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The Need for Anti-viral Packaging

By Michael Harris

May 20, 2020

ShieldAccording to a laboratory experiment, HCoVid-19 can live on a ‘cardboard’ box for up to 24 hours, and SARS-CoV-1 will survive half of that time. The same research reported that the virus can survive for up to 72 hours on polypropylene plastic. The research, conducted by the National Institute of Health in a Hamilton, Montana, laboratory, outlines that enough of the virus can remain viable to establish a culture in a petri dish. However, more information is needed to determine what level of infectious dosage is required to infect a human from surface contact.

If you think about it, a potential host will have to touch a contaminated surface, while the virus is still living, and transfer the virus to a mucous membrane. Seems improbable—yet very possible—if you think about how a box is transferred from person to person.

There are not too many ways to pick up and carry a box from your doorstep to your kitchen counter. The chances of picking up a box the exact same way as the delivery driver pulled the box out of the truck are very high. Common sense would tell you that the top of the box is the side that could be coughed or sneezed on—and perhaps the most common side that the consumer opens.

The fallout from this pandemic has left us with more questions than answers. What is it about a corrugated shipping carton that causes a virus to die off at a rate that is three times faster than on a plastic container? What can be done to accelerate the rate at which the virus dies on a boxboard surface? Are there surface coatings or starch additives to make a virus die off more quickly? What packaging designs should be avoided?

According to a University of Minnesota study, avian respiratory “viruses survived longer on nonporous surfaces than on porous ones.” Does this mean that some paper grades are more virus-resistant? Do digitally printed surfaces repel viruses better than litho? All these questions need to be answered because the consumer has been reading articles such as the one titled “Here’s how long the coronavirus can live in the air and on packages.”

When dealing with invisible threats, we must rely on scientific research to determine what this means to boxmakers. Who is going to do this research? Who is going to put together the committee to select what substrates should be examined?

A hallmark staple to the corrugated carton is the Mullen-Rated Box Maker’s Certificate showing the structural integrity of the box. This isn’t required by law, but it does give proof that the box has been properly tested and rated as sold.

Required by law are Safety Data Sheets, or SDSs, to inform our employees about the hazards and precautions needed when handling certain products within our factories.

In the future, could there be a certificate showing the anti-microbial and anti-viral rating of the box? Perhaps a “keeping people informed” rating for the carton? The rating system would alert box handlers and consumers about the hazards that exist or the precautions needed when handling cartons.

We are all stakeholders in the corrugated shipping carton industry. The only thing that would take the place of a box is a disruptive technology. We all witnessed the digital print transformation that unsettled the litho-laminating market.

Should we simply advise our customers to use a 60% alcohol solution to spray down their boxes, or should we innovate and research our own way to develop methods of protecting the consumer? Do you think Amazon is looking into this right now? What are you going to do to ensure the future of corrugated packaging?


PortraitMichael Harris is president of KPI Incorporated. He can be reached at 317-797-9898 or mharris@kpiincorporated.com.

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