Blog
July 28, 2019

Sustainable packaging and bulk material handling: A complicated story

Packaging has come a long way when it comes to sustainability. While the cardboard used for most boxes and shipments are recyclable and reusable, the packaging within the boxes has often left a considerable carbon footprint. From excessive Styrofoam cutouts to packing peanuts, the packing industry has prioritized inexpensive options to protect shipments more over protecting the earth. Only more recently has the packing industry looked for ways to become more sustainable and to cut down on pollution while improving its environmental impact. As a supplier for bulk material handling, Gough Econ, Inc. has seen the industry make great strides in its quest to become more sustainable. However, it is still a complicated story. Here is what you need to know about sustainable packaging materials and their evolution over the years.

Sustainable Packaging Materials and Their Evolution

Reducing The Packaging Weight

The need to push into the sustainable packaging world has become increasingly crucial for businesses. Consumers want to hear how green their company is. Even if this means proclaiming a package now uses “30% less plastic” or something along these lines, many consumers are looking for ways to cut down on their carbon footprints.

Some companies have simply stripped down on the packaging. It isn’t always possible to go to a greener, sustainable package, so instead the company might reduce the weight of the packaging itself. This does mean less waste and less material used, which can help decrease the cost of production, but there are several downsides to this. When a thinner package is used it isn’t typically as durable. Unless the package itself has been replaced with a thinner, stronger variation, the package will not be able to withstand as much weight.

Plastic has become a significant target in the world of sustainable packaging materials, and for a good reason. Plastic production creates a considerable amount of carbon, and even the cleanest manufacturing facilities will release undesirable chemicals into the air. Unless the plastic is recycled, it will remain wherever it falls for hundreds of thousands of years. As a durable material, there’s nothing like plastic, but this is both its blessing and its curse. So, to cut down on plastic consumption within a package, companies are using thinner plastic. Companies that sell water bottles (pre-filled with water) don’t have many alternative options currently. Some companies do sell water in cardboard, but this has a definitive shelf life. These companies are selling thinner water bottles, but this also means the bottle isn’t as strong as it once was, and can’t take as much weight stacked on top of it. The bottles also are not as durable, which means there will be more product lost during production, and it takes more warehouse space to store the bottles as fewer bottles can be stacked on top of each other.

In this way, sustainable plastic packaging can be beneficial to the environment, but it may also result in a more lost product due to a failure in the packaging. 

Recycled Materials

There are few opponents to recycling. Reusing what has already been in use is crucial to the environment. However, there is often a time and a place for it. When a material is broken down, it can’t just be used again for the same product. It’s not like knocking down a LEGO construction and then building something else with it. Every time a material is broken down, it suddenly becomes less structurally sound.

Several states and even countries around the world have issued mandates to boost recycled material use by the end of the decade. The state of California often sets the standard in the United States, and its state government (before being vetoed by the governor) had pushed a bill that required all bottles to be made up of 50% recycled plastics. While helpful in theory, the only way this works is if the recycled plastic comes from something stronger than a plastic bottle. Because a new bottle made from half recycled plastic would not hold up, and it would cause even more durability problems, which might lead to the need to use more of the material.

And that’s just during the first round of 50% recycled bottles. The next round, when the new bottles are made up of bottles that have been recycled several times, it will lead to materials that simply are not usable. So while recycling is a good idea, there are some practices where it just doesn’t work as intended.

Reusable

One packaging option that has received a boost in support recently is the idea of a reusable package. This can be a logistics nightmare. Now, if you’ve been to some countries, they will reuse the glass soda bottles. The bottles are sent back to the plant, washed, and then reused. In this instance, it works. However, the packaging is often assembled on-site, which means a reusable package will need to come with a deposit (or a reason for the consumer to send it back). Then the production facility will need to have the already assembled package on hand. This might dramatically increase the need to expand the lot size, which in turn would drive up production cost, not to mention the need to clean and inspect the package. Again, in some instances, this absolutely could work. In others, there may be no way. It all depends on execution. 

Solutions For Your Bulk Material Handling

More than before, consumers are wondering where their products are coming and what sort of carbon footprint the manufacturer is leaving. One of the biggest giveaways is how the company packages its product. From using air pockets inside of boxes instead of Styrofoam to taking advantage of recycled materials and fewer plastics, there are all kinds of options available. And while many of these options are more expensive, the number of consumers you’ll turn on to your products will make up for any of the cost increases you’re forced to pay. If you’re interested in learning more about sustainable packaging materials and bulk material handling, available sustainable packaging materials options, or you want to learn more about the services offered here at Gough Econ, Inc., now is the time to give us a call. You can also send us an email at your earliest convenience.

Share this:
Bulk Material Handling Systems
About Gough Econ

Sign Up For Our E-blast Today!

Successful submission!