Sustainable Packaging – When Waste Makes Sense

19 Mar 2009 Sustainable Packaging – When Waste Makes Sense

environmental_conservation_symbolIt probably sounds strange coming from us because we are so outspoken critics of waste and we encourage using less whenever possible. However, the first objective of being a sustainable (green) business is to be a sustainable (viable) business. At times like this, saving money is a necessary objective for financial and even practical reasons. It does not help the green cause if a eco minded business goes broke because it failed to reduce costs whenever possible, without compromising their green values.

Last week I received a call from a company that uses four different size plastic slip sheets as inter-leavers during their manufacturing and in plant material handling. The sheets are placed between products to prevent abrasion but are removed and discarded when the product is packed into individual boxes. Their goal was to be as green as possible and ideally to reduce the cost of these, single use disposable sheets.

Application Analysis

After a review of the use, customer expectations, etc., we discovered an important piece of information. To avoid dimensions, let’s say they use a “small” sheet, a slightly larger “medium”, a substantially oversized, “large” sheet and an even a slightly larger “extra large”. Four sizes and the relatively small volume on each are almost identical. We also determined that for no good apparent reason, they were using a high quality, high clarity, food grade, low density polyethylene virgin resin formulation.

Recommendation #1 – Size Consolidation

The customer was very surprised to see that by doubling up on the medium and extra large sizes, they were able to inventory two size sheets rather than four and because they were now ordering twice as much of half as many sizes. The cost per sheet dropped by almost 50%. Remember that set up cost is the biggest enemy of small volume users and this was a text book perfect case where size consolidation was able to reduce set up costs by one half.

Recommendation #2 – Forgive the Waste

A change and strategy like this requires overcoming the “eco-guilt” of fifty percent of the time using a slightly larger sheet than is really necessary. We determined the excess film was minimal and the cost was more than offset by the cost reduction on a per bag basis.

Recommendation #3 – Offset the Waste

Another change we suggested to help reduce the environmental impact, guilt and cost, is to change film grades to a high recycled content (40% regrind) LDPE film grade. Since there is no food contact, they were overpaying for the film they were using before and it was a considerable waste of virgin plastic resin. The grade we quoted is much more appropriate for their application and substantially greener.

Even Greener Tomorrow

This is just a first, baby step towards sustainability and in the days ahead we will likely offer other non-plastic solutions for this customer’s unusual application. Perhaps there is a paper product that will satisfy their need? If however the use of plastic sheets is unavoidable, we will also look at possibly reducing gauge and a recycling program and/or more eco friendly film grades.

Sustainability is an never ending process and usually all it takes to get started is a will to make it happen and often times, an outside set of eyes capable of recognizing the green potential, even on disposable plastic sheets.