TOBYHANNA ARMY DEPOT, Pa. -- Employees at LOGSA's Packaging, Storage and Containerization Center (PSCC) here have devised an award-winning method for packaging liquid hazardous materials (HAZMAT) that's better for the environment, less expensive and reusable.

The new configuration eliminates typical loose-fill materials such as vermiculite [a mineral known for its absorbency and insulation properties] and replaces it with readily-available fiberboard and sheets of commercially-available absorbent material that comes in a roll.

The innovative use of fiberboard and absorbent materials earned first place in the 2012 Packaging Design Competition, Short-Life Packaging category.

The award was presented to Logistics Support Activity PSCC team members Charlotte Lent, industrial engineer, and Jim Mott, systems engineer, who are responsible for designing the sustainable packaging configurations. The competition was sponsored by the National Institute of Packaging, Handling and Logistics Engineers (NIPHLE).

According to Lent, the PSCC Packaging Applications Testing Facility has had a long-standing partnership with DLA to provide a family of internationally certified packaging for all elements of the Defense Department. Packaging that supports the shipping of cans, bottles and jars of every size, shape and material, she added.

"In the early 1990s, the most practical method was to center the containers in a box or drum full of vermiculite," Lent said. "In later years, cellulosic materials (ground paper) were used."

The loose-fill materials, especially vermiculite, are dusty, creating a housekeeping nightmare for both packers and units receiving and unpacking the HAZMAT, noted Mott. Furthermore, in some locations this was considered a breathing hazard.

"Achieving a level whereby the loose-fill materials were compressed uniformly and consistently across all was problematic," Mott said. "Additionally, lab samples and other articles were often contaminated when containers were opened."

Besides the mess, shipping facilities have to maintain storage space to keep the bags and quantities of loose fill material dry. "After all, it was an absorbent and was likely to absorb the moisture in the air," said Mott. "Once unpacked, the loose fill was destined for the landfill."

The good news is that the fiberboard and absorbent sheet components are all reusable and recyclable. The team tested designs in open-head steel drums and fiberboard boxes. Mott and Lent explained that standard components can be determined for each drum size and in conjunction with DLA and the General Services Administration, can easily be made available, possibly by National Stock Number.

Items are placed inside the drum and surrounded by stacked fiberboard cartons and enough pads to cushion and absorb the liquid contents if damaged.

"The design process is in its infancy," Lent said. "Plans are underway to design an entire family of configurations without loose fill."

So far, six designs have been successfully tested to the performance standards required by federal and international regulations. These and other available internationally-certified HAZMAT designs for Department of Defense (DoD) use can be found on the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) Distribution Performance Oriented Packaging Program website.

Since 1956, NIPHLE has brought together recognized experts from government, military and industry to highlight and reward the latest developments in packaging, handling and logistics to strengthen the bonds between warfighter logisticians, government experts and supply chain partners.