There is more to sustainable packaging than using recycled materials

What is the first thing that comes to mind when I ask you, “What is sustainable packaging?” I’m guessing your answer is using recycled materials or something that can be easily recycled.

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Most of us recycle our paper and corrugated materials and we see “made from 100% recycled content” on packaging. It’s good to reuse and recycle material, right?

Just like anything, the more you learn about a subject the more you appreciate how something is manufactured and the better informed you are to make purchasing decisions. The more you know about packaging and sustainability, it’s much more than using recycled materials and recyclability.

When we design packaging solutions for our brand partners, we look at the products and supply chain to ensure the products fit into their packaging efficiently and cost effectively, which usually means creating a comprehensive suite of packaging specifications, sizes and types that eliminates as much wasted space as possible and allows for higher density shipping containers. Throughout that process, there are meaningful sustainability benefits using less materials and less fuel for shipping.

To further our commitment to sustainability, we’ve recently created an environmental tool that uses an extensive global database containing life cycle inventory data on emissions and water regarding different packaging materials (primary fibers, recycled fibers, foam and plastics, and more). The tool also includes information regarding production locations, transportation methods and distances, and finally end of life. When we are developing and producing new packaging programs, we now provide life cycle impact reports and will compare options between materials so our customers can make informed decisions about their packaging.

I’ve been using the tool with my customers for several months, and the responses from customers have been a true eye-opener for them. I’ve heard things like “This is the path we need to go, I did not realise that we could reduce so much in material.”  They now have clear data on the savings and impact their brand can have on both a global and local perspective.

To get back to the topic of using recycled materials, we have a European apparel customer that had some sustainability initiatives for their packaging. They wanted to reduce the amount of packaging materials used in their transport cartons, and wanted to understand the environmental differences between using recycled material and certified primary materials.

At the time, their transport cartons were made from triple wall corrugated board. After looking at their product needs and supply chain, we were able to recommend a corrugated single wall carton with primary fiber that gave them the same strength, but could significantly reduce the amount of materials used.

We used our environmental tool to run the numbers between the two options. In this analysis, we included data about the raw material production, transportation, converting and delivery to the DC. The customer manufactures their products in China and has a volume of 1.1 million transport cartons annually.

 

 

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The data shows the single wall C-flute solution based on primary materials has the least environmental impact over the triple wall solution made of only recycled materials. This makes sense when you consider that single wall corrugated uses less materials than double or triple wall construction, and that it’s been converted for the first time. There are other factors that make the single wall a better option. The tool takes into consideration the manufacturing process of the raw materials. The manufacturer of the single wall C-flute is very energy efficient, using electricity and biofuels which are byproducts from the trees. Manufacturers of recycled fiber materials are dependent on a higher share of fossil fuels, which gives them higher emission output. Armed with this information, the customer could see the environmental impact of their packaging options.

It’s pretty amazing to see how small unconventional changes can add up to big savings. When this customer made the change, they saved 1,046 tonnes of CO2 (equivalent to the annual electricity of 177 homes) being emitted into the air and 20,948 cubic meters of freshwater consumption (equivalent to 8 Olympic-sized swimming pools) on an annual basis. Every company can have this information available when they are making decisions about packaging.  

Being able to provide these “A-HA!” experiences for our customers is something that is very important and personally rewarding. Our environmental tool allows our customers to challenge their conventional ideas about packaging sustainability and make better informed decisions that have positive impacts on the planet.

As a wise person said – There is no Planet B.

 

 

 

Johan Månsson

International Sales Manager

Solna, Sweden

+46855333704 johan.mansson@billerudkorsnas.com
Johan Månsson has over 10 years of experience in the retail branding and packaging industry helping brand owners and retailers create brand awareness, optimising their packaging for the full supply chain and becoming more sustainable. Always with the best interest of the brand in mind.

His experience spans four continents and he knows the complexity and challenges of today's global supply chains.

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