How packaging innovation can help in emergency situations

When disaster strikes, humanitarian aid workers around the world show us their hero-like capabilities. They organize and activate within hours, or even minutes. The obstacles they face to do their job are extreme and unpredictable.

Consider for a moment trying to deliver food, water, or medical supplies to a community impacted by a severe weather event. First you have to get the supplies into the region. Then get the supplies to relief centers, as close as possible to the impacted communities. And finally get the supplies to the individuals. Roads are often destroyed, full of debris, or flooded with water. Air and water travel are usually restricted by ongoing environmental concerns. Individuals often lack the basic means to carry or store supplies.

Let’s focus on one basic need: clean, safe drinking water. In many cases you cannot drive in a water tank. You have to reach each person with a viable portion of water, quickly and efficiently. Now imagine carrying several cases of bottled water or bulk rigid containers. It would require actual hero-like strength.

These are the types of challenges we want to help solve. How can we use our products for social good? Could packaging be an unlikely hero?

Using packaging innovation to help solve global challenges

Packaging is not often the hero these days. It is getting a reputation for causing problems, versus solving them. But if we look at packaging differently and we innovate and design with purpose, packaging can be a solution.

In this case, we applied an existing innovation into an area of need we had not anticipated. PacXpert™ packaging technology is a flexible alternative to traditional bulk rigid containers. It is lightweight and can be stored and shipped flat. It features an easy-to-use design with top and bottom handles, which enable easier, controlled pouring as well as efficient filling. Its flexible design allows it to be completely depleted of its contents, so it can be easily cleaned and reused.

Lightweight and efficient to ship & recover
Easy to fill, carry, use
Flat design when empty

PacXpert™ packaging technology was not developed for the purpose of disaster relief or water distribution, but it was designed to provide distinct benefits. When we considered the complexities of emergency situations, these distinct benefits offered an ideal solution.

Packaging used for humanitarian aid

In the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, residents in the Bahamas were in desperate need of safe drinking water. Using PacXpert™ packaging technology, Smart Bottle was able to deliver 8,125 gallons (~30,756 liters) of water holding capacity on a single pallet. Giving a local water filtration relief group the means to efficiently provide clean water to the community.

After Typhoon Hagibis devastated Japan, the employees of Dow Japan took action donating 1,800 flexible containers enabled by PacXpert™ packaging technology and $25,000 in support of local relief group, A-PAD Japan. This enabled A-PAD Japan to quickly deliver the containers to Soma-city, Fukushima prefecture and Marumori-city, Miyagi prefecture. A-PAD has been using this flexible and efficient packaging option to assist with emergency situations since 2017.

Plastics SA in South Africa has used PacXpert™ packaging technology in multiple relief situations. It was used to deliver drinking water to Mozambique after a series of devastating storms in 2019. Plastics SA is also using the technology to transport water into areas of Cape Town impacted by drought, such as Khayalitsha, the largest informal settlement of Cape Town Metropole, where shacks were destroyed during a fire in the beginning of 2019.

Supporting disaster relief, sustainably

What we don’t want to do it solve one problem, while creating another. This is another reason why PacXpert™ packaging technology was an ideal response. It’s lightweight and flat design allow a larger number of units to be transported more efficiently – meaning less emissions from vehicles. The fact that it can be completely depleted means every drop of product – in this case, water – can be used. This also allows the package to be easily cleaned and ready for use again. This is not a single-use solution.

An unexpected reuse of PacXpert™ packaging technology

Since 2017, PacXpert™ packaging technology has been used to provide clean drinking water for volunteers during Project Butterfly cleanup events in Africa. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Africa in 2020, rural communities were looking for ways to provide basic hygiene needs. The PacXpert™ containers that had been previously used for water, were transformed and reused for hand washing stations.

I am encouraged by the impact a single innovation can have. Imagine how we could use packaging for good. When we focus on designing packaging with purpose, it can help solve challenges.

Learn more about PacXpert™ packaging technology.

Fabrice Digonnet, Dow Global Project Leader

Adult helping two children wash their hands using PacXpert packaging technology