Pack to the future

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The era of Russian doll packaging is fast receding to make way for a new wave of smarter, greener, and more cash-savvy products. JESSICA DAVIES reports.

The role of transit packaging is rapidly evolving from consumable to supply chain asset. The notion of reusable packaging has always made commercial sense, but the downturn has sparked fresh demand for products that go further, performharder, and create less waste.

The pressure of consumer conscience has added to the mix. Recent shopper research from the Institute of Grocery and Distribution revealed that 55 per cent of shoppers want to know more about the environmental impact of food and grocery products – with 40 per cent saying they were actively interested in packaging in particular.

However, Alex Begley of bpi.films says: “Packaging buyers are bombarded with fantastical claims about the green and other benefits to a given product every day of their working lives so it’s only natural for there to be a healthy degree of scepticism. This is now being compounded by the phenomenon of ‘greenwashing’ where somemanufacturers are trying to exploit any perceived eco-benefit, nomatter how tenuous, to position a product as being environmentally friendly.”

Trials are the best way to ensure any claims are credible, and a number of these are being rolled out. Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) is carrying out a host of reusable packaging trials which it claims could kick-start a “reusable revolution” among retailers andmanufacturers.

Asda, B&Q, Ceva Logistics and Parcelforce are among WRAP’s collaboration partners, each set on exploring how reusable and refillable systems can help the retail supply chain reduce packaging and product damage, save costs and increase consumer loyalty.

B&Q is currently testing reusable packaging formats suitable for the home delivery of “longs” products, such as skirting board or interior trims for kitchen and bedrooms. The first reusable packaging prototype completed more than 20 trips during testing, preventing the need for single-trip corrugated packaging.

This follows on fromthe home improvement retailer’s first trial, in which it adopted reusable transit Carrierpacs for kitchen worktops, some of which have now reached 80 uses, saving some £300,000 as a result.

Danilo Oliynik, commercial director at Linpac Allibert, reckons a Returnable Transit Packaging (RTP)-enabled supply chain, whether it is bought or leased, can make a major impact on a business, without it having to compromise on environmental ambitions.

“Reductions in carbon footprint can seema bit ethereal in today’s climate but there is clear evidence that paying attention to the environmental benefits of RTP can have a direct impact on the bottom line. Not only does it help to reduce fuel costs and reduce product wastage, the fact that containers can be reused time and time again over a life of several years in a range of hard-working environments help deliver real returns on investment,” he says.

Carbon savings
Linpac commissioned a carbon footprint study in accordance with PAS 2050 standards, in which it selected corrugated boxes directly comparable with its reusable plastic crates. The study revealed that plastic RTP was more carbon-efficient than cardboard after just 20 trips, and over five years a standard retail container could achieve carbon savings of 67 per cent when compared to cardboard.

“The holy grail of RTP is the shelf-ready or retail-ready packaging,” says Oliynik. This allows products to remain in the same packaging throughout the supply chain and onto the shop floor with minimal handling, making considerable savings. “The last 50 yards from the back-of-house to the front-of-house is driving several percentage points of cost. Retail-ready packaging helps to bypassmuch of this and is a key area where we can really add value to retail supply chain solutions,” he says. Oliynik reckons adopting RTP should be a no-brainer and that businesses increasingly see investment in plastic RTP as the way forward. However, the debate over plastic versus timber packaging and pallets is still raging.

John Dye, president of the Timber Packaging and Pallet Confederation (TIMCON), and international director of the National Wooden Pallet & Container Association (NWPCA) in the US, points to timber as the best option for packaging and pallets; costing a fraction of the price of plastic, and proving more environmentally friendly.

Dye says the key benefits of using timber are that it is cheaper, reusable, repairable and recyclable, and carbonneutral. “Compare this with the oil-depleting processes needed to produce plastic packagingmaterials and it points to why plastics will remain merely a niche alternative, and the vastmajority of the UK palletmarket will be using timber for many,many years to come.”

The NWPCA has voiced concerns over the use of decabromine, which has been added to plastic pallets by some US manufacturers. This chemical has been introduced as a fire retardant, after fire chiefs in the country said plastic pallets were potentially flammable and therefore posed a greater fire risk. Some studies have also suggested products that contain deca-bromine can leach,making thempotentially unsafe for use in food chains, or dangerous to the environment.

DHL Express has come up with a more environmentally friendly global packaging range made from 100 per cent recyclable material, as part of its GoGreen environmental protection strategy.

The new range extends from an envelope to a pallet box, and includes a set of seven boxes of different sizes, two triangular tubes and four wine boxes, and will be phased in gradually, eventually replacing all current branded packaging. Each item’s design features a reduced surface area, so as to require less storage space at customer sites.

bpi.films’ Wrapsmart range of handfilms is designed to offer the same performance as a conventional 14-micron film but from a film profile that’s up to half the thickness. The result is that less packaging waste by weight is created, and disposal and subsequent recycling costs are reduced.

“Plus, as the films are thinner, we can windmore of it onto a standard reel. This extra meterage means every reel goes further,” says Begley. “We have found that if a company is currently wrapping 100,000 pallets with a 14-micron handfilm, it’ll be generating 27 tonnes of waste. If it subsequently switches to one of our downgauged 7-micron Wrapsmart handwraps – which offer parallel levels of performance to a standard 14-micron film– it’ll only generate 13.5 tonnes.”

No waste
The company’s Zeroll handfilm contains no cardboard core at its centre and is instead applied using special reusable applicators. It says that a business using a pallet of handfilm a week will save four tonnes of cardboard a year from entering its waste stream by using Zeroll as opposed to a conventional handfilm.

“In a theoretical situation, a customer located 200 miles from a bpi.films site takes six deliveries of conventional 14- micron stretchfilmper year.

“The lorry making these deliveries runs at tenmiles to 4.5 litres of diesel, which gives attributable carbon dioxide emissions of 1,447kg or the equivalent to 395kgs of carbon per year. If we were to supply the same customer with a 7-micron Wrapsmart film, we could deliver the same meterage in just three deliveries. This saves 724kgs of carbon dioxide – equal to 197kgs of carbon.

The company says its sister business, bpi.recycled products, is the largest reprocessor of waste polythene in Europe. As such, it has a good idea as to the type of reductions a customer can make to its carbon footprint if it chooses to recycle its polythene waste. “Every tonne of polythene reprocessed gives a saving of up to 1.96 tonnes in CO2 compared to using virginmaterials,” says Begley.

Packaging manufacturer Smurfit Kappa has developed SKuffguard – a soft, non-abrasive liner for corrugated board, designed to protect products frombeing scuffed, scratched or damaged while in the supply chain. The 100 per cent recyclable liner also replaces the need for extra, inner protective packaging such as polystyrene or bubblewrap.

Due to the absence of the inner protective packaging, packs can fit snugly around a product, reducing the size and amount of packaging required. Such reductions in overall pack sizes could lead to better palletisation, enabling products to be shipped and storedmore cost effectively.

Case Study: TDG and Axion drumup good recycling results

Logistics giant TDG and plastic recycling specialist Axion Consulting have teamed up for a project which will see more than a million high-density polyethylene (HDPE) chemical drums and containers recycled each year – the equivalent of 2,500 tonnes of materials.

Under the scheme, which was launched in May, TDG collects waste cleaning agent containers which are then recycled into highgrade HDPE resin at Axion’s processing site. Axion Consulting developed the solution and provided technical support for the design, layout and project management for a shredding and washing unit within TDG’s existing tanker cleaning and effluent treatment plant at its Batley site, near Leeds.

End-of-life 25 and 200-litre detergent drums and 1,000-litre intermediate bulk containers are shredded and washed to reduce volume and remove any residues, before being shipped to Axion’s Salford processing plant. Here the polymer is recycled into high-grade pellet and clean chip for reuse in new products, such as new drums or applications for the automotive industry.

Axion director Roger Morton says tracking individual drums using TDG’s sophisticated computer system is key to making the scheme work. “This means we can be certain of what’s been in the drums before they get shredded so we can ensure the polymer is safe when it’s recycled,” he says.

“Demand is high for HDPE and we’ve had a lot of interest from the packaging sector, which is keen to minimise its carbon impact and reduce cost by using high-grade recycled content in new containers.”

For TDG, recycling its end-of-life containers offers a significant environmental and alternative disposal route, and an added-value service to its customers. It is also setting up similar packaging recycling schemes to operate alongside it with two other commercial cleaning and hygiene services customers, Johnson Diversey and Ecolab. Ann Dawson, TDG’s general manager for Tank Cleaning and Industrial Packaging Operation at Batley, says: “Offering this service helps our customers with a viable disposal service for their old containers and prevents a lot of recyclable waste going into landfill as just one 25-litre container generates 1kg of HDPE.”

Pledges: No-waste pacts from retailers

  • Sainsbury’s is to reduce its own-brand packaging weight by 33 per cent by 2015.
  • The Co-operative’s waste minimisation initiative aims to use 15 per cent less packaging for own-brand products by the end of 2010.
  • Tesco is diverting 100 per cent of waste produced by its entire UK business away from landfill.
  • Asda plans to send zero waste to landfill across all of the Asda and George businesses, including depots and offices, by 2010.
  • Morrisons aims to use 15 per cent less own-brand packaging by 2010.
  • Coca-Cola aims to increase the use of recycled PET to 25 per cent in all its bottles by the end of 2010.
  • PepsiCo aims to achieve zero landfill waste across its total supply chain within ten years.
  • Nestlé in the UK & Ireland aims to achieve zero food packaging and waste (from factories) to landfill by 2012.

Source: Institute of Grocery and Distribution.

Projects: Asda tackleswaste in the chill chain

Asda is working with Campden BRI and DuPoint Tejin Films to measure food and packaging waste in the supply chain caused by sub-optimal chill chain management, and produce recommendations for chill chain users to improve temperature control.

Martin George, project leader at Campden BRI, says: “Reducing food waste is an economic and environmental necessity for both industry and the consumer. Within the chilled food sector, much of the food (and associated packaging) waste comes from poor temperature control, which can occur in any one of the many component parts of the chilled food supply chain.

“This project will quantify the extent of the problem and provide invaluable guidance to the chilled food manufacturer, retailer and consumer on the best practices to manage chilled food temperatures.”

The effectiveness of new packaging materials in protecting chilled foods from temperature variations will also be investigated. Adare is developing an innovative solution for chicken packaging on behalf of Somerfield, to help reduce food and packaging waste for both the consumer and the retailer.

The new packaging uses a flexible shrink wrap format in place of the traditional tray, and also eliminates the need for self-adhesive labels by printing directly onto the film.

It also has the added benefit of extending the shelf life of the product by up to two days, by using a high-barrier film in conjunction with gas-flushing.

According to initial data supplied by the product supplier, this equates to a 74 per cent packaging weight reduction.

Checklist: Will RTP suit my business?

Mike Robey, WRAP’s retail programme manager – home improvement, warns that multi-trip, reusable packaging isn’t suitable for every business. He advises companies to consider the following seven factors before opting for RTP.

  • What material is the packaging made from;
  • How many reuses can it offer (the more the better);
  • What distance will be travelled, for example, the packaging has to be recovered and taken back to the start of the supply chain, so what opportunities are there for back-hauling;
  • Vehicle/cube utilisation (some reusable packaging can be more bulky therefore can take up more room in the truck);
  • Pool size – should have a sufficient float to accommodate order change levels, for example, for dealing with Christmas peaks;
  • Recycled content (the more recyclable the material, the better);
  • End-of-life – once the reusables reach end-of-life, where do they go.


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