Paul Gill explores why new creative thinking is leading the way in sustainable packaging…
Finding new and innovative packaging solutions is a key part of keeping the retail sector profitable, with ever pressing issues surrounding sustainability and waste having a huge impact on how brands and retailers are choosing to transport and package their products. Paul Gill, Development Manager at paper honeycomb manufacturer, Dufaylite, comments on why innovation is so important in this changing retail landscape.
We now live in an age of fast moving goods, whether that be clothing, food or technology, and brands are having to consider this consumer trend in every aspect of product design, including the packaging. Government statistics show that in 2011 the UK disposed of an estimated 10.8 million tonnes of packaging waste, with only 67% of this being recovered through recycling initiatives. As a response, new packaging targets were announced in March 2012 as part of the Budget, aiming to further improve and combat waste issues up until 2017. This push to improve the UK’s sustainability came into place at the beginning of 2013 and has put significant pressure on brands to not only reconsider their packaging outputs, but to also prove that their revisions are in keeping with meeting national recycling targets.
There is now a demand for packaging products to offer more, with brands, retailers and even to an extent, consumers evaluating how lightweight they are, and whether they involve minimal recycling cost penalties in line with packaging waste regulations. In October 2013, the Department for Business Innovation and Skills produced a report outlining Government Guidelines on ‘Packaging Regulations’ (essential requirements). The requirements highlighted in this report have a direct impact on the materials selected by companies for packaging solutions; ‘packaging volume and weight must be the minimum amount to maintain the necessary levels of safety, hygiene and acceptance for the packed product and for the consumer’, and ‘packaging must be manufactured so as to permit reuse or recovery in accordance with specific requirements’. To summarise, brands need to reduce the volume of packaging required per product to cut packaging spend, keep the product as lightweight but as secure and safe from damage as possible and improve the sustainability of their packaging by reducing the amount of non-recyclable materials used.
Due to these new and enhanced pressures we’ve seen a huge rise in demand for bespoke product packaging solutions at Dufaylite. There has been a significant increase in companies coming to us directly to create solutions that combat specific problems they are faced with in their particular product sector. Generic ‘off the shelf’ packaging design is no longer cutting the mustard, and investing in alternative materials as well as bespoke and innovative production is something that a growing number of companies are considering.
Although lightweight and offering a good amount of product protection, packaging solutions that use expanded polystyrene (EPS) no longer cover the environmental and recycling requirements outlined in the new guidelines, and as a result have caused significant issues in the packaging sector. With corrugated card and other paper materials – although easily recyclable – facing issues surrounding sturdiness, there is a pressing need to re-evaluate how paper and card can be used to solve problems faced in retail sectors across the board.
Many packaging material companies are attempting to combat the issue by creating card and paper solutions that aim to copy plastic or polystyrene designs, rather than re-thinking the structure itself. At Dufaylite, we have recognised the need to develop bespoke and innovative products that directly respond to the main problems faced by each individual brand. Our Envirolite board, made from our unique recycled paper honeycomb has given us the opportunity to offer a sustainable and versatile material that provides the strength and rigidity of EPS materials, and can be easily adapted to a variety of packaging requirements.
As solution requests can be so diverse, from exterior transit to interior protection, packaging manufacturers are having to start considering each case on an individual basis, harnessing proven techniques to meet the brief. When approached with a request for a bespoke solution, we always start by evaluating the specific problems faced by a brand and its product; where will it encounter most impact during transit and sale, and how can we reduce the packaging used to safeguard this without compromising on security?
One sector that has seen a particular shift towards sustainable materials is the grocery industry. Combined with government pressures, it is now even more important to invest in the protection of your product from an end user perspective, fresh produce or otherwise, in light of the rise of the ‘fussy consumer’. At the end of 2013 it was reported that Tesco had blamed picky shoppers for a large proportion of the company’s food wastage, stating that UK consumers always pick ‘the cream of the crop’ with misshapen or damaged produce being left and unsold. This issue was particularly prominent for one of our fresh produce clients, Branston potatoes. The company approached us after it was found that crates of baby potatoes were being overloaded in store, ruining a large amount of produce at the bottom of the pile. We created several concepts to try and solve the issue, with the final resolution being to expand the void former at the base of the crate, meaning crates could not be overfilled when packed. As well as safeguarding the produce, this new solution included all the other Enivrolite benefits of being made from 100% Recycled paper, 100% recyclable, extremely strong, compact and lightweight.
It’s not just the grocery industry looking to bespoke solutions rather than generic packaging designs to combat environmental and consumer pressures. Technology brands are constantly competing to produce advanced products that deliver on design. Bulky, over packaged goods are not meeting consumer expectations following the rise of ‘sexy’, minimal packaging from super brands like Apple. It’s now even more important to reduce the amount of materials used without compromising on protection. As a business, we have found that concentrating on harnessing cut and fold techniques can help to combat this issue, particularly in the case of leading printer manufacturer HP. Like many other large corporations, HP was looking to improve sustainability and reduce the packaging for its products. We were approached to come up with a solution that would replace the polystyrene protective inner packaging surrounding its printers. Using cut and fold, as well as pre cut, interlocking Envirolite sections, we created a lightweight but strong ‘end cap’ design that was 100% recyclable but didn’t compromise on the protection of the product during transit or sale.
No matter what the usage, paper and card materials are now something all brand sectors can consider when it comes to re-evaluating their packaging sustainability. Whether it be for void formers between crates for transit, in box protection for gadgets or for preservative packaging like framework covers on doors, the environmentally friendly alternatives can now match the strength and durability of plastic or polystyrene products, whilst still being lightweight. The issues surrounding waste and recycling aren’t going to disappear, and now is the time to re-think the approach. The success and development of environmentally friendly packaging is ever more reliant on the packaging manufacturing industry investing in new ideas and innovations to offer the bespoke solutions brands are now in search of.