When green packaging fails

Dennis Salazar

January 30, 2014

4 Min Read
When green packaging fails

Recently I was made aware of a Twitter conversation initiated by an Amazon customer complaining about the high damage rate on her books since the mega shipper decided to “green up” their secondary packaging. Amazon will undoubtedly recover from the unfavorable public comment but my concern is that sustainable secondary packaging is more than likely taking another undeserved black eye. Those, who love to perpetuate the “green packaging is not as good” myth, have yet another, though not totally accurate anecdote to share as “proof” with other likeminded consumers and suppliers.

salazar_champagne_v2.jpgGreen packaging doesn’t damage products, people do
Borrowing from pro-gun lobby, I can tell you from over thirty years of field and real world application experience that in most cases the problem is not the packaging product; it is the way it is used that usually results in shipping damage and failure.  Keep in mind miss use also includes miss application so if the wrong material or design is selected for a specific application, it is destined to fail but that does not make the material bad. The quality of domestically produced packaging materials is generally so high that rarely is defective packaging materials the root cause of damage.

Why Damage Occurs
Here is just a short list of things that usually result in product damage

Trying for a one size fits all packaging solution – we often work with e-commerce companies who ship everything from soft goods to glass products. While we understand their need to minimize the variety of different packaging materials they stock and use; rarely is there a universal solution able to satisfy the protection needs of their wide range of products. The product and application will tell us what type of protection is required if we take the time to listen.

salazar_globe_v2.jpgAttempting to reduce cost beyond a reasonable point – in tough economic times we are all trying to reduce cost but saving a few cents in packaging is quickly offset but the RE factor. That is the cost of replacement, reshipment and repairing a customer relationship. As an example, depending on the box size and style, the difference between 32 ECT and a much heavier 44 ECT is less than 10% or in most cases just a few cents. Most void fill products are inexpensive so using less is not always a wise thing to do. A good, multifaceted, multi product line  supplier is able to balance the cost versus benefit of all your packaging and can often reduce cost in one area to be able to reinforce and support a weaker or more vulnerable spot.

Designing to satisfy a singular need - I love retail package designers but often times their efforts are primarily if not exclusively focused on what a products looks like on the shelf. There is very little thought given to labor cost resulting from assembly or processing. The same holds true of secondary packaging design. In many cases the focus is on ease of opening, sustainability, protection during shipment, or even something like space required for storage. (By the way, I think this may be at least part of the reason and problem with Amazon’s new “frustration free” packaging.)

Not including the pick and pack process into the thought process – there are many ways a pick and pack process can either work with or against your packaging materials. Are you automatically forming, filling and sealing your shipping containers or is it a manual operation? Are order pickers picking into totes or into the shipper?  Are products being sorted or does every pack station need to be able to process every variety of order? How much space is available at each pack station and how many different packaging materials? Not all packaging materials lend themselves to all situations so it is important to work with someone who understands that.

Not seeking an outside, fresh perspective – it is human nature that we tend to go back to the same people to help us with packaging problems. I sincerely appreciate customer/vendor relationships but most packaging vendors have a single product or substrate to work with. The example I usually use is your corrugated supplier is not likely to tell you plastic film is the best solution for your application and the reverse is true as well. Don’t expect the person and company who possibly helped to create the problem, to fix it for you.

Accomplishing green objectives while managing material and labor costs are not as difficult as some make it out to be. Making sure the product arrives in good condition is not an “available option”, it is an absolute requirement.


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