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Sustainable packaging is more than recycling

AJ Gruber

It is great to see the recent data on EU plastic packaging recycling targets, which showed that all member states have exceeded the minimum recycling target of 22.5%.

Although such plastic packaging recycling rates are impressive, they are not surprising and tell only part of the sustainability success story. Working with organisations from across the UK and internationally, we have seen growing demand in recent years for sustainable packaging strategies. While part of this is about using more recyclable materials, it goes much further.

For those building a sustainable packaging strategy, taking a holistic packaged-product view is crucial. By placing the packaged goods at the heart of the strategy, companies will arrive at a solution that considers all options, whether that is packaging format, product protection, material or volume – it does not limit thinking when it comes to evaluating packaging options.

To do this successfully, the distribution environment needs to be simulated effectively to replicate damage hazards and determine optimal packaging performance. Four basic categories of damage hazard exist: shock, vibration, compression and atmospheric. Having laboratories and testing procedures designed to recreate damage hazards enables packaging performance to be put through its paces.

As well as identifying the most effective packaging material – whatever that may be – it enables the specification of best fit packaging design and format. This is key to arriving at the right level of packaging material, avoiding over-packaging, waste and excessive resource usage. Putting product first, not recyclability, is a valuable first step.

Another key part of any packaging strategy is to assess your cube optimisation. This helps reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions because more goods can be moved per square foot during transit, and lessens the requirement to replace and redeliver damaged goods. Cube optimisation can also have a real impact on the bottom line.

We are seeing more businesses taking a holistic approach to packaging. This involves considering how packaging is used throughout the supply chain, both before it comes through the factory gates and its onward journey to customers.

A ‘whole life-cycle’ review of packaging can help firms to understand more about the overall volumes of packaging they use, and arm them with insight to challenge their suppliers in turn to reduce their packaging. It also gives valuable insight into the use of materials on their own premises. This often means that recycling rates can be increased and volumes of resource usage in the first place can be lowered.

Whether a company is starting to review its sustainability or is looking to update its practices, the evolution of packaging and logistics means there are more options than ever before for companies to improve efficiencies and effectiveness, along with their environmental performance.

AJ Gruber is president of the International Safe Transit Association

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