As this edition shows in our packaging feature, the big issue is packaging sustainability but the evidence so far suggests that there is some foot-dragging when it comes to adoption. Bazaarvoice, for example, found that 55% of British businesses found meeting consumer demands around environmentalism to be their top challenge. But Bazaarvoice also found that 88% of British businesses have looked into recyclable packaging but only 36% said that they successfully made a change. While admittedly there are problems it seems that as consumers shift their buying habits to become ‘greener,’ businesses are faced with a sink or swim outlook.

The quantity of packaging used throughout the supply chain is not the only ‘green’ issue. The material constituents and recyclability are also key issues. Why not, therefore, check out a remarkable innovation from Storopack which includes packaging with grass. Its new type of paper packaging is made from 50% of grass fibres. Called PAPERplus, grass raises the focus on sustainability. The grass content, for example, requires less water and energy during production than conventional paper types. It delivers the same outstanding packaging characteristics as the rest of the PAPERPLUS-based range.

Packaging boxes that are unnecessarily large not only waste cardboard material but they can add to transport costs. In our interview with Conre Oostron, European MD for Pregis, he says his company is aware that dimensional weight is a consideration of more and more of its customers. In response, its products are specifically designed to be on demand, meaning that the material is converted on site to create the high volumes of light-weight packaging. This can be used freely without the concern of increasing the in-box weight unnecessarily. If loose infill is to be used then the company’s bio loose fill launched a few years ago would be a ‘greener’ alternative but Mr Oostrom admits: “We have not promoted this solution clearly enough so we have some work to do.”

That excessive void infill is used comes as no surprise and “consumers are now far more aware of the need for sustainable packaging and are actively calling for businesses to reduce the amount of excessive void fill and especially single-use plastic in packaging products,” says Neopost Shipping business development manager, Jo Bradley. Aware of the growing consumer annoyance around widespread use of oversized boxes for e-commerce, consumers are increasingly choosing to buy from retailers that show their commitment to the environment, claims Mr Bradley. Agreeing with this, Sam Jones, sustainability and strategy manager, says that: “the enormous growth in e-commerce, coupled with inadequate investment in the UK’s recycling infrastructure, has brought us to a tipping point and consumers and businesses alike are coming to the realization that something radical must be done.”

The question has been mooted: “Does it cost to be sustainable.” As Kite Packaging points out (see new product range mentioned elsewhere) plastics are often mixed with non-plastic materials, thus making it particularly difficult and costly to separate and recycle, with a huge percentage ending up in landfill sites. To some extent it depends on how B2B reverse logistics packaging operations are intelligently handled.

Balers and compactors are typically used to compact waste packaging with a 10 to 1 ratio. That is OK provided the different materials are not mixed because if they are it is difficult and costly to separate with such a compression rate and so the loads are rejected and any cost recovery money is lost. Such recovery costs are important because clean cardboard and polyethylene stretch film wrap can fetch £45 and £200 per tonne respectively. If, for example, retailers are using their empty roll containers to return mixed packaging waste to recycling plants then a worthwhile solution could be to consider SpaceMaker from SpaceMatedirect. This compactor uses only a 4 to 1 compression rate which makes it easy to separate mixed materials at the recycling plants. There are other big benefits, especially from the transport sector which, among other things, cut transport carbon emissions sharply. It does mean, however, carefully considering your current reverse logistics set-up.

Bill Redmond

Features Editor