Now, modern businesses are increasing their demand for packaging materials, not only because it is cost-effective, but they are also helping the environment. Companies all over the world are increasingly becoming aware of its importance and they are continually finding ways to contribute and do their share in protecting our natural resources.
The fulfillment packaging services providers have also started paying attention to the sustainability of product packaging material. A holistic approach to sustainability in any process says that you look at the process from start to finish: cradle to grave. Packaging this means considering the impact of harvesting the raw material through to the disposal of any waste by
products or the object itself.
A second approach is to control those aspects of the process that you can influence. That usually means processes within your facility: gate to gate. Sometimes it is helpful to look at Total Cost Assessment, which includes costs borne by parties other than the buyer and manufacturer such as the cost of clean water, municipal trash collection, or air quality.
Customers using our wrapping machines often look at the energy efficiency of the wrapping machine, film or paper consumption, and the price, machine-ability, and efficiency of alternative materials. Many companies are beginning to see that post-consumer disposal as an area in which they can differentiate themselves from their competitors. Products are emerging that tout their packaging composability or recycling.
The Cup of Coffee – an example we can all understand
Let’s look at the big picture in a microcosm. One of the most interesting examples of this that I have seen is a cup of coffee. When coffee is brewed the goal is to enjoy the drink. How it is made is less relevant to the drinker than that it is drinkable. The waste in packaging for a one cup coffee maker is greater per serving than for bulk coffee purchasing.
But when you look at the production of coffee through to the consumption, there is usually waste in the bulk production of cups of coffee throughout the system. Here is what I mean. When a pot of coffee is made, not all of it is drunk immediately. That means some of it needs to be kept warm for some time (energy consumption).
Usually, some of it is thrown out (waste). The throwing out part means wasted energy, water and wasted coffee (fresh clean water, beans, roasting, grinding, brewing, etc.) and puts some demand on the waste treatment system to dispose of the leftover, not to mention the cost of transporting all those things so that they could be thrown away.
In contrast, when a one-cup process is used, the whole of the made coffee is usually consumed; less energy, coffee, and water are used. So, the argument is that the process of making a pot of coffee can be more wasteful, if it is not completely consumed within a reasonable period, than the cost of disposing of the one-cup container.
For Total Cost, you can and should throw into the equation the cost of clean water, energy, coffee, trash disposal, and transportation. What it means is that sustainability can mean very different things and it all depends on the specific inputs, the expected outcomes, and the portion of the process that can be controlled and measured.
What Process Options Are There?
In our business, when discussing sustainability as it applies to the automated wrapping process, it is easy to divide the discussion into two pieces.: the wrapping process and the wrapping material. But the reality is there is a third: holistic substitution. The wrapping process looks at the operating costs of the process, the availability and cost of labor, energy, machinery, etc.
The material costs can look not only at the cost of the wrapping material (paper and plastic being the most common materials) but how the material is made and how it is to be disposed of. Process substitution is the gray area that discusses what processes can be changed or eliminated if a new solution is adopted.
Can changing the packaging process eliminate some weight and in doing so not only reduce material costs but reduce transportation costs? Does switching to a different material for wrapping offer opportunities to change or even force change in other parts of the packaging process? This is like the argument about paper vs. plastic bags.
The reality is that paper bags are only better than plastic if they are recycled. It is demonstrably argued that our recycled paper bag uses far more water, more energy, and more pounds of raw material (trees vs. petroleum) to make the same capacity bag. Holistic substitution is why so many people bring their bags to the grocery store today.
Flexibility is Key
Sustainability can mean very different things and it all depends on what the specific inputs are that you chose to measure. Flexibility is key. Whatever you do today, be prepared to switch again tomorrow. Success will be based on making sure your processes are thought out, effective and adaptable.