Bags of ideas

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You know that an idea is really going to take off when the big retailers get behind it – and that is just what is happening in packaging. For example, in January Sainsbury’s announced that its “basics” tinned chopped tomatoes would be sold in cartons rather than cans, reducing packaging by half a million kilos a year.

The move is particularly significant because these particular tomatoes are the highest-selling non-fresh products in the store, making this the first time cartons have been used for tinned items at large volumes.

Stuart Lendrum, head of packaging at Sainsbury’s, says: “This type of carton is a strong challenger to the traditional tin can in many ways, and may well pose a threat to its dominance over the coming years.”

Sainsbury’s aims to reduce packaging by a third by 2015 and has already redesigned containers for eggs, ready meals, cereals, yogurt and biscuits in its basics range.

January also saw the launch of a trial of fabric conditioner being sold in reusable pouches from vending machines, introducing a new concept in shopping and reducing packaging waste.

This trial has been funded by Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP), and partners Asda, eziserv, McBrides and Unilever. It is running at five Asda stores.

The self-dispensing technology has been developed by eziserv with support from project partners McBrides, Oakdene Hollins and Unilever. The fabric conditioner will be piped from 1,000 litre, reusable containers from the back-of-store via overhead pipes to a dispensing point in the retail aisle. It allows customers to purchase concentrated fabric conditioner in reusable pouches that can be refilled up to ten times, saving 40p each time compared to the same volume of product in traditional plastic bottles.

There is clear pressure for improved collaboration and communication to drive innovation in packaging. A recent study, conducted by Leeds University Business School and initiated by knowledge providers Faraday, investigated current levels of innovation within and between companies and also identified the main needs and opportunities for innovation.

One of the participants, Heinz’s process and packaging development manager Richard Heath, called for collaboration across the supply chain from the very start. “Good practice is about getting more functions and more people involved as early as possible and ideally getting external people involved as well, primarily suppliers.”

Faraday’s Dr Walter Lewis pointed out: “Almost everyone interviewed agreed that collaboration between companies in the supply chain is very important to innovation. Companies with more open communications tended to be more open to innovation, and we found that when suppliers are offered the opportunity to show what they can do, they respond very well.”

Thomas Luther, Sky account director at Unipart Technology Logistics, says: “All companies should promote and encourage a change of mindset around packaging and really understand what value – if any – does packaging bring to the end consumer proposition. Are big colourful boxes needed, or would a modern consumer appreciate and even find a more environmental solution more valuable? This will drive the future around packaging efficiency and should be supported in every business.”

And Paul James, general manager for development – environmental and compliance solutions at DHL Supply Chain, points out that companies are more aware than they used to be of the opportunities to save cost and reduce their environmental impact through packaging optimisation. “Apart from legislation – such as the Producer Responsibility (Packaging Waste) Regulations 2007 – major retailers and manufacturers are also pledging to remove packaging waste growth through initiatives including WRAP’s Courtauld Commitment.

“The next step is for businesses to be more aware of the benefits to consumers. The recent trend of using microwavable pouches for items such as beans and spaghetti saves money and carbon within the supply chain as well as shelf space at the supermarket. This means that there is no need for consumers to empty the contents into another container for heating, therefore reducing washing of separate containers.”

However, John Lancaster, commercial director at bpi.films points out that: “The real problem for all organisations, irrespective of their size, is that they simply don’t have the time or resources to continually check their packaging operations are taking advantage of the latest technology.”

The company now offers free wrap audits which look at all aspects of a wrapping operation with a view to ensuring it employs the latest advances to cut both waste and costs. “This process often highlights small issues which can make a big difference,” says Lancaster. “For instance, it’s not unusual for us to find people who have bought wrapping machines five years ago and still have them running on the same settings even though film technology and capabilities have moved on.”

And Thomas Luther highlights the fact that eliminating waste from processes improves quality, thereby delivering productivity and environmental benefits. “Unipart seeks to reduce waste wherever possible and recycle that which is produced. In 2008, our best performing site achieved a recycling rate of 98 per cent. We achieved this by ensuring that cardboard, shrink-wrap and plastic banding are baled for recycling and wooden pallets are sold for reuse.”

Companies also need to look at returnable packaging, says Russell Smith,’s plastic box specialist.

“Limiting the use of single trip packaging and exploring returnable transit packaging systems is one example of how companies can improve their environmental performance. offers a full range of reusable plastic containers that can be used for storing and transporting products including hygienic containers, storage trays and boxes that stack, nest and fold.”

“Innovative materials and technologies are slowly but surely transforming the market,” says John Lancaster. “For packaging users, reducing costs and maximising margins are perennial needs. Likewise, the need for increased sustainability is here to stay. As such, people will always look for and embrace new materials and technologies as they prove their worth. Down-gauged hand films are a case in point. After a degree of healthy scepticism as to whether they could deliver their supposed cost and environmental benefits, they are now an established choice in the marketplace and their use is going from strength to strength.

“Considering these improvements in efficiency and reductions in both cost and environmental impact, it’s not a question as to why someone would want to use innovative materials and technologies. It’s more a case of why wouldn’t they?”

There is no doubt that the recession has affected attitudes to packaging and recycling. Paul James reckons that the recession has made businesses more aware of their supply chains. “Operations are being streamlined and there is a greater necessity to find cost savings. Businesses realise that reviewing the packaging required to move goods can help lower transport costs.”

Russell Smith warns that companies “should remain open-minded to the benefits of investing in innovative packaging systems. In addition to the environmental benefits that can be achieved, returnable packaging systems can offer considerable cost-savings. For example, in a closed loop scenario, with normal handling and loading within design limits, plastic pallets and boxes have a life span of up to, and even exceeding ten years. In comparison to wooden alternatives, this extended life span means plastic pallets and boxes could last up to ten times longer, therefore offering an excellent investment for the future.”

And Lancaster says: “The recession did change attitudes to packaging and recycling but perhaps not in the way or to the extent that you might have expected. Value has always been important to all organisations although we did notice that it became more pronounced during the downturn. What does appear to have changed is the way people measure value in the first place. In terms of pallet stretch-wrap, users are increasingly looking at cost per pallet rather than purchase price to gauge whether a film delivers good returns or not.”

Packed with customer appeal
One e-commerce retailer has found strong customer support for moving over to a more environmentally friendly box filler. The retailer ships nearly 600,000 boxes a year, and because the products being shipped often don’t match the exact size of the box, they need something to protect them during shipment.

In the past, to cope with such high volumes, the packaging materials of choice were airbags at decentralised packing stations. It decided to move over to Ranpak’s FillPak TT void fill system enabling all packers to have their own machine at their own dedicated packing station, bringing increases in efficiency and productivity.

It also took the opportunity to explain to customers that it had switched packaging materials from plastic to recycled brown paper and invited comments. These are a couple of the responses:

“Thank you for my order, which arrived today along with your information about new packaging that can be recycled. I very much welcome this move towards being more environmentally friendly and applaud you for doing this.”

Another customer said: “I’m just writing to say that I’m glad you are finally using less plastic packaging. The previous excessive amounts discouraged me from ordering online so the switch is very welcome. I hope you continue to phase out the use of all unnecessary and unrecyclable materials in your packaging.”

Whisky galore
Excel Automation has completed all four phases of a contract to upgrade the Chivas Brothers’ palletisation and automatic dispatch facility in Dumbarton. The project, for one of Scotland’s largest bottling plants with storage for over 10,800 palletised loads, is expected to achieve a 50 per cent increase in output.

Phase 1 and 2 involved a major refurbishment of two automatic storage and retrieval systems and associated pallet conveyors, as well as new conveyor systems to improve the flow of palletised product into the warehouse. Excel also totally refurbished eight narrow-aisle stacker cranes.

Phase 3 included eight new production line conveying systems to transport different-sized cartons from the bottling plant into a new palletising plant where they are automatically sorted into pallet profiles. Over 1,000m of Excelveyor 500 belt-driven carton conveyor were installed; and every 600mm section up to the palletising area features a soft-start system that prevents bottles breaking, while achieving the fastest possible cycle speed. The high-level out-feed conveyor system installed for Phase 4 transfers cases from the automated stores through two barcode labellers and onto conveyor lines that remove in-house pallets and replace them with either a slip sheet or one of five types of shipping pallet. Loads are then transferred on a high-speed shuttle car to one of 13 accumulation lanes, at the end of which is a turntable that automatically orientates the pallets to maximise lorry loads. Excel also supplied two automated guided vehicle systems.

FP green lines
FP International has launched two environmentally friendly packaging lines. The products, Flo-Pak Green polystyrene loose fill and Cell-O Green air cushion, form part of the company’s Green Family – the umbrella brand under which FP markets its ecological products.

Flo-Pak Green is the first ever degradable expanded polystyrene loose fill on the market. Manufactured from 100 per cent recycled polystyrene, it can be recycled and reused many times, reducing the need for energy-intensive manufacturing processes to produce new loose fill.

The second product introduced as part of FP International’s Green Family is Cell-O Green, a cost-effective, durable and environmentally responsible air cushion that offers superior void-fill and cushioning while also being lightweight, recyclable, reusable and degradable. Cell-O Green packaging is made with post-consumer recycled high density polyethylene. It is designed to be reused many times. However, once it has reached the end of its useful life, it can be recycled or incinerated for energy recovery.

Reusuable trays show savings
Czech automotive packaging specialist Omnipack is using ARPRO expanded polypropylene to produce up to 15,000 dunnage trays a year for the country’s automotive industry. The reusable trays, which are designed to protect a variety of parts in transport from suppliers to vehicle assembly lines, are around seven times more cost-effective than the cardboard packaging previously used, while offering significant environmental benefits.

The trays, which are up to 1,400mm by 1,000mm in size, but only one kilo in weight, travel between the supplier and its customer 50 times each year. The material used needed to be lightweight and easy to handle, yet robust enough to last for the full production life of a vehicle. To protect the parts in transport it also needed to isolate them from vibration and prevent the ingress of moisture.

“The quality advantages of the new trays continue right to the production line,” says Pavel Ridký of Skoda Auto.

Unlike cardboard packaging, ARPRO dunnage trays are dust-free in use, which minimises problems of part contamination during vehicle assembly. Over its five-year life, each tray is expected to replace up to 250 sets of non-reusable packaging, while light weight helps reduce fuel consumption on both the delivery and return journeys. At the end of their life, the trays are fully recyclable.

“Reusable packaging is an increasingly important element in many supply chains,” says Paul Compton, JSP’s executive vice president and chief operating officer – Europe. “For many of our customers, ARPRO provides a solution the other materials just can’t match.”

Sticky solution
Smurfit Kappa developed the pack, which uses a cartridge body that can be cut away and recycled with domestic collections and a nozzle and plunger made from biodegradable plastics.

Greengrab is an instant-grab adhesive, while Greenseal is a bathroom sealant. John Griffiths, product manager for Evo-Stik says: “Despite the current economic climate, green issues remain high on the consumer agenda. Our new “green” range is the beginning of Bostik’s journey towards a more sustainable product offering. To realise these products we had to source environmentally friendly packaging. Here, Smurfit Kappa stepped in to provide the perfect solution.”

Keith Nichol, general manager at Smurfit Kappa Composites says: “We worked in close partnership with Bostik to source and develop an innovative product offering. Our FSC certified, recyclable and durable paper-based cartridges are designed to keep the product in perfect condition within the supply chain, while ticking the right environmental boxes.”

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