Three actionable ways to reduce your company’s reliance on expanded polystyrene and environmental footprint in the plant and throughout the supply chain.
Increased numbers of manufacturers and retailers are undertaking initiatives to eliminate or significantly reduce their use of expanded polystyrene over the next decade (for example, see Target’s goal to eliminate expanded polystyrene by 2022).
Much of this push is sustainability driven, as there are limited recycling streams for EPS. However, if you’re ever purchased a flat screen TV or similar large product, you’ll find it doesn’t take much of the bulky, blocky EPS foam to quickly fill up your garbage container at home. So there's additional motivation to reduce EPS stems from unfavorable feedback that can negatively impact your Net Promoter Score or “Star Ratings.”
Recyclability concerns aside, EPS can meet multiple requirements for an optimized packaging system including: cost, protection, and ability to fit around complex geometries. With some of these large scale initiatives in place to reduce or eliminate expanded polystyrene foam, companies need to rethink their approach to protective packaging and evaluate alternative approaches and solutions. Here are three strategies to steer your packaging team towards reducing or eliminating EPS foam:
1. Understand your product’s robustness to determine the level of protection needed.
Basic principles of package engineering states the product plus its packaging must equal the hazards of your supply-chain environment. If you have a robust product, minimal packaging is needed. Conversely, if you have a fragile product, additional packaging is required to minimize damages and returns. The fundamentals of this approach entails performing fragility or damage boundary testing to understand how much force is required to damage your product and the likelihood of that level of force occurring within the supply chain. Once you determine the robustness of your product, you can optimize your cushioning or protective packaging strategy to ensure your product ships damage-free, while minimizing the amount of packaging needed. One alternative output of this testing may include making product enhancements to improve durability, while minimizing the amount of packaging needed.
2. Evaluate alternative cushioning materials.
From a traditional cushioning standpoint, EPS foam is really more of a “blocking and bracing” solution, meaning your product is fairly robust, yet needs some additional protection to deflect and absorb shock impacts from specific heights or certain predictable angles. Once you’ve identified the fragility of your product, and the distribution hazards it may see in the supply chain you can better evaluate material options.
There are a number of factors to consider when evaluating alternate materials including: annual usage volumes, product geometries, thickness of cushioning required, takt time and labor at the assembly line, availability and cost. In some instances, these factors can be limiting and thus necessitate the use of EPS foam or other molded materials.
However, there have been increases in the use of alternative materials including molded pulp, corrugated, molded plastics and others. Key requirements and constraints (as well as piece part cost and tooling costs) and potential logistics impacts all need to be evaluated to understand the total system cost impacts.
3. Consider a hybrid solution.
Sometimes a simple foam reduction can be a step in the right direction when used in conjunction with other protective materials. Some alternative materials may include, but not limited to: corrugated, honeycomb or molded pulp. These alternative materials offer better recyclability. Creating a hybrid packaging system may provide a win-win scenario for reducing foam, balancing cost structure and maintaining packaging performance.
Whatever your long-term metrics are for reducing or eliminating polystyrene foam from your packaging system, there are multiple approaches to help drive your company towards more sustainable solutions. If your organization is seeking new packaging methods to reduce foam and meet retailer standards or initiatives, seek the expertise of experienced packaging engineers to determine the best packaging strategy for your organization.
Rob Kaszubowski is Sr. Packaging Consultant at Chainalytics’ Packaging Optimization where his engineering team is focused on reducing product damage and implementing packaging cost reduction initiatives. Connect with Rob on LinkedIn and on Twitter@KazPack1Blurb:
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