Over the last decade, market studies have consistently shown that most consumers prefer buying from brands that offer “green,” environmentally sustainable products and services. Taking it beyond preference and to the bank, in 2017 Unilever reported that a third of consumers intentionally “buy from brands they believe are doing social or environmental good.”
As the global marketplace responds to this shift in consumer preference, there’s been a frenzy of focus on reusable packaging, green supply chain management (GSCM), and zero-waste strategies. Economically, these efforts are resulting in billions of dollars in savings and increased top line sales numbers for companies large and small.
Redesigning supply chains, investing in new product distribution packaging, and creating cost-effective return processes can be daunting. But even small steps toward sustainability are progress. Here are six simple ways to meet consumer demand for sustainability and move your company toward the goal of zero-waste operations.
1. Use Plastic Pallets Instead of Wood Pallets
There are billions of wood pallets in use around the world. In the United States, the production of wood pallets consumes almost 50% of the timber grown domestically. Wood pallets generally have a lifespan of one year, and about half of wood pallets are destined for single-use. The recyclability statistics of wood pallets are somewhat nebulous, as some are considered to be “recycled” when used more than once, but wood pallet recycling in general is often problematic because of the nails and chemicals used in the construction. Weight is also a significant factor, as the 40lb. weight of the average wood pallet has a vast impact on transport energy costs and carbon emissions.
Plastic pallets are a natural green alternative to wood pallets. Plastic pallets generally exceed the lifespan of wood pallets, often lasting up to 10 years in continuous use. The longer lifespans of plastic pallets reduce annual waste, eliminate hardwood deforestation, and increase value over time. Plastic pallets are often made of recycled plastics and can in turn be fully recycled. Plastic pallets also provide incredible strength, while reducing tare weight and shipping dimensions, lowering the environmental impact incurred by the carbon emissions of large and heavy freight. An ideal example of plastic pallet efficiency is found in lightweight plastic pallets, which weigh in as low as 12 lbs. and nest for return shipping and storage.
2. Deliver Goods in Custom Returnable Corrugated Plastic Boxes
Worldwide, governing bodies are rapidly banning single-use plastic bags. Meanwhile, the harvesting, pulping, and distribution impacts of paper bags is coming under increased scrutiny, as their cradle-to-grave environmental impact is actually worse than that of plastic bags. For these reasons, many leading companies are exploring alternative, reusable delivery packaging. Reusable bags are a viable option for some uses, but they often lack the rigidity and structural strength needed to protect sensitive contents.
A fast-emerging solution to this environmental and operational dilemma is the use of corrugated plastic containers. Lightweight and built to last, corrugated plastic boxes, bins, totes, and trays make the ideal delivery and distribution packaging solution. While the corrugated “postal tote” is ubiquitous, the low cost of customization and wide array of off-the-shelf styles mean that corrugated plastic boxes are being deployed to carry everything from small goods to produce to pallet-sized loads. Paired with a viable return system, corrugated packaging is the wave of the future.
3. Use Collapsible and Nesting Containers
Freight and storage have tremendous impacts on the environment. Traditional, fixed wall boxes and bins often lack spacial efficiency and result in excess carbon emissions. Fortunately, reusable plastic containers feature thousands of space-saving features. Collapsible containers are available in nearly every imaginable size — from small bins to large bulk containers. Collapsible containers are used to hold contents as diverse as agricultural produce, bulk liquids, and even automotive parts. Nesting containers have fewer moving parts, but also provide incredible efficiency. Popular styles of nesting containers include stack-and-nest totes, attached lid containers, corrugated totes, and bulk containers.
4. Organize Inventory on Your Terms
Operational efficiency is essential to environmental sustainability. Top green companies are embracing new supply chain processes and warehouse strategies to optimize space and reduce waste. Efficient storage and item retrieval processes eliminate unnecessary resource consumption. Reusable plastic containers, fiberglass trays, and rack-compatible plastic pallets are the cornerstones of many automation and efficiency efforts.
Long-lasting storage and shelf bins optimize space by letting you manage inventory in the volumes, locations, and spaces that work best for you — as opposed to letting suppliers’ default packaging dictate your processes. Attached lid totes have become a mainstay of split-pack distribution. And interlocking, stackable pick-and-pack bins enable the safe storage and distribution of all sorts of products. Got oddly shaped or delicate items taking up valuable shelf and truck space? Custom dunnage can be an easy way to save space and increase load capacities.
5. Establish Return Credit Systems
Return credit systems are as classic as milkmen. And while some new companies are using them for B2C goods, the same principle scales especially well within B2B and B2G operations. Return credit systems have proven their value through their wide use with goods such as bakery items, dairy products, and bottled beverages, but there’s no reason to limit their efficiency to grocers. The longevity and durability of reusable plastic pallets, bulk containers, and distribution totes makes them a perfect fit for return credit systems. Such return systems enable businesses to reduce packaging costs while protecting the environment by ensuring the sustained reuse and eventual recycling of plastic packaging materials.
6. Use Only Recyclable Packaging
Even the most durable supply chain product will eventually run out of usability. While reusable plastic packaging vastly extends that lifespan over traditional wood-based and single-use items, it comes with a final environmental benefit: It’s 100% recyclable. When a plastic pallet, bulk container, tote, or tray reaches the end of its service, it can be readily recycled by almost any plastics recycler. And a fully recycled product is a zero-waste product, which is great for you, your corporate social responsibility, your bottom line, your consumers, and the environment.
If you have questions about integrating reusable packaging into your supply chain or operations, our packaging consultants would be glad to provide you with complimentary consultation. Contact us today.