Given the recent EU revision of its ‘circular economy package’ recycling targets to meet its goal of 75% recycling of packaging waste by 2030, companies must act now to avoid being seen as environmentally unfriendly and their understanding must include an assessment as to how a packaging choice will impact a business throughout its supply chain and not just how it will be recycled after use. The size of the problem is substantial, with the corrugated cardboard global economy alone expected to grow to $269 billion by 2021. There are other pressures pushing for a packaging rethink, like the meteoric growth in e-commerce, which has led to a significant rise in demand for more efficient packing processes and materials, significantly changing the applications of automated packing solutions, says Kite Packaging.

The task of packaging assessment, however, should not be considered in isolation from material handling and distribution issues and so given the complexities it might pay to call in packaging consultants and technologists. For example, if one is stuffing containers and trailers, whether loads are palletised or not, have the outer cartons been stacked in the most efficient ways on a pallet and likewise arranged inside the vehicle to maximise the space taken up? If not, then there are software packages, like those from Gower Optimal Algorithms, to facilitate that.

It might help when the need to rethink one’s packaging set-up beckons to concentrate on cost reduction and environmental compliance. Improving the former can mean reducing the packaging volumes, or eliminating them, although total elimination would involve some upfront investment in changed handling techniques. For example, in the food delivery business it is still common to see forklifts decant trailers with stretch-wrapped palletised outer cartons. This involves wasted time in handling plastic stretchwrap film, opening outer boxes and then subsequently moving the goods to shop shelves. There is also the production cost of the packaging and its subsequent disposal costs. A more effective solution would be to use roll containers fitted with slots to hold plastic food trays trundled straight from lorries to the shop shelves. This would cut down intermediate handling costs and any risks from handling heavy, splintered wood pallets.

The next best thing to packaging’s elimination is one-touch, reusable packaging that has made great advances in storage techniques on the production line, an area where packaging tended to hinder rather than enhance production efficiency. And any move to JIT practices without any reappraisal of how packaging/storage affects lineside efficiency only worsens matters. Many manufacturers are familiar with the penalties chaotic lineside packaging brings but not all fundamentally review their lineside packaging and storage needs. This could lose millions through unsuitable packaging, leading to slower throughputs, unnecessary waste disposal and pollution, damage, tiredness, clutter, accidents and wasted space.

To combat this problem many JITrun car makers have adopted ship-toline, one-touch, re-usable packaging, often specially designed. One British car supplier, for example, produced car interior moulded parts such as doors and pillars and door line trims who traditionally used bubble wrap in cardboard boxes. This was time-consuming for the supplier but more so for the car maker which had to unpack the materials and then dispose of it. The supplier changed to an extruded twin-wall polypropylene, with the two walls separated by ribbing. The storage and handling system comprised metal cages supporting hydroflute compartments designed to hold specific parts. This allowed singletouch packing, thus avoiding time lost unpacking parts or collecting disposable packaging. Unloading the cages on their bogies from 40ft trailers took only a few minutes.