Judged by the growing chorus of concern over packaging it seems the whole world is drowning in a sea of disposable packaging rubbish, with serious consequential harm for the environment. It is estimated that eight million tonnes of plastic waste end up in the oceans every year and just 11% of the world’s plastic gets recycled.
Clearly there is much need to educate businesses and the public over the more problematic use of plastic compared with sustainable, biodegradable paper packaging and part of that education exercise must include helping businesses and consumers to distinguish between good ‘reusable’ and bad ‘single use’ plastic.
Plastic pallets, for example, can be recycled as can polyethylene stretchwrap, which if compacted sensibly can often be sold at about £250 a tonne. Some progress has been made on packaging recycling and recovery, which increased by 766,718 tonnes in the UK during 2016 compared with the previous 12 months but there is still very much room for improvement and the spur for that will partly come from further tax rises.
Much of the UK’s 170 million tonnes of waste every year is food packaging and an increasingly large percentage of this is plastic, with some kinds taking 450 years to break down. Most of it goes into landfill. Retailers bear a heavy responsibility for this because, largely for cosmetic reasons, they use plastic film and paper-based trays to cover their foods. Shoppers could play their part by shunning such superfluously wrapped foods.
Consumers have the same problem when dealing with online retailers. According to a MacFarlane Packaging survey some 24% of participants said that their goods arrived with too much packaging. Nearly 1 in 3 said the packaging was not a good fit for the products. The most damages (12%) were seen in home and gardens, owing to the variance in size, weight and fragility of the products. Consumers believed that in the home and garden sector retailers were using too much packaging (41%) with health and beauty flagged up by 30%.
Big gains could also come from B2B if they re-examined their whole supply chain, because action in one part could create an adverse reaction in another. This can be very complex, so it might pay to bring in packaging technologists or specialist consultants. It could also pay to look at the cost of your reverse logistics, especially for retailers. Typically, they return their roll containers full of packaging, pallets, trays, etc, but a new invention about to enter main stream retailing is the SpaceMate compactor which has a 5 to 1 compaction rate for waste in the roll container and it requires no strapping or banding. Estimates suggest it will reduce reverse logistics costs by 75% and help the environment through reduced mileage.
A new look at packaging design could yield big returns by saving on wasted internal space in boxes, which would also reduce transport mileage costs through more efficient use of vehicle space. It is not just about the right size of packaging but also the right shape for awkwardly-shaped goods. A good example is the Norwegian mobility scooter producer, Topro, who used a new tapered box design. The result was that Topro cut it logistics costs by 40%. Alas, there is one exponentially developing issue which greatly adds to packaging demand and its environmental impact – online shopping. Somehow, though I don’t think there will by any votes to ban it.