Why food safe HDPE plastic replaced glass as the go-to milk container.
Many of you, should you be older than 60, may remember the “Milk Man”. This delivery service from decades ago, was a most common way of transporting milk to the consumer. Back then, suppliers used glass bottles, delivered by this milk man, right to your front door.
HDPE is Food Safe
When looking at alternatives, the milk processing industry found a use and benefit from replacing the glass with a plastic called High Density Polyethylene (HDPE). But what is HDPE, and what are the benefits of using it?
Glass is heavy, HDPE plastic is light
One of the characteristics of this thermoplastic is the weight of the material. The reason this is so beneficial brings us back to the milk jug. Old style glass milk containers could hold 32 oz., with the empty glass weighing 1.25 lbs. An empty gallon water or milk jug (128 oz.) weighs in at only 0.25 lbs, and holds 4 times more volume. When full, the milk jug can hold more volume than the glass bottle without compromising the strength, especially when being transported. This lowers the overall transport time and significantly reduces the cost of shipping.
This drop in weight and large increase in capacity is why the industry made the switch. The attribute of high durability in plastic materials like HDPE is known as the “strength to weight ratio”. As already mentioned, this was a huge benefit from switching to HDPE containers – the impact it has on transport costs. The high impact resistance of the material allows for easy transport. The HDPE jugs can withstand the jarring and bumping that is a natural part of mass transit, with almost zero wear or breakage to the product. Compared to the glass bottle, too hard of a turn or a pothole in the road could lead to the disheartening sound of shattering glass… not an ideal result for the distributing company. The HDPE impact resistance still holds true through out the supply chain, and even when the containers enter a store or home. If a HDPE milk jug should fall, the plastic container may spill, but it won’t cause the harm or damage that glass would. Broken glass poses a hazard and a risk, whereas plastic in this case can be easily cleaned, recycled, and used again.
When discussing this topic, the argument of recycling and sustainability sets its sights on plastics. In reality, the carbon footprint of plastics is much smaller than that of glass. The amount of heat necessary to heat up plastic for recycling is dramatically lower than that of glass, making it more sustainable in the long run. Yes, both are 100% recyclable, but the amount of fuel necessary plays a big factor. The temperature needed for melting and processing HDPE is between 248 and 356°F depending on grade. Whereas glass requires a minimum temperature of 2,600°F, according to SeattlePI. As you can see, these temperatures are very different, and shows why the life cycle of plastic is more eco-friendly and a better option to preserve our environment.
Immensely versatile HDPE applications
HDPE has many more uses, like in structural tanks, FDA approved cutting boards and industrial piping systems. This material outweighs most alternatives in benefits due to it’s cost and performance, and is produced in sheet and rod by many major manufacturers in the USA. HDPE plastics are FDA and NSF approved for food applications, making HDPE a food safe product for most food processing and packing applications. For more details on HDPE and it’s benefits see Industrial Plastic Supply or call 866-832-9315
What other applications could benefit from newer and improved materials to make our world safer, cleaner and more efficient?
Use the best available tools to narrow down the best plastic sheet material for your application.
What are the best methods to pick the proper plastic sheet material? Use the tools that the professionals use to find the best plastic material for your application.
Where To Begin
The process of picking the proper plastic material starts with determining the ‘must have’ physical properties needed for your application. Designing a part with the minimum performance factors in mind will help to eliminate an overly expensive part.
Critical factors to consider are:
Temperature requirements (short term and long term)
Chemical or Environmental Requirements
UV resistance (Will it be in direct sunlight)
Color or Transparency
Strengths (Impact and Compression)
Compliance Issues (Certification for FDA, NSF, Dairy, etc.)
Review The Plastic Property Comparison Guide
The first tool suggested is a chart produced by the IAPD (International Association of Plastic Distribution – http://iapd.org/) linked in picture below, and listed on this chart are the most common plastic sheet and plastic rod materials that are commonlyavailable. In addition, the chart compares the physical properties of these common plastic materials. Click on picture to access chart. Included in this chart is a relative cost comparison, which will assist in limiting the materials to proper plastics for a application without over-designing and using an expensive ‘over kill’ material. Some common plastic sheet materials can be very expensive. Materials like PEEK (PolyEtherEtherKetone) can be in the $100 per pound range or more.
Start Search With Temperature Resistance
After looking over the IAPD (International Association of Plastic Distribution) Physical Properties Chart above, now it is time to evaluate specifics for your application. The critical factors listed above are ranked by most important to least important. If your part needs to handle a continuoustemperature of 300 degrees F, this is a critical physical property. Picking a material that softens at 250 degrees is a recipe for disaster. Pick a material that can handle the temperature first.
Will Part Have Chemical Exposure
Next, look at environmental requirements. Parts exposed to chemicals are important to research. Find the chemical make up and the concentration of the chemical to insure the material you pick can handle this solution. Many plasticshave excellent chemical resistance as evidenced by evaluating the container the chemicals are stored in already. Acommon plastic that is chemical resistant is Polypropylene, the same material used for automotive batteries. While Polypropylene and HDPE sheets are excellent in chemical resistance, their temperature range is quite limited. Also,these two plastics can not be easily bonded or glued, and would require heat welding for assembly.
Does Your Part Live In The Sun
Most plastics do not handle long exposure to direct sunlight without an additional UV additive. The one exception is Acrylic, which is the most UV resistant plastic sheet available. Some plastics handle UV well if they have a carbonblack additive, or a extra UV package added at time of production.
How Critical Is The Color
The most common colors in many plastic sheets are Natural (white to tan) and Black. While other colors are available with a special run, this may require a large minimum order. Some plastics, like HDPE are available in many colors andtextures for use in marine, playground and food processing applications. In many plastic applications, a machined partis being made, and the color is the least important factor. If it is an internal part of a machine, no one really cares about the color of the part. Some clients look for materials in a specific color to help ‘brand’ their parts for easy replacementand identification.
Nylon with huge amount of stress, cooled too quickly.
How Much Stress Will The Part See
Strength is a wide range of physical properties covering many stresses a part may be exposed to. From impact to compression, expansion to tensile strength, all of these can be critical in designing a plastic part. There are otherfactors in the ‘Strength’ realm, like Notched Izod and water absorption. If your part will be exposed to crushing pressure, pulling apart force or impact, these are critical things to consider prior to picking your plastic part.
PTFE is asoft and slippery plastic, but will ‘cold flow’ under high pressure, and High Pressure Laminates like G-10 FR 4 sheetcan withstand some of the highest pressures. The Notched Izod tests for materials that break easily if a scored mark has been made in the surface. Acrylics break very easily if scored, but UHMW will not break at all under the same test.
What Agency Approval May Be Required
In many applications a part may require approval or testing to meet a third party certification. One such common application is for materials in food processing applications. Common requests included UL ratings, Fire Ratings, Military specifications and many more. Food contact is a popular request, covering material that is either FDA (Foodand Drug Administration) or NSF (National Sanitation Foundation) approved. These agencies insure that materials are rigorously tested and comply with their requirements for safety. Some common materials used in food processing that meet the FDA certification are Acetal Copolymer – Acetal Homopolymer, HDPE, UHMW and Nylon, plus many others. Once these steps have been completed, several materials should present themselves as meeting your criteria andphysical property requirement. Unfortunately there is no one perfect plastic that works in all applications. However, for almost every application, there is a material that will work, and work better than most other substrates.
Next time you are cutting vegetables on your cutting board, the material most likely to be used is Polyethylene. Because it is stain, moisture and odor resistant, Polyethylene is a perfect choice. Other cutting boards made out of wood are more susceptible to bacteria and odors because they lack the properties that Polyethylene sheets offer, such as its chemical resistance and FDA approval for food contact. Polyethylene is a very durable and lightweight material that comes in many forms and is a great for a wide variety of applications.
NSF Approved Cutting Boards
The HDPE is available in .500″ thick in several FDA / NSF approved colors, and is great for use in kitchens where cross contamination is a problem.
The Ultimate Cutting Board
Polyethylene has many names. The most common are HDPE, LDPE, and UHMW. The difference has to with the molecular weight and branching which is when a monomer or atom is replaced by a longer chain of polymers (a long repeating chain of atoms). High Density is commonly used for milk jugs and food containers. Low Density is commonly used for bottles and plastic bags. UHMW, which has higher molecular weight (2-6 million) allows for an even transfer over the length of material which makes it stronger and able to be used for bearing applications due to its great wear resistance. Commonly used in the food and dairy industry, UHMW is a great replacement for other materials and solution to many problems. All of these polymers are derived from the same family but all have certain properties that make them a little different. HDPE provides great chemical resistance, with high impact strength and great energy absorption. LDPE has most of the same properties as High Density but is not as dense at 9.15, opposed to HDPE which is 9.34. It also has a lower tensile strength and easier formability.
UHMW is a strong material that has great durability and low co-efficient making it an ideal for sliding applications. Polyethylene offers a wide range of material choices and properties and has great durability that can be suitable for a number of applications. From the food industry to automotive, the kitchen or the warehouse, whatever your Polyethylene needs are; High Density, Low Density or UHMW, Polyethylene is a great choice.
Typical Resin Properties:
Typical Value HDPE
Typical Value LDPE
Typical Value UHMW
.941 – .965
.91 – .925
.93 – .94
Tensile Strength Yield
3,800 – 5,500
1,400 – 2,000
Izod Impact – Notched
2.0 – 3.5
Vicat Softening Temp
Hardness – Rockwell
D42 – 50
Continuous Use Temp
-100 – 180ºF
Deflection Temp @ 66 psi
Co. Thermal Expansion
Please contact us for more information on FDA and NSF approved plastic materials. Email us here, or call us at: 866-832-9315