From an environmental point of view, packaging is a necessary evil, but one that can be minimized in a number of ways. Here are a few ideas companies can use to reduce the amount of packaging waste they generate, and in many cases, improve their operations in the process.
Corrugated Box Redesign
Corrugated shipping containers generally represent the greatest amount of packaging mass in a manufacturing or distribution environment. Consequently, it makes sense to focus on corrugated when trying to improve your sustainable profile.
In some instances, a different box design can reduce the mass of the box by as much as 50%. Utilizing a different box style and/or board construction, or reconfiguring the contents to reduce the box’s volume, are workable options for reducing corrugated waste.
In addition, many businesses are moving to bulk packaging to reduce the number of or eliminate corrugated shippers. Major retailers like Walmart have been pushing the industry toward bulk packaging for a number of years; today the practice is widely accepted by retailers, wholesalers and consumers alike.
Inner Packaging Materials
Protective packaging – items such as packaging peanuts, bubble packaging and dunnage paper – is another area where changes can make a real difference. In particular, it is a good idea to avoid packaging peanuts made from polystyrene, as they are difficult to recycle. Packaging peanuts of any composition have low customer acceptance and tend not to be reused or recycled.
An relatively new protective packaging option with sustainable benefits is inflatable air bags. Typically, bags are inflated on demand, in-line, so a very small amount of storage space is required to maintain inventory. And since the main component of the final packaging is (ambient) air, the mass of packaging material is reduced to about the lowest possible level.
Wood or corrugated pallets are big, bulky, and consume an enormous amount of material and energy to produce. As a first step, find a company that buys used pallets, as an alternative to throwing them away – it’s a big business. A similar option is to partner with a supplier or customer for a pallet exchange program.
Taking it a step further, consider eliminating pallets altogether by using chipboard carrier sheets or consolidating loads strictly with stretch films or plastic banding. This will substantially reduce packaging mass, with the added benefits of better space utilization in the warehouse and on trucks, and cost reduction. Eliminating pallets will involve a different approach to material handling, but many options, such as clamp attachments for forklift trucks, are available to keep products flowing through your system.
A great deal of packaging waste is created through the manual application of packaging materials. For instance, when sealing a large shipping box with plastic tape, most operators tend to apply far more tape than is needed to properly secure the contents. When this occurs several or hundreds of times a day, the amount of wasted packaging material becomes significant. Similar problems arise through the manual application of strapping material, stretch film, and inner packaging materials.
By automating these processes, a firm can precisely control the amount of packaging material applied to every unit. Not only can automation substantially reduce waste, it results in more secure and uniform packages. Greater packaging security equates to less damage – which leads to further reductions in packaging material by eliminating (costly) reshipments. And, improved packaging uniformity is a significant benefit for internal quality control, customer satisfaction and compliance.
About the Author
Jeff Giedt is vice president and general manager of Pioneer Packaging in Phoenix, AZ. Pioneer Packaging is a division of the Heritage Pioneer Corporate Group, a leading distributor of corrugated boxes, packaging materials and equipment, with 16 locations across the western United States.