The world is experiencing a sustainability renaissance. With all of the concern about climate change and diminishing resources, consumers are more ready and willing than ever before to reduce waste by switching to recyclable and reusable options (even when they cost significantly more!). Zero waste is in, and for good reason.
Consumer demand for sustainability
A recent survey by Neilson showed that 81% of consumers say that it is important or very important to them for companies to implement changes that will positively affect, or at least reduce harm to the environment. In the same questionnaire, “73 percent of respondents said they would either definitely or probably change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment, while 38 percent said they would pay higher-than-average prices for products made with sustainable materials.”
Many people are choosing to do their part to make a difference and reduce waste on an individual and household level; products such as metal straws, stainless steel and glass water bottles, beeswax food wraps, and canvas grocery bags are in high demand. New, innovative companies such as Loop are creating reusable packaging that consumers can return to the manufacturer to reduce the large amount of waste generated by the food packing industry. Clearly, as evidenced by the overflowing bins on the side of the street on trash day and the low rate of actually recycling recyclables, we still have a long way to go. However, the biggest source of waste in our country today is something consumers can’t do much about on an individual level, and that is commercial waste from big businesses.
What is business packaging waste?
Business, commercial, and industrial waste is waste that is generated on a commercial or industrial scale by big businesses. Cardboard boxes, single use drums, wooden pallets, and other forms of packaging that are used in the supply chains of businesses comprise the largest amount of the waste created in the US. Coca Cola, Pepsi, Nestle, and other companies are still manufacturing single use plastics from virgin petroleum at an alarming rate. According to this article, “more than 4 million tons of plastic debris pour into marine ecosystems every year. It’s estimated that, by 2050, there will be more plastic garbage than fish in the oceans. Much of this will be single-use packaging.”
Don’t fall behind the times
Some companies are taking steps to counteract the waste and improve sustainability, but others are not, which could prove to be a mistake. Tom Szaky, CEO of Loop and Terracycle, says, “Some organizations… are taking these issues seriously and making the difficult decisions that may negatively impact the short term but lay the foundation to be relevant in the long term. Inversely, organizations — like many big food companies in the U.S. — are blind to what’s coming and will likely be overtaken by startups that are building their business models around the new reality that is emerging.”
How can your business make the shift?
Fortunately, business models based on the return credit system (such as the aforementioned startup Loop) as well as shifting to recycled materials and reusable shipping supplies are all options that will continue to gain traction over the coming years. Rather than simply creating recyclable products that will end up in landfills regardless of the intent of the manufacturer (the end user recycling rate is only about 9%), a better idea is to set up ways that will more or less “close the loop” of the waste lifecycle.
This is where recyclable, reusable containers and shipping supplies can help. Below are a few examples of ways you can reduce waste and even save money in the long term by switching from single use, disposable products to reusable.
Simple Reusable Packaging Swaps
Pallet-sized plastic bulk containers have become widespread over the last few decades, but many companies are still using wasteful paper-based gaylords and other single-use packaging options. Such waste-based systems often rely on single use plastic wraps or interior cardboard boxes to protect and support the contents. But reusable plastic bulk containers offer even better protection with absolutely no waste.
Plastic bulk containers are relatively lightweight and extremely durable. Options such as collapsible sidewalls or nesting designs make return transport even more efficient. Plus, these bulk bins provide unparalleled stacking and other safety features. And even though the bins may be large, they’re designed to accommodate dunnage and/or interior reusable containers, which can make them the perfect solution for even the smallest or most fragile of goods.
Recyclable Plastic Pallets
It is estimated that about 50% of the lumber grown in the U.S. is destined for wooden pallets. Because half of them are only used once, and the ones that are reused only last about a year, they are a problematic source of waste. Since they are nearly 40 pounds and take up a lot of space, they also cost more in shipping costs and storage.
A good alternative to wooden pallets are reusable plastic pallets, which are stackable, nestable, lightweight (weighing as low as 10 lbs), and last up to 10 years. They’re often even cheaper than wood pallets. They are generally made from recyclable materials and can also be recycled, effectively closing the waste loop.
RPCs and Attached Lid Containers
95% of all products in the United States are shipped in cardboard boxes, and close to 100 billion of them are manufactured every year. Even if 75% of those are recycled, that is a lot of waste! Considering the fact that cardboard is not very durable, isn’t effective for heavy or wet items, and are typically only used once, a better option to consider for your business would be reusable plastic containers (RPCs) and attached lid containers.
According to the Reusable Packaging Association, RPCs require almost 40% less total energy, produce 95% less total solid waste, and generate 29% less total greenhouse gas emissions when compared with disposable cardboard boxes.
Intermediate Bulk Containers (IBCs)
Barrels and drums, used to store and transport liquids, agricultural products such as seeds and grains, food syrups, paints, petrochemical products, and more, are typically only used once. They are also round, which leaves a lot of dead space in between units when shipping and storage. Not only do they create more industrial waste, all of the empty space means that more fuel is used for shipping less material.
A much better option for many operations would be to switch to reusable plastic intermediate bulk containers (IBCs), which can be used repeatedly, come in a wide variety of styles for various applications, and are cubic in shape to save shipping costs.
Bulk Bags (FIBCs)
A great option to replace single use paper and canvas bags used to transport and store dry, flowable products such as powders, sand, grains, granules, etc. are bulk bags, or flexible intermediate bulk containers (FIBCs). FIBCs, unlike traditional sacks, can be reused many times. They are very lightweight, collapse flat to return, are sturdy enough to last a long time, making them not only more eco friendly but cost effective as well.
End of Life
Another benefit to choosing reusable plastic supplies for your business is that they are often fully recyclable themselves. When they reach the end of their life cycle, instead of ending up in a landfill, they can be created into something new.
For even more ideas on how to create more sustainability in your business, check out these 6 must-have solutions for zero waste supply chain packaging.
If you have any questions about reusable containers or more sustainable choices in your business regarding your shipping and storage needs, contact us for a consultation!