From an environmental perspective, packaging is often regarded as the most important element in product delivery. Appropriate packaging can prolong shelf life, reduce damage and ensure products reach customers undamaged and hygienic. Packaging protects goods from external forces, but it has also been blamed for wasting resources and increasing environmental pollution. Recent reports suggest that approximately 40 percent of all goods leave the manufacturing facility only to be disposed of by consumers due to their lack of durability or perceived deficiencies during shipping. As such, manufacturers are now under pressure to create more eco-friendly container solutions which meet objectives such as reducing carbon footprints and making recycling easier. The following guidelines highlight ways companies can implement ecologically sound policies within their packaging structures.
1) Engineer for durability - reducing product damage through greater strength
Robots are now being used to 'improve' the design of products by making them thinner or more ergonomic, without compromising their function or safety. The increased use of robot technologies will enable manufacturers to reduce the weight and size of packaging materials, making goods easier to transport to consumers. Similarly, robots can engineer products with improved resistance attributes that reduce product damage during shipment. Robots may even contribute towards the development of smarter packaging solutions that allow customers themselves to adjust package sizes before disposal, depending on their needs at each particular time.
2) Employ smart recycling strategies
It is becoming increasingly important for organizations to employ sustainable recycling practices in line with e-waste regulations, which are becoming more widespread. Companies should work within the framework of the wastewater treatment system to ensure all resources used during production are recycled or disposed of in an environmentally friendly manner.
3) Ensure complete product recyclability
Complete product recyclability requires an effective design process. The design process must identify, understand, and consider possible impacts on the environment throughout the entire life cycle of goods, from production to distribution and recycling/disposal at end-of-life (EoL). That can be achieved by making sure products are technically easy to recycle and do not contain hazardous substances like mercury, lead, or brominated flame retardants (BFRs).
4) Design packaging to meet specific recycling and waste disposal requirements
Although recycled materials are becoming more widespread, certain countries regulate how these raw materials can be used. For instance, in some countries it is illegal for manufacturers to use recyclable plastics that contain more than 5 percent impurities without first subjecting them to special processing. That means companies must monitor the composition of their plastic waste to ensure it complies with regulations and are subsequently accepted by recycling facilities. The best way for organizations to do this is to work closely with suppliers who can provide detailed information about product and manufacturing process specifications (useful during design and planning stages).
5) Make the most efficient use of 'dead space' - reduce materials without sacrificing performance
In some cases, manufacturers can save six or eight inches in height by reducing 'dead space' within a container structure. Reducing the amount of dead space can reduce material usage and even cut down on production time, since less filling will be required at the start of the process. Moreover, shipping containers that are shorter mean less fuel consumption when being transported from one end-market to another.