Plastics forensics follow a messy appliance part fail

While I’m generally packaging agnostic in career and in my life, there are times when the value of plastics packaging hits home. Or rather hits at home and literally as in “off the shelf and on the floor.”Fridge and cracked shelf

For the second time this year, an entire refrigerator shelf fully loaded with condiments came crashing onto the ceramic kitchen floor. This was the replacement shelf for one that fell, cracked and spilled the contents similarly in February.

My wife reminded we’ve replaced that shelf in a previous year, too.

What gives? Well, the shelf for one thing…but why?

I paid closer attention this time because of the adage, “Fooled me once, shame on you, fooled me twice, shame on me.” And fooled me three times, good grief.

In my mind, “shame on the fragile plastic shelf and the unfortunately breakable glass containers.”

This time I assessed the damage more clinically. The shelf’s contents, all condiments, numbered eight plastic bottles that survived. And to balance things out, exactly eight glass bottles also survived (photo shows shelf arrangement with new shelf at bottom).

Fridge shelves stockedHowever, two glass jars shattered and spilled the contents. Although not technically a total loss, a half-broken-off plastic cap on a glass bottle crippled its effectiveness and aesthetics.

Murphy’s Law was magnified because two failed condiment bottles were worst-case scenario victims yielding staining salsa and a thick and gooey dark-brown, molasses-like sauce, respectively; the latter quickly found its way to and under the floor-edge molding.

These were the results of the impromptu, 32-inch vertical drop test that separated the durable from the nondurable, i.e., the plastic bottles and jars from the glass containers.

Much to my credit, I did not yell or swear. I was beyond all that, I was stunned. Calamitous lightning had struck twice in six months, three times in memory.

I launched my investigation before the kitchen floor was even dry from the cleanup. According to the mold mark, the offending shelf was made of white polystyrene.

I had become more cognizant of such things, but recognition does not equate to prevention. 

There’s not more for me to note of much value, so I called on Eric Larson of Art of Mass Production (San Diego), an “engineering consulting company specializing in the technologies of mass production,” for plastic expertise.

PLASTEC Minneapolis 2018 held October 31-November 1 is part of the Midwest’s largest advanced design and manufacturing event that also includes MinnPack brings you the latest in materials and additives, injection molding, rapid prototyping, coatings, automation, packaging and more. For details, visit PLASTEC Minneapolis.

Next: Plastic problems, causes and a verdict

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