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History of the Plastic Pail Industry

In the 1967 United Artist’s movie The Graduate, the young man Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) was given some very valuable advice…
“The future can be summed up in one word: Plastics…”

The plastics revolution in the industrial shipping container field was definitely beginning. The plastic pail industry was born in this same revolutionary era with planning and designs being formulated as early as 1965, and in 1967 the first plastic pails were produced and sold by Bennett Industries. Roper Plastics, Vulcan, Gilcrest Davies, US Steel, Letica Corporation, Plastican, Rheem Manufacturing, Landis Plastics and Paragon Molding also participated as early pioneers and inventors in the development and improvement of these products. Canadian producers were also working on their own plastic pail projects at that time. Plastic pails were introduced to replace conventional packaging, such as glass jars, metal pails, tins, steel drums, and corrugated boxes. Plastic pails offered a more durable and economical alternative to the lined metal pail in common use at the time.

The plastic pail industry flourished through the persistence of many entrepreneurial individuals that continuously urged and prodded resin producers, molding machine manufacturers and color compounders to work with them to develop materials and processes. Much experimentation and developmental work resulted in plastic pails that were stronger and more flexible. Soon, plastic pails achieved acceptance in target industries such as paint, food products like pickles and sauces, drywall joint compounds, adhesives, and lubricants. The advantages of plastic pails attracted literally overnight acceptance by shippers.  This caused some early supply problems as companies geared up to meet the demand. One producer recalls having a 6-month lead-time in 1970!

Many challenges and obstacles arose in the early years. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) needed to approve plastic pails for foods, food ingredients and pharmaceuticals. Similarly, approvals from the United States Department of Transportation were needed to allow this innovative new package to ship by rail and truck. More testing and development ensued. One test included shipping five-gallon plastic pails, some filled with water and others with sand, from California to Washington DC via a very rough less-than-truckload ride. When the shipment arrived with no breakage or leakage, the first national motor freight approvals were granted. The plastic pail was quickly accepted by all major industries as the preferred package.

Over the last fifty years, the plastic pail industry has invented, developed, and introduced the five-gallon plastic pail – which has become one of the most dominant shipping containers known in the world. It has kept pace with the needs of the market by introducing stronger and more flexible pails and covers. Today’s plastic pails provide higher performance and greater value than ever before. They will not dent or crease in distribution and storage, they are inherently rust-proof, they withstand rigorous shipping, distribution and handling practices, and importantly, they are easily recycled.

The manufacturing companies, along with their suppliers of plastic resin, handles, lids, molds, closures, gaskets and colorants used in container production, have unified their efforts through the Plastic Shipping Container Institute. They work together with local, state, national, and international regulatory agencies and legislative bodies. The ASTM Standard for Infant Drowning Warning Labels was spearheaded and formulated by PSCI. PSCI also cooperated in the development of new and updated National Motor Freight Regulations and Rail Shipping Standards that have been presented and adopted in recent years. The members of the Plastic Shipping Container Institute remains committed to industry improvements through its members’ joint efforts.

The future was and still is: PLASTICS.