Today's food manufacturers, distributors and retailers are looking to reduce product and transport packaging in order to minimize their overall environmental footprint.
Yet, the food industry is struggling to reduce product damage throughout the supply chain. How will sustainable packaging initiatives help--or hinder--efforts to minimize and prevent product damage?
Food Logistics recently spoke to Mike Rawlins, senior director of supply chain services and Rick Milligan, senior project manager, packaging systems solutions, of CLS (Carolina Logistics Systems), a reverse logistics and supply chain solution provider based in Winston-Salem, NC, to get their expert perspective on this issue.
What are some of the biggest challenges--in terms of product damage--with "environmentally friendly" package design?
Environmentally friendly can mean a lot of different things depending on who you're talking with. It can mean packaging that is comprised of recycled material with a high degree of post consumer waste. It can mean that the package utilizes materials that can ultimately be recycled, or it may mean that the package is comprised of materials that have minimal impact on the environment (reduced use of natural resources, fewer disposability concerns, reduce cube or greenhouse emissions, etc.)
Recycled materials are generally not as strong as virgin materials so using them creates a package that may not hold up as well throughout distribution. Likewise, a minimalistic approach to packaging often has a similar result because in their attempt to create less packaging, engineers take out too much material leaving a package that does not have the necessary strength to survive the entire supply chain.
It is always a good idea to compare supply chain performance metrics before and after a packaging change is made in order to determine if the effect of the change produces the desired result. If not, damage and ultimately waste can increase disproportionately all but erasing any gains in package reduction on the front-end.
Today's biggest challenge is a lack of data and analysis. Manufacturers must first have enough supply chain performance data to understand the current causes of damages and determine the appropriate course of action. Damage sources can be complex. Both "greening up" of packaging and ensuring damage reduction or containment can be related to outer case designs and unitizing components as well as the consumer packaging itself. Additionally, having a robust supply chain performance analysis system in place after the changes are made to monitor effects of changes is key.
Does less/lighter/recyclable packaging mean more product damage?
Not always, but without the proper upfront testing as mentioned previously, there is a higher likelihood that damages will increase. Less and lighter packaging components can contribute to additional damage levels. However, a careful review and study of consumer packaging designs, shipping case elements, unitizing and palletizing and how all these components work in tandem and interact to distribution handling can help achieve eco-friendly components while containing and reducing damages.
Sustainable Packaging Defined
According to the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, a Charlottesville, VA-based industry working group, the criteria for sustainable packaging includes:
• Beneficial, safe and healthy for individuals and communities throughout its lifecycle;
• Meets market criteria for performance and cost;
• Is sourced, manufactured, transported and recycled through renewable energy;
• Maximizes the use of renewable or recycled source materials;
• Is manufactured using clean production technologies and best practices;
• Is made from materials healthy in all probable end-of-life scenarios;
• Is physically designed to optimize materials and energy;
• Is effectively recovered and utilized in biological and/or industrial cradle to grave cycles. For more information, go to www.sustainablepackaging.org.