into food. The proposed research would investigate the nature and amount of migrants from common plastics, as affected by packaging method and temperature, whether thru cooking or the distribution chain. Testing will be done according to the Code of Federal Regulations 21 177.1630 for the mass of chemicals migrating from the packages supplied by member companies. The research will indicate if a problem exists and will also indicate which plastics more readily release migrants to food products. Research has been completed at the Horticulture and Crop Science Postharvest Lab investigating the migration of caprolactam, the precursor of nylon, from a trilaminate film into a white-wine simulant. A methodology has therefore been developed that would allow the isolation and identification of other migrants from plastic.

2008 - 2009

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Project 1. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) as a Tool for Packaging Minimization

Jay Singh, Faculty Researcher

Project Description
Carbon footprint has surfaced as the key evaluation method for sustainability issues in packaging. This project will identify 2-3 presently used product-package systems, create alternative packaging solutions for the products and identify and quantify the energy and raw material inputs and environmental releases associated with each stage of production.

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Project 2. RFID Implementation for Fresh Produce and Electronics Products

Jay Singh, Faculty Researcher

Project Description
RFID technology has been facing less-than-perfect readability issues. Most research conducted by academics/industry have not focused in detail on fresh produce or electronic products. This study will evaluate and suggest optimum solutions for RFID applications for these product categories. Two to three product types for both categories will be evaluated to determine the conditions for optimum readability in the warehouse (including 650 fpm conveyer belt) environment.

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Project 3. Evaluation of Sustainable Recycled and Biodegradable Substrates for Rigid Packaging

Keith Vorst and Wyatt Brown, Faculty Researchers

Project Description
These studies will involve the comparison, selection and utilization of recycled rigid thermoplastics and biopolymers for use in retail applications. The selection process will include comparisons of performance characteristics, cost and machinability for product specific applications. Label claims for post-consumer or biodegradable content will be validated.

Member Support Needed
Members are asked to submit packaging substrates that they are currently using or which are under consideration for use (as either whole containers or samples).

Analysis of Substrates (tests to be administered where applicable)

Fourier Transform-Infrared Spectroscopy

Ultraviolet-Visible (UV-Vis) spectroscopy
Differential Scanning Calorimetry (DSC)
Oxygen Transmission Rate
Water Vapor Transmission Rate 
Carbon Dioxide Transmission Rate
Electromechanical Testing 
Seal Strength
Surface Energy
Shelf-life Testing

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Project 4. Mechanical, Barrier and Physical Characterization of Single and Multi-layer Films for Modified Atmospheric Packaging.

Wyatt Brown and Keith Vorst, Faculty Researchers

Product Description
This study will evaluate the polymeric films currently used or under consideration for modified-atmospheric packaging, either to increase shelf-life or decrease the cost of current retail packaging.

Member Support Needed
Members are asked to submit packaging films they are currently using or which they are considering for use, whether non-biodegradable or biodegradable, chlorine-dioxide releasing, ethylene absorbing, etc.

Analysis of Substrates (tests to be administered where applicable)

Differential Scanning Calorimetry (DSC)

Oxygen Transmission Rate
Water Vapor Transmission Rate
Carbon Dioxide Transmission Rate
Electromechanical Testing
Seal Strength
Surface Energy 
Shelf-life Testing

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