Beyond Recycled Materials: How to Make More Sustainable Packaging

Posted by John Appel on Wed, Oct 5, 2016


The verdict is in: Your customers want responsible, sustainable packaging. For years, sustainability has been a hot topic in the packaging world, especially for B2C businesses. However, it hasn’t always been clear how much concerns about sustainability translate into actual buying decisions.

New studies and anecdotal evidence, however, show that the age of sustainability has arrived. According to a 2014 study from the not-for-profit Forum for the Future, 76 percent of respondents said that companies should reduce the energy used during production and 75 percent said that companies should reduce the amount of new materials used in packaging. A study from Perception Research Services found that 80 percent of worldwide respondents said manufacturers have a responsibility to use sustainable packaging.

Materials play a major role in sustainability, but they’re not the only element.

Often, manufacturers think of sustainability in terms of materials. They think that using recycled materials automatically makes packaging sustainable. Materials play a major role in sustainability, but they’re not the only element.

TransportationSustainability is about the total use of resources and energy during the packaging and distribution process. The actual material for the package plays a role, but so do the materials used for dunnage. Also involved is the energy used during transport and the emissions generated by that activity.

Using recycled materials is a great start, but there’s much more you can do. Even better, many steps that improve sustainability also lead to greater efficiency and cost savings. By making your packaging more sustainable, you may also boost your bottom line.

Below are three strategies to boost your sustainability and possibly make your process more efficient. If you’re not using these strategies in your packaging process, it may be time to consider other options.


1. Implement reusable packaging

Recycled materials aren’t the only way to cut down on the amount of new materials used in your packaging. You can also use rotables, or packages that can be used over and over again.

cardboardRotables are especially effective if you often send the same products or shipments to the same customers on a regular basis. You can work with a packaging consultant to design a reusable package to send your products to your customer. They can then receive and unpack the container, and send the package back to you for reuse. You reduce the consumption of new materials in your packaging, boosting your sustainability and your margins.

You can also extend the rotables concept up your own supply chain. If your receive consistent orders from vendors, you could work with them to implement rotable packaging. Your packaging consultant could design the units and then help to implement them with your suppliers. You also may be able to negotiate discounts since your supplier no longer has to invest in packaging materials.


2. Rethink your dunnage use

Dunnage plays an important role in almost all packaging. It’s especially important if the products in the packaging are highly sensitive or vulnerable to damage. However, too many manufacturers rely on the old standard dunnage options, like shredded paper or foam peanuts.

While those types of dunnage may do the job, they also require substantial amounts of material and they generous significant waste. Other strategies may offer just as much protection in a more efficient and sustainable manner.

For example, it may be that a redesigned package wouldn’t require as much dunnage. A packaging engineer may be able to analyze your risks and develop a packaging solution with less empty space and a reduced need for dunnage. Also, bags of compressed air or other protection options may provide just as much stability and protection.

The only way to really know if you can use less dunnage is to consult with a packaging expert. They can use their years of engineering and design experience to evaluate and reimagine your packaging process. It may be that a reworked design will give you more protection, with less waste and lower costs.


3. Use hubs to optimize your supply chain

So far, we’ve talked about resources in terms of packaging and dunnage materials. However, every time you ship or receive a package, other resources are being used. One of the major ones is fuel, which is obviously consumed by trucks transporting packages to and from your facilities.

One way to reduce fuel consumption is to rethink your supply chain. For example, you could implement something we call the “hub concept.” Right now, you probably have dozens or even hundreds of vendors around the world all shipping their products directly to your facilities. In the hub concept, you set up regional hubs in the geographical areas in which your vendors are located. Your vendors then ship their products directly to the nearby hub. Since the products are travelling a short distance, the products are packaged lightly.

Instead of having multiple vendors all transporting their goods to your facility, the products are bundled together in one shipment.

In the hub, your vendor products are unpacked. They are then packaged in new containers according to your specific design and specifications. At this stage, you could use rotables, streamlined dunnage, recycled materials, or any of the other common sustainable strategies.

The products are then bundled and shipped from the hub to your facility. Instead of having multiple vendors all transporting their goods to your facility, the products are bundled together in one shipment. You reduce fuel consumption because of the streamlined process, and you may also save on packaging costs with your vendors.

Again, an experienced packaging and supply chain consultant can help you develop a hub strategy, analyze your packaging designs and look for ways to increase profitability and sustainability. Deufol_Logo_opt.png



Topics: Industrial Packaging

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