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It’s called the ultimate environmental crime – allowing a product to be damaged in transit. But what are the options? Johanna Parsons reports. 

The use of environmentally friendly materials has long been accepted as the right choice to make, for all kinds of socially responsible reasons. But there is also the fact that as often as not, the green choice is quite simply the most efficient.

We all know that transport is one of the biggest costs for logistics operations, so packaging that reduces weight and volume is a popular choice. But while using less packaging is an obvious goal, simply cutting back is not viable if it puts package integrity at risk.

“It is the ultimate environmental crime to allow a product to get damaged in transit,” says Gavin Ashe, managing partner at Kite Packaging.

The importance of balancing protective properties, environmental properties and of course cost means that the efficiencies of established packaging technologies are still being developed.

Kite Packaging launched its Enviro range with this in mind, says Ashe. “This includes stretch wrap, boxes and tape that all use less cardboard to reduce the amount of waste generated.

“Our Enviro-tape in particular has saved our customers a huge amount of money, as well as reducing their environmental impact. Most notably a furniture company… saved an average of £3,600 per year when switching,” says Ashe.

And Golden Valley Pallet Wrap Specialists claims that it is saving companies thousands of pounds each year in costs with an assessment of their pallet wrapping techniques. It gives the example of Leeways Packaging, a manufacturer of thermoformed food packaging which was able to cut £0.37 per pallet wrapped. That’s an annual saving of £23,088.

Well established materials often also have the best established credentials for recycling. Indeed, cardboard and corrugated card in particular is so well known for its strength-to-weight ratios and recyclability that it is difficult to see what more could be done to optimise use of the material.

As with many factors in logistics, the key lies in the processes and infrastructure.

Andy Barnetson, director of packaging affairs at the Confederation of Paper Industries, is urging local authorities to do more to encourage businesses to recycle their corrugated packaging.

The industry estimates that every year over 80 per cent of the material is recycled, equivalent to an area three times the size of Greater London. But Barnetson reckons there is still quite a high proportion of corrugated card found in the residual waste stream, and that while an increasing number of councils are benefiting from providing commercial recycling collections, they are not obliged to do so. “It’s not uncommon for some authorities to refuse to accept paper and card from an office because they treat it as commercial waste,” he says.

Stuart Roberts of Sealed Air Europe agrees that there is a distinct demand for more rigorous recycling requirements.

“The consumer market is far more disciplined than the industrial market, he says. “We should better educate people on recycling, including any costs. Many people are looking at renewable packaging instead.”

Simon Potter of DHL Envirosolutions, says: “The ‘polluter pays’ principle favoured by many governments ensures that businesses are financially motivated to reduce waste and their carbon footprint. At DHL we also find that a key driver for businesses to be ‘green’ is when they realise they can create their own revenue stream from recycling waste.” And of course recycling is a concept that can be carried through to all kinds of levels, particularly in our logistics industry.

“As landfill tax continues to rise – already reaching £72 per tonne – and with possible restrictions later this decade on the types of material which can be sent to landfill, the financial savings from both reducing waste and the business opportunities in collecting and recovering this material will each grow significantly in the coming decade,” says Schoeller Allibert’s Simon Knights.

For example, Norbert Dentressangle was recently appointed by Shanks Waste Management to manage the European export of its low carbon fuel which is itself derived from refuse materials.

Green incentives

The R1-accredited incinerators can extract energy from refuse derived fuel with a very high efficiency rate, and are recognised as “energy recovery” rather than “disposal” operations. The high biogenic biomass content gives Shanks’ recovered fuel significantly lower fossilised carbon emissions than a pure fossil fuel.

And the incentives all help. Knights says: “As legislation and targets result in increasing quantities of materials collected for recycling, we expect the use of RTP in this sector to grow between 200 and 300 per cent in the next ten years as waste management companies move away from single trip packaging.”

But there are many factors which dictate the relative benefits of recycling and returnable packaging.

Dr Liz Wilks, Asia Pulp & Paper’s European director says that returnable packaging only has distinct advantages when the supply chain can deal with returns at a minimum environ-mental cost.

“We can often find that returnable packaging, such as the classic example of a glass bottle, has a hidden environmental cost – whether in terms of its weight, or the space taken up to ship it back to source.

“Recyclable packaging by contrast, avoids the environmental impact of shipping it back to source, but suppliers need to consider the recycling infrastructure within their market,” she says.

One exceptional example of a project that has made the best out of the both RTP and re-usable materials is ColaLife, a charity that piggybacks on the established RTP distribution networks of big brands to send out vital healthcare supplies to remote villages in the third world.

“You can buy a Coca-Cola virtually anywhere in developing countries but in these same places, one in nine children die before their fifth birthday from simple preventable causes like dehydration from diarrhoea,” says the charity.

Canny packaging is at the heart of the project, which began with using a fully collapsible pouch, but now uses an “aidpod” which is a wedge-shaped pack that fits in the unused space between the necks of the bottles in a Coca-Cola crate.

The pod houses lifesaving zinc supplements, soap and oral rehydration salts, but it serves many purposes, being a container to measure, mix and store the solutions, and comes with a protective lid.

The pod is currently re-sealable and reuseable and there are plans to make it recyclable too.

As this case shows the best packaging has to be adapted to many various demands. But with the rise of e-commerce and the pressure on fuel costs and logistics margins generally, there is massive scope for packaging to fill in, and contribute to more efficient operations.


CASE STUDY: Revamp for book distributor

An American distributor of books, films and music called Baker & Taylor took on Storopack to revamp its packaging operation, including a comprehensive audit, a process cost analysis and on-site testing.

The firm ships 2,000 – 5,000 orders each day and while the paper used previously was of satisfactory quality, the dispensing equipment and configuration hampered the process, resulting in inconsistent packaging and mistakes.

Staff had to operate an ungainly foot pedal to feed paper which disrupted the workflow, and the quantity was difficult to gauge accurately.

Storopack’s priorities were to improve ergonomics, productivity and reduce materials and costs without sacrificing pack integrity.

The firm installed a PAPERplus Chevron2 inline machine which produces single paper pads, delivered down a short metal slide to lie within reach of the packer. The packer can remove paper pads with both hands to place them in the box.

The bulky pad is delivered on demand and quickly fills void with less folding effort from packers resulting in workers being around 25 per cent faster

The pads also use less paper, reducing weight by around 30 per cent and thus and handling costs. Less paper also means less resource consumption.

Today, all eight packing stations are equipped with PAPERplus Chevron machines.

Tyler Baumgardner, operations manager said: “We met all our objectives. Ergonomics and productivity improved and total protective packaging costs fell. Instead of the 18 per cent that Storopack promised, the actual figure was over 40 per cent.”


In brief

  • Printed electronics company and AIPIA Member Thinfilm is to introduce low cost NFC time and temperature sensors that can be incorporated into the packaging of food products and other perishable items, to enable consumers, distributors and merchants to use an NFC phone to check that a product has been kept at the required temperature all the way through the supply chain.
  • Sealed Air Europe, the provider of protective packaging solutions, has unveiled its new Fill-Air Rocket inflatable void-fill system to the European market. This operates at a speed of 30 metres of film per minute. The instant start mechanism effectively triples bag production during the first 20 seconds of operation and in some cases eliminates the need for void-fill accumulation.
  • The Harvard Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering is developing a plastic substitute from silk and shrimp shells. “Shrilk” is similar in strength and toughness to an aluminium alloy, but it is only half the weight. It is biodegradable and can be produced at a very low cost, since chitin is readily available as a shrimp waste product. It is also easily moulded into complex shapes, and made with various stiffness. As a cheap, environmentally safe alternative to plastic, Shrilk could be used to make bags, packaging, and diapers that degrade quickly.
  • A colour-coded smart tag could tell consumers whether a carton of milk has turned sour or a medicine has spoiled without opening the containers, according to researchers at Peking University in Beijing, China, which has patented the technology.

Originally printed in Logistics Manager 06/2014


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