automotive and furniture industries. If goods cannot be acquired already packaged in reusable containers, the savings in disposal costs and associated problems may mean that a repackaging operation is viable. This would also largely eliminate the major problem with reusable distribution packaging—losses of the packages from the system —since they would then stay in the control of the Navy. Cooperation with other branches of the military in this endeavor should also be considered, since the problems of disposal of packaging wastes extend beyond the Navy.
The submarine fleet has already illustrated the savings in packaging waste that can be accomplished by a drastic change in the way these products are supplied. Substitution of machines that dispense drinks into reusable containers results in total elimination of the cans that are currently used. Packaging materials can be limited to the containers that supply the syrup and the carbonation, resulting in a very large reduction in packaging waste for disposal.
Food packaging can be divided roughly into applications where effective and efficient cleaning of the packaging materials can be attained and those where it is difficult to achieve.
Where efficient cleaning can be accomplished, consideration can be given to reusable packages. If packages are to be stored on board, either for reuse or disposal, consideration should be given to nestable or collapsible packages, or other designs that maximize space-efficient stowage of empty containers. Obviously, the volume occupied by both full and empty containers is a significant consideration. It will often be found that plastic packaging materials have advantages over paper, glass, and metal in this regard. Plastic packages will in general have advantages over paper packages in washability.
Where efficient cleaning of food packaging cannot be achieved, on-board storage of contaminated packages clearly presents difficulties for maintenance of sanitation as well as for the livability of the environment. To minimize the difficulties encountered, serious attention should be given to minimizing the volume of food-contaminated materials by source reduction of packaging. In practice, this will often mean substitution of flexible packages for bulkier rigid containers. These flexible packages will often be plastic. Treatment of food-contaminated plastics in the on-board plastics processors and stowage of the plastic discs produced in odor-barrier bags are likely to be satisfactory handling methods for these materials. Attention to source reduction will ensure a minimum volume of waste.
Efforts to use reusable and source-reduced packaging for food products are likely to encounter barriers of lack of availability at a reasonable cost, since it is the Navy's general practice to use commercially available products and packages. Thus, this may well be the area where the Navy will encounter the most difficulty in practicing source reduction. Nonetheless, there are opportunities here.
Nonfood packaging also presents opportunities for the use of reusable and source-reduced package options. Contamination of the used packages by the products may or may not present a problem, depending on the nature of the product. The amount of flexibility the Navy has in specifying reusable or source-reduced packages will also be related to the type of product involved.
Where the items involved are common consumer goods, the Navy may be tied to the available packages employed in the commercial sector. Repackaging, or unpackaging, operations may or may not be feasible. For articles of clothing, for example, the ideal primary (product contact) package is no package at all. For other products, a switch from rigid to flexible packages may be an option, as discussed above for food.