Packaging comprises nearly one-third of all household waste in the U.S.
Finding ways to reduce waste through the development and use of sustainable packaging will be the focus of the newly established Center for Sustainable Packaging at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT).
RIT recently received about $2.2 million in gifts from The Wegman Family Charitable Foundation and Rochester-based American Packaging Corp. to help create the Center for Sustainable Packaging.
The college is already the home to the American Packaging Corp. Center for Packaging Innovation, which was established with a gift of $1 million from American Packaging in 2007. This center was created to focus on material science issues within packaging, with a teaching laboratory that employs upper level students involved primarily with plastics and innovative packaging research, along with teaching the engineering concepts needed in plastics materials testing.
American Packaging has given an additional $1.2 million gift to continue support of the existing center and to help create the new RIT Center for Sustainable Packaging. The two centers will collaborate on joint development initiatives.
Daniel Johnson, Professor and Department Chair of the Manufacturing and Mechanical Engineering Technology/Packaging Science at RIT, told PlasticsToday that RIT's packaging science group has a long history of working with corporate partners in order to keep their research relevant and students up-to-date with industry needs.
"Our initial projects will play off of Rochester New York and the Finger Lakes region's strength as a food production and food processing center," he said. "So we will have programs looking at several food categories from the design, materials, distribution and end-user standpoint."
The center will be a testing ground for new ideas and solutions for students, researchers, faculty and corporate partners that are interested in sustainable packaging. It will also educate the next generation of packaging professionals who are intent on bringing sustainable principles to manufacturers around the world.
Johnson said projects in the center will address all kinds of packaging materials, with flexible applications as of particular interest to the team.
"The various components of the food packaging supply chain are siloed. Each works to maximize its own results, without a common goal of sustainability," said Peter Schottland, president and CEO of American Packaging. "In order to make the most progress on sustainable packaging, the best ideas across the industry are necessary. In an environment where the industry is aligned, experiments can happen, economies of scale are overcome, knowledge is shared, and results agreed upon."
A common issue for the manufacturing industry is to get the younger generation excited about manufacturing careers. Johnson said the school employs a variety of initiatives to help generate interest in the packaging industry.
"Packaging science is a degree program that needs a bit of explanation, and without network TV programs about packaging professionals, it can be a challenge," he said. "But RIT hosts an enormous amount of programs designed to get students exposed to opportunities in STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math)."
For instance, through the college and careers program, high school students get to stay on campus for a weekend to sample college life and learn about unique majors.
"For packaging, the school runs the group through a full cycle of dynamics testing in our ISTA Certified lab," he said. "Impact, vibration and drop testing seems to get their attention."