|Third year packaging science major Joseph Gentile works on testing various items Saturday, Septermber 29.
Since 1973, packaging science students at RIT have learned how to find the best ways to package and ship various types of goods. In order to promote new research into sustainable packaging, the Wegmans Family Charitable Foundation and American Packaging Corporation (APC) recently announced their intent to provide a total of $2.2 million in contributions to RIT for the creation of a new Center for Sustainable Packaging (CSP).
There has already been some research into sustainable packaging at RIT. As part of their degree program, undergraduate packaging science students are trained in the use of specialized computer software to design maximum-efficiency containers to minimize waste and production costs. Additionally, the chemical structure and efficiency of flexible plastic materials has been researched in the current American Packaging Corporation Center for Packaging Innovation (APCCPI). Constructed in 2007 with another donation from the APC, Packaging Science Program Chair Dr. Daniel Goodwin describes the most recent contribution as an extension of this gift.
The APCCPI is only equipped with technology to analyze flexible plastics, so the new CSP will largely focus on research a variety of packaging materials that could potentially be used to increase packages’ sustainability. Discussions are ongoing about exactly how the money will be used, but according to Goodwin, the department has established several definite goals for the new funding. First, they want to establish a new “space” of some variety for the center’s labs and classrooms. This could take the form of a new building or an annex of an existing building. Next, new equipment will be bought and installed in the labs so that students and faculty can produce different varieties of packaging material for their research. Finally, the faculty will use the new facilities to increase the focus on sustainability and efficiency education in the Packaging Science curriculum.
Goodwin believes that the research from the new CSP will greatly benefit industries, including Wegmans and the APC. Goodwin explained that both groups have a long history of working with RIT’s Packaging Science department, since the labs are fully equipped with a wide variety of technology for product testing. Some of the most frequent testing occurs in the Packaging Dynamics Laboratory, which simulates shipping conditions to test how well different materials behave during transport.
The Packaging Dynamics Laboratory is currently run by fourth year Packaging Science major Kimberly Parthum, who elaborated on the ways to improve packaging sustainability. “Making a product more sustainable can involve either the use of more sustainable materials,” she explained. “Or, it can involve cutting down the amount of existing packaging to reduce waste.” Either way, the package must retain its structural integrity and keep the product safe during transit. Goodwin noted that cutting down on materials or finding ways to optimize performance can help cut costs for companies while lessening their impact on the environment. The potential utility of the new research means companies like Wegmans have high hopes for the new
With the establishment of the new center, students and faculty will have the equipment they need to improve sustainability at every step of the packaging process. With so many new opportunities for students and faculty, Goodwin feels that the CSP will help improve the entire Packaging Science program at RIT; “With this [CSP], we’ll produce better-trained graduates with a better sense of