Customers looking for leaner, greener packaging


Packaging serves multiple functions. It protects your product during shipment and on the shelf, provides necessary information and promotes your product to your customers.

In recent years, because of an increased focus on sustainability, packaging also communicates your company’s commitment to lean principles.

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How minimal your packaging can go depends, of course, on your product. But realize that many customers have wearied of tearing apart several layers to get to their purchase.

There is a general perception of wastefulness in such cases, with disposal of packaging into the waste stream a growing concern. And, less packaging and better packaging management generally mean cost savings for your company.

Going leaner in your packaging can take several approaches. The first is simply removing any unnecessary components.

The beverage industry, for example, eliminated the rings on cans sold in cases. Rings are added as needed when cases are broken up for sale. Other companies have eliminated external cartons, replacing them with shrink wrap.

Reduction in size and weight of boxes, bottles and cans can represent significant savings in materials and transportation costs.

Unilever switched from glass to recyclable plastic jars for mayonnaise, which reduced weight. Plastic containers in general have been reengineered to be stronger while using less resin to produce.

Advances in recycling plastics have addressed the negative perception of plastic as non-biodegradable.

Companies such as FP International are developing biodegradable plastics that meet usage goals but can be composted upon disposal. Their packaging for peanuts is made from recycled polystyrene, can be recycled, and includes an additive that will degrade them into compost if discarded.

Biodegradable materials and recyclable packaging are both selling points for customers, many of whom look for those qualities now.

Using recycled materials in packaging is another lean principle. This content can be either post-consumer – materials recycled by end users – or pre-consumer, which means the use of materials left over from manufacturing.

A survey by the Recycled Paperboard Alliance found that 61 percent of consumers were more inclined to purchase products with recycled content packaging.

In response, brands including Kellogg’s, Nestle, PepsiCo, and Xerox have committed to using 100 percent recycled paperboard. They, along with over 100 other large companies, are members of the 100 percent Recycled Paperboard Alliance.

Another facet of recycling is packaging reuse. Pallets have long been reusable, and companies are now distributing products in totes that can be returned for refill. The Reusable Packaging Association (RPA) promotes the adoption of packaging reuse.

To be considered reusable, packaging must conform to RPA standards that include a minimum of three lifetime uses for similar or same purpose, reintegration into the supply chain and a plan for recycling at end of life.

RPA cites the numerous economic and environmental benefits of reusing packaging. Industries applying reusable packaging include automotive, chemical, textile, electronics and pharmaceutical.

In designing a lean packaging program, there may be tradeoffs. For example, foam pieces used to cradle appliances are lighter than cardboard and therefore cost less to ship. Foam also prevents damage, although foam is not as recyclable as cardboard.

Cost, shipping weight, reuse, recycling, customer perception and product protection are all factors that must be weighed in making the best lean packaging decision.