Going Green?

In an effort to preserve the environmant, food companies want to reduce product and transport packaging. But will sustainable packaging initiatives create more product damage?

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.

Are the means of case and/or pallet transport changing to meet new types of sustainable packaging?

They should change, but whether or not they do change is another story. We see packaging changes being implemented in response to consumer demand, marketing, environmental issues, etc., without the necessary due diligence on the supply chain performance side.

What are the top concerns that manufacturers should take into account when developing "green" packaging?

Top concerns when greening up certainly include potential for damage increase and waste associated to the damage. Additionally, costs of updating machinery and processes, changeover costs, implementation and potential for increase in resource labor are key concerns.

What would the environmental impact be of a reduction in product damage? Can that be measured?

The environmental impact of reduced damage is reduced waste, reduced energy for the re-manufacture, re-distribution, etc., of the product that had to be made to replace the damaged item, reduced use of natural resources and so on. Some portions of this would be relatively straight forward to measure, and others would not.

Examples of how the environmental impact of reducing damages can be measured includes:
• Impact to landfill-reduction in waste poundage;
• Fuel reductions from hauling damages/poundage throughout the supply chain;
• Resource/labor reductions and savings.

How is the industry doing overall in terms of reducing product damage?

Our supply chain clients have made, and are continuing to make, significant improvements in damage reduction. Our annual supply chain performance audits statistically measure and track that improvement down to the package type and size level. Several of our clients in the CPG food industry are doing a good job in this area.

Some examples that we are seeing are:
• Concentration of cleaning products to reduce packaging and transportation costs, therefore reducing fuel usage and atmospheric carbon;
• Focusing on small items typically sent through "single-pick" or "break-pack" to reduce inner sleeve materials, including improvement of inner sleeves to reduce damage potential from normal handling and to help facilitate opening to select single items typically shipped in the tote environment.

Overall, CLS clients who collect supply chain performance metrics have had a renewed focus on the data we collect. This is illustrated by the expansion of packaging and logistics roles in data analysis.

In many cases, more staff has been added to the data analysis team to use the data to make improvements.

While there is much work to be done toward greening up and damage reduction, the level of effort has increased and is promising.

Distributor Ships With Green Packaging

Going "green" in the packaging arena doesn't mean you have to compromise product integrity--or incur additional costs. Companies such as Pacific Food Group are finding sustainable alternatives to the petroleum-based polystyrene foam containers and heavily waxed corrugated boxes that are typically used to ship product in the seafood industry.

Pacific Food Group, a family-owned seafood distributor, wanted to find a cost-effective and environmentally friendly way to ship fresh fish, mussels, clams, crabs and lobsters.

The Portland, OR-based firm is shipping with Greenshield, a family of recyclable corrugated solutions with moisture-resistant coatings, developed by Georgia-Pacific Corp., Atlanta. The company says Greenshield is a cost-effective alternative to traditional packaging--delivering strength and 100 percent recyclability.

"Pacific Seafood is committed to reducing waste in order to sustain our resources, meet the demands of our customers and mitigate our overall environmental impact," says Frank Dulcich, CEO of Pacific Seafood. "We now use Greenshield to distribute our fresh, frozen and prepared seafood products to customers around the world. It is not only recyclable, but provides the insulation properties and water resistance we need to maintain the integrity of our seafood."

Product safety, warehousing and logistics are important factors that must be accounted for when selecting a packaging alternative. If these factors are not considered properly, suppliers may face packaging damage and product quality issues, causing additional waste and inefficiencies.

For example, un-waxed recycled corrugated lacks the water resistance and material strength necessary to withstand the stresses of shipping frozen products. Products in the Greenshield line, however, can withstand the stress of shipping fresh and frozen seafood, while taking up less space in warehouses and trucks than polystyrene foam. Space optimization decreases the total amount of shipments necessary, thereby reducing fuel usage and greenhouse gas emissions.

Beyond incorporating alternative packaging into its corporate sustainability initiatives, Pacific Seafood takes proactive measures to decrease waste from other corporate streams.

"There are a number of ways to increase a company's sustainable efforts. Through alternative packaging, we have found a cost-effective solution that also enhances logistics and warehousing efficiencies," says Dulcich.