Each issue, FlexPack VOICE™ hosts a question-and-answer segment that discusses important issues with an industry leader. This issue, we interview Dhuanne Dodrill, CEO of PAXXUS, based in Addison, Illinois, a global, vertically integrated flexible health care packaging manufacturer. With over 30 years of experience in the flexible packaging industry, Dodrill has worked in a variety of technical, quality assurance, and management positions. She is the immediate past chairperson of ASTM International’s Committee F02 on Primary Barrier Packaging. She is the chairperson of the Sterilization Packaging Manufacturers Council and serves on the executive board of directors of the Flexible Packaging Association, while being active with IoPP’s Medical Device Packaging Technical Committee. Dodrill also is on the Kilmer Innovations in Packaging Steering Committee. She loves the science behind packaging and is passionate about promoting the role that packaging can play in improving patient outcomes. She has a B.S. in Chemical Engineering—with honors—from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
FlexPack VOICE™: What do you see as the major issues facing the industry in 2021, globally and/or domestically?
Dhuanne Dodrill: The impact of the pandemic will continue to be felt, both on the economy and through the associated shifts in consumption. In the health care sector that PAXXUS serves, we’ve seen tremendous growth in diagnostics and in the life-saving and life-sustaining products needed to fight COVID-19. In contrast, elective and non-urgent surgeries and procedures have sharply declined, as has the demand for their related products. In 2021, we anticipate a resurgence as health care providers catch up on delayed procedures, creating a new set of challenges. The ability to be nimble and respond quickly will be a differentiator.
FPV: What would you say is the biggest challenge/lesson learned that you faced with COVID-19?
DD: In the early weeks of the crisis, running an essential manufacturing business in the midst of rapidly changing and evolving guidance was very challenging. While our employees understood the importance of our work, they were, understandably, scared. Communication was the key to navigating through this period. We worked to be completely transparent in what we knew, what we were doing, and why we were doing it. Normally, we would have accomplished this through a series of in-person meetings, as I find that to be a very effective way of soliciting feedback and suggestions. Of course, the coronavirus made this approach unwise. Instead, we worked to communicate in as many other means and formats that we could. Through even the toughest of times, the transparency in communication resulted in even better employee morale, trust, and engagement.
FPV: The trade agreements with USMCA and China will start to take effect this year. Any thoughts on what will happen as it pertains to the industry?
DD: The trade agreement with China was already being stressed by the impact of the pandemic on economic activity. China now appears to be reneging on the Phase 1 trade deal by halting the purchase of U.S. soybeans, bringing the entire agreement into question. Potential and expanded tariffs continue to lead to uncertainty, which is never a good thing for business.
USMCA provides incremental improvements over NAFTA. As a technology-driven company, we appreciate the increased intellectual property protection.
FPV: How do you see government regulations as they pertain to the industry? What should change?
DD: In the health care segment, the EU Medical Device Regulation, going into effect in 2021, establishes new requirements around usability and aseptic presentation for packaging. With these regulations, the thinking around medical device packaging has really shifted from a product-centric focus to truly designing with human factors in mind. The positive implications for patient safety and ultimately improving patient outcomes is quite exciting.
On the sustainability side, regulations around banning packaging are quite concerning. Flexible packaging’s carbon impact, fossil fuel usage, water usage, and material to landfill are quite favorable as compared to other packaging formats, e.g. glass bottles, cans, or paper bags. The regulatory focus should instead be on developing a waste management infrastructure and enhanced processing technologies to provide end-of-life alternatives for multi-material flexible packaging.
FPV: In what ways should the industry promote sustainability?
DD: We need to combat the perception that plastic—and specifically flexible packaging—is bad for the environment. There is no question that ocean debris is a real issue that needs to be addressed. However, eliminating plastics or requiring that all packaging be a single component ignores the very positive and necessary role of flexible packaging. We need to continue to educate consumers and regulators. It is important to highlight the fact that flexible packaging, in general, and single-use packaging, in particular, has helped keep people safe and healthy during this pandemic.
Single-component plastic solutions that are recycle-ready have a place and need to continue to evolve and improve. However, the long-term key to addressing the waste issue is creating a broad infrastructure to gather flexible packaging and employing the emerging options for material recovery to provide meaningful end-of-life alternatives for multi-material flexible packaging.