Getting goods from A to B is one thing, but getting them there in one piece and in a cost effective and environmentally friendly manner is quite another. Lucy Tesseras takes a look at the latest thinking about packaging and recycling.
The packaging a product comes in may seem like a fairly meaningless shell, used merely to catch the consumer’s eye and stop the product rolling off the shelf, but changing it could go a long way to saving money and reducing environmental impact.
Replacing cans with cartons, as Sainsbury’s did earlier this year for its Basics tinned tomatoes, is a prime example. In addition to being more aesthetically pleasing, the cartons weigh less, stack more easily and can be transported in greater quantities than their tin counterparts. In fact, the supermarket giant estimated that the move will reduce carbon emissions by 156 tonnes per year.
In a similar project, Indian food brand Patak’s enlisted the help of DS Smith Packaging, a pioneer of corrugated packaging, to re-engineer a pack for its bread products. The new box uses 20 per cent less packaging, and as it is now stronger, products can also be stored upright on the pallet, increasing pallet utilisation by eight per cent, as well as reducing logistics costs and carbon emissions.
The packaging firm has also created savings for Premier Foods by introducing corrugated packaging. After evaluating the distribution and in-store performance of the food manufacturer’s existing retail ready pack for the Fray Bentos brand, it identified that perforations in the packaging were splitting open in transit, which was restricting pallet stacking heights. DS Smith Packaging produced a new design without perforations, initially using the ShelfMaster format and later a printed die-cut for the new automated line, which meant an additional four layers of product could be added to each pallet giving a potential annual reduction of 6,000 pallet movements and more than 230 fewer lorries.
Companies are always looking to find more cost effective ways to dispatch goods. However, Emma Smith of Storopack warns that less is not always more when it comes to void fill. “If a business were to reduce the amount of void fill used during packaging without testing the durability of the material it could end up costing them more in product breakages, and damage the reputation of the business. Companies should not be looking to use less packaging material to save money, they need to evaluate their entire packaging process to deliver cost and process optimisation.”
Instead, she suggests taking steps such as reducing the size of cardboard boxes which minimises the amount of void fill needed and the weight of the item being dispatched.
Office Depot did just that after installing the Jivaro automated packaging system from Savoye. The system uses a sensor to measure the height of each filled carton and then cuts and folds it to ensure there is no unnecessary space in the box, which is then lidded and glued.
The company also launched a folding range, a concept which Smith says is becoming increasingly popular in the retail sector. “We have noticed more and more companies in the retail sector favour foldable plastic crates over wood or cardboard boxes. Not only are foldable plastic crates more hygienic for storing perishables in store, they fold flat when empty, so can also help suppliers cut costs and their carbon footprint as return journey transport is reduced.”
Approaches to packaging are most definitely changing, agrees Alex Begley (below left), sales director at bpi.films, “and not least because users are now more conscious of it than ever. In the past, packaging was largely there to perform a functional role – to protect and secure items as they move down the supply chain. In today’s environmentally aware world, it’s not just about functionality any more. It’s about meeting the same brief but in a way that’s as green as possible.
“We’ve all seen and heard the debate in the press and in political and other arenas about packaging and more specifically about packaging waste. As a result, people want the reassurance of knowing their purchases aren’t packaged in a way that is superfluous or detrimental to the environment. Manufacturers and their logistics partners are understandably keen to deliver that peace of mind and are re-evaluating their choice of packaging material, their methods of application and their working practices.”
However, Emma Smith says that while environmental issues are certainly on the agenda for most businesses, they will never overtake cost as a driving force when decisions are being made. “Cost is one of the main focal points for most businesses. [Companies] are still interested in greener packaging alternatives, but if they discover they may have to pay some sort of premium for it, in our experience, interest usually subsides.
“Sustainable packaging is a growing segment within the market, and the move towards biodegradable and compostable materials is definitely an established trend and one that will grow when the economy starts to recover.”