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The 2009 Packaging ‘Goofies' From Around The World

Are the packages I describe here, the result of some idiotic, stupid and incompetent designers? No, not at all, on the contrary. I just used the word ‘goofy’ to catch your attention, although ….. some are the result of a far-too-free-flowing brainwave and some are simple and brilliant, just that little bit extra to pop-off the supermarket shelves. Unfortunately they didn’t attract attention in the professional media.
It’s a tour around the world. Judge for yourself.

France
91104-sidel-compilation-500×221.jpgIn France the Sidel beer bottle breaks with traditional codes. At first glance, this object does not even seem to be a bottle. The 500-ml PET bottle boasts an unusual shape with very sleek lines, and the cap is completely hidden. It is only when you turn it over and remove the protective cap that you see that it is a beer bottle, upside down! Right side up, with the protective cap still on, it looks like a stem glass.

More than a bottle, this object is unique and fun. The unique shape and the ergonomics of the bottle are meant to intrigue and attract young consumers who are in for a new beer-drinking experience.

Taiwan
We stay with the upside-down bottle. This one originated in Taiwan. The new Dual-open bottle concept is simple and useful for products like ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise or any other type of sauce which is hard to get from the bottom of the bottle. Usually one has to throw (almost half-a-bottle) into the trash bin, but with designer Kai-yu Lei’s invention you can just turn the bottle upside-down and squeeze the rest of the products from the top. With two openings on both sides one can have some more of the ketchup without the sputtering which occurs by squeezing the standard one-hole bottle.
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The Netherlands
In the United States one of the most popular family activities is bowling. And if you play bowling there are a couple of necessary items, the shoes, the ball, the bowling pins, the bowling lanes and finally …. a Strike-Maker. With a Strike-Maker in your hand all is set for a nice game of bowling.
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A Strike-Maker?
When the Dutch go ten-pin bowling, they do it in style - you can buy a Strike-Maker, containing 40ml of vodka-fig liqueur. Quite cleverly, the white glass bottle is moulded in the shape of a skittle with ceramic printing and a ROPP aluminium cap. The product is launched by S&M Trading, one of the largest suppliers of bowling accessories in the region.

Russia
Russia is famous for its Matryoshka’s. The designers from DarkDesignGroup created an unusual packaging for t-shirts, a transparent form of the Matryoshka and holding a t-shirt. The original design and unusual shape make the packaging truly non-traditional and attract attention. The plastic thermo-formed packaging consists of two parts.
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Japan
From Japan comes a thoughtful touch. Unlike most other confectionery products, chewing gum has to be disposed of after use. Chewing gum is the single most littered item in the UK, according to a survey carried out in 2009 by environmental charity Keep Britain Tidy and packaging group INCPEN. UK municipalities spend £150m (USD 250m) a year clearing away the discarded gum that makes up more than three-quarters of the litter found on UK streets.
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Japan’s Ezaki Glico Co., Ltd might have the solution to this issue. The Glico Pos-Ca Smart Pod, sugarless chewing gums, are packed in a cup with a lid containing slips of paper to dispose of the finished chewing gum.
A thoughtful touch.

90932-bejo1_bewerkt-1.jpgThe Netherlands
In the Netherlands Bejo Zaden is convinced that mini-Romanesco is fully capable of becoming the trendy cabbage variety of the future. Originally a crop traditional to the Mediterranean coast of Italy between Naples and Rome, Romanesco is one of natures more spectacular creations. The green crowns in the form of a pyramid make these vegetables look like a real work of art. With the mini variety this is even more obvious. They make a delightful presentation, cooked, as raw dips, or used as a show piece in a buffet. The seed improvement company from Holland states that there are few vegetables, which have the same decorative value as Romanesco. It is therefore striking, that it is still difficult for the Romanesco to come into its own on the vegetable shelves. Certainly this pyramid shaped box will help the mini-Romanesco pop-off the shelves. Little is known about the packaging, as at the time of presentation the packaging only was a sample-pack.

Finland
Finland is famous for it’s creative designs, but every now and then one wonders whether the Fins were serious or just drunk. Plup Oy Ab of Finland has developed an innovative doughnut-shaped pack for its packaged water. The Plup bottle holds 400 ml, or 14 fl.oz. A pint, basically. The Plup bottle is made from recyclable modified PET. Plup encourages consumers not to return the bottle, but rather to re-fill and re-use it. It’s highly durable and suitable for heavy use, such as hiking or boating.

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Spain
On the Spanish beaches the newest trend in wine drinking is the Flow,er mini wine bottles.

90789-flowerwine-compilation-500×243.jpgThe fresh-green single-serve 18,75 ml mini bottles hold one of the most popular wines: the Viña Esmeralda. The flowery aromas of white roses distinguishes this wine from other white variants. The fashionable mini bottles of this much appreciated white wine comes with a drinking-bowl in the shape of a rose, one of the most important ingredients of the wine. The white rose-shaped drinking-bowl, functions as a glass and fits in the neck of the bottle, allowing the consumer to drink in style straight from the bottle without spoilage.90557-compilation-500×187.jpg

Ukraine
2009 saw a wide variety of new regulations for the tobacco industry. Many a horrible and prohibitive graphic had to be printed on cigarette packs, which impact the industry tried to soften by using the most fantastic design and printing technologies. The answer to that is the treat for a neutral packaging. White, with no names, nothing.
Or is a coffin-shaped pack of cigarettes a better visual stimulus to quit smoking?
The Ukrainian designer Reynolds thinks so, that’s why he designed the concept of the ’social responsible’ packaging for tobacco products.

Britain

To finish this world tour we go to Britain where we can admire the results of packaging recycling. It is seldom that a well-dressed young female executive turns up in my blog. 90561-debenhams-green-suit.jpgBut this is different.
Eying the current credit crunch, in which people are looking for good value and still wanting to keep up their commitment to sustainability, Debenhams, a High Street department store in the UK, introduced a female business suit created entirely (although I doubt that) out of recycled plastic bottles. According to Debenhams, the ultimate eco-friendly outfit is equally friendly priced at £55 (USD 100).
The project to create clothing from 100% recycled sources has taken the fashion retailer 12 months to perfect. The resulting expertly tailored trouser suits look and feel like any other outfit created for smart female executives.

Each suit is made from 50 bottles which are put through a special process. The bottles are cleaned and have their labels removed before being ground down into chips which are melted at a plant in Taiwan. The mixture is then refined and woven into a soft but hard-wearing type of polyester. The suit is made in Vietnam.
How many women are out there willing to wear a suit made from recycled PET-bottles? According to a spokesperson for Debenhams the single-button jacket and the boot-cut trousers will tempt the ‘fashion conscious’ shopper and ‘would not look out of place in the boardroom’.
An outfit for life as PET doesn’t biodegrade.

When Green Meets Packaging and they run into Sales and Marketing

Think of this as a classroom case study of a unique product with a green story, and tremendous potential, that is all dressed up and has nowhere to go.

Chris Marszalek, a business associate and good friend of mine, invented a product called Drink Links. It is an ingeniously simply idea where a plastic ring easily snaps onto the neck of a plastic bottle indentifying your bottle from others, much like a wine charm fits over the stem of your wine glass at a party.

How Is This An Eco Friendly Product?
I saw Drink Links and immediately recognized its green potential because it is primarily designed to eliminate waste. After a party or gathering, we have all had to dump partially consumed bottles of water, beer, or soft drinks because the original owner of the beverage simply lost track of his or her bottle. That is a tremendous waste of product, as well as of packaging. Remember, fewer plastic bottles mean less plastic used or discarded. Drink Links eliminates the need to try to mark your beverage (throw away your magic marker) and easily identifies it as yours. Use recycled plastic to make the rings, add some eco friendly packaging and you have a very solid and sellable green story, or so I thought.

A Health Benefit as Well
As the TV ad man says, “But that’s not all”. The only thing more topical these days that sustainability is health and Drink Links offers the additional advantage of preventing germs from being passed around by people unintentionally sharing a beverage. If you imagine a children’s party or sports team, you know your child will not hesitate to drink for the same bottle as his or her friend. You know; the kid with a runny nose who always seems to be out of school due to illness. The one who’s nick name is “The Carrier” and it’s not because he is built like a ship.

So what’s the problem?
I offered to assist Chris in the marketing and packaging of the product and among others we have showed it to a very large drug store chain, a huge health care provider, a very popular bottled water supplier and everyone we show it to, loves it. I have even had personal requests for more samples because the product is a hit at home. The problem is that no one is buying it or selling it.

We thought perhaps the relatively low retail price point (around $1.00) was a problem so we changed strategies and thought it might make a great give away or private branded promo item. I envisioned an eco minded water bottler perhaps including a free pack of Drink Links included in every case of bottled water? Companies give away millions of pens and note paper pads at conferences, shows, etc. so perhaps we could turn the low cost and price into a negative by making it a personalized ad specialty item? Perfect for any person or company in the healthcare or nutrition business, right? We even showed it to smaller retail chains including a local network of liquor stores. Once again, everyone thinks it is a great idea but no one seems to know how to best market it.

The Homework Portion of this Case Study
You’re assignment, if you choose to accept it is to help us determine why this product is not selling? Here are a couple of thoughts we’ve had:

• Is it the price point? Too low to get much attention? Too high for an ad trinket?

• Is it the packaging? Honestly, you will not hurt my feelings because I entered the picture after the basic design was complete.

• Is it the name? Is “Drink Links” not descriptive enough or is it too internet unfriendly? Google it and you’ll see what I mean. Every bartender’s creation comes up.

• Is private branding the way to go with this?

• Have we not identified the best market, yet?

• Are we over rating its green value?

The primary lesson here is that today, inventing and designing a good, unique and green product is not nearly enough in this fast growing and crowded space. So many things have to come together perfectly to make a product a hit and perhaps you need a little bit of luck as well.

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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.

Green 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.

Attempting 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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Should End Users Buy Their Packaging from a Factory, Converter or Distributor? Part 2

Finding the Right Supplier
The broad selection of available packaging products is extensive and most are taken to market in a variety of different ways. Some manufacturers sell only through converters or distribution and others will only sell to end users. Many sell both ways because they understand that in some scenarios, a converter or distributor can serve the end user customer better and quite frankly, more profitably than they can.

What a Converter Brings to the Packaging Party

A converter sits in a very enviable position of being part distributor and part manufacturer. A corrugated sheet plant for example may not make corrugated sheets but they sure can produce a lot of boxes and other corrugated products.Typically the advantages a converter is able to deliver to the end user include:

  • Service – In terms of personal and delivery. Your mid to large size business is important to them and their response usually confirms it. They too look for that sweet spot where their equipment matches up to a customer’s requirements and they are usually quicker and more flexible when it comes to a rush order or unusual request.
  • Pricing – as I stated in part one, when the equipment fits the job, they can be incredibly competitive because even though they may buy their raw substrate or materials from a manufacturer, the large converter buys at a very good price. Corrugated manufacturers appreciate sheet business because it adds up to quick and relatively easy tonnage which quickly fills a truck.
  • Lower Operational Cost – yet another reason why a converter can regularly offer better pricing than a manufacturer. Converters are typically smaller operations with lower overhead and labor costs.
  • Resources – many converters have fully staffed design labs and are more than willing to work through the sometimes painful design stage on a project. Here is another key – the resources they have are usually more accessible than at a manufacturer where you may have to stand in line behind a long list of huge CPG customers.


Then What Is the Distributor’s Role?

The simple answer and purpose is distribution. A distributor is typically a master of inventory control and logistics. If they are not good at managing both, they are not likely to be profitable for very long.Buying wisely in large quantities and supplying it to smaller volume customers as needed is primarily what we as distributors do. You recall my mentioning that manufacturers and converters love long runs? It is often times their distributor clients who provide them with those types of orders and the distributor is rewarded with very low pricing in return. They are able to group or combine the usage of multiple low volume customers, turning it into a large order able to take advantage of the manufacturer or converters high speed or large production capabilities.Variety Is the Spice of Life and a Distributor’s Life BloodIn addition, the distributor also provides these services to a relationship:

  • Multiple product lines – you will rarely see a single product or single product line distributor because providing customers with choices and a variety of product is what we do. A multi product distributor is also able to provide valuable assistance in vendor rationalization and consolidation programs. Recently Kraft announced they were reducing their vendor base by 40%, to help control and reduce costs. That told me that low volume vendors, especially single product, small volume vendors will soon appear on Kraft’s “former vendors” list.
  • Technical and packaging systems expertise – Sometimes the best solution is not a product but a system. Speaking as someone who has spent his entire adult life as a distributor, selling equipment to end users, packaging materials are not the greatest cost to an operation, labor is. I have seen thousands of times when the material cost was relatively insignificant because the distributor was able to dramatically reduce labor cost.
  • Equipment Support - distributors tend to be local companies and they are always looking for ways to endear themselves to their customers. Providing them with equipment and post installation service is one of the ways they maintain the relationship. Many vendors are able to supply a customer boxes, bags or pallet stretch film but who supplies them with equipment and service for their carton erectors, tapers, bagging systems and pallet wrappers? Usually it is NOT the manufacturer or the converter.


Cha, cha, cha, Changes

Those are memorable lyrics from one of my favorite David Bowie songs and an accurate description of today’s packaging industry. There are no hard and fast rules and we now see manufacturers developing equipment support programs, and converters creating stock and release programs for favorite customers.At the same time, creative distributors with management closer to street level tend to be first to recognize new markets or trends such as sustainability. Distributors are rarely stuck with age old marketing direction, and are not handcuffed with inflexible corporate policies. They tend to be the chameleons of packaging with an inert ability to flex and adapt, even in a difficult economy, while some single product manufacturers struggle to keep up.What type of vendor should you do business with for your packaging supplies?

The answer is rarely simple and often not what you expect.

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"The China Syndrome"

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china_syndrome_v3.jpgThis is the title of a 1979 hit movie that predicted the earth’s demise via a nuclear energy disaster and it is best recalled for featuring a very young trio of Jane Fonda, Michael Douglas and Jack Lemmon. Ironically, today that same title could apply to the potential environmental disaster resulting from the massive amounts of unsafe and poor quality product and packaging being imported from China and other countries.

Yet many large American retailers and companies continue to import most if not all of their products from overseas. Why?

They are Price and Convenience Shoppers!
The most obvious answer is price but there are many reasons why our overseas competitors have rapidly gained stunning market share. One that has gone relatively unnoticed is their willingness and ability to give our customers “all-inclusive” pricing which usually includes all freight, duties, and of course packaging.

These off shore competitors have not only reduced the price of the products and the packaging they come in, they wisely have also reduced their customers’ procurement costs. Most American business people would probably admire the strategy and execution of the game plan, if it wasn’t destroying domestic employers and employees.

Unfortunately too many American companies are using this purchasing efficiency to skirt the issue of sustainability and to be able to have plausible deniability when it comes to packaging. “Our product comes from China,” I have been told time and time again, “so we have no control over packaging.” That is one of the greatest lies ever told and ranks right behind, “We had no reason to believe it caused cancer.”

This position essentially eliminates the need for any domestic company to avoid assuming responsibility for anything that is done for them in China or any other part of the globe. Even recent news stories about children’s toys containing deadly lead paint were quickly defused by blaming the overseas supplier.

Had it been a domestic supplier, the guilty plant would have been quickly shut down and the domestic product selling company would have likely paid a much higher price. Certainly companies have gone out of business for far less serious infractions than poisoning our children.

Why Does Foreign Packaging Matter?
There is a long list of reasons why this should matter to us as American consumers and believers in sustainability. Here are a few to consider:

1. A surprise in every shipment
First and foremost, we have no idea what the packaging contains in terms of content or inks. Eventually this discarded packaging will either find its way to our recycling stream or our landfills and we really don’t know what we are adding. Did you ever notice the unique, pungent smell of some foreign packaging? Did you ever wonder or question what you are inhaling? Perhaps you should.

2. Surviving the low bid process
Foreign packaging lowers the bar for domestic packaging manufacturers. Social as well as quality standards and practices are often times abandoned as they struggle to compete with the tremendous labor cost advantage of the foreign competition.

3. What are the “3 R’s”?
Packaging is not being recycled, reused or reduced. For example, you would think anyone shipping product and packaging to the opposite end of the globe would understand the need to keep everything compact and minimal but they don’t. Their standards are different than ours so oversized packaging is the norm, not the exception.

This post is not about market protectionism but rather about corporate irresponsibility. In this case the domestic companies in question are the customers and buyers of the foreign suppliers so they have the clout to drive positive change in a foreign land, if they choose to. Or it may be easier and more economical to simply turn the blind eye to the problem and duck the responsibility.

As long as domestic companies are able to pass the buck and avoid thinking about the long term consequences of their importing, the bigger the economic, social and environmental problem we will all eventually have to face.

I will be honest and confess it is over twenty years since I have last watched the movie, “The China Syndrome” and I really do not recall the conclusion. However, I am fairly certain it did not have a happy ending.

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Ten Ways to Make Your Secondary Packaging Greener in 2010

packaging is the first thing your customers see
“Secondary packaging is the first thing your customers see but the last thing on your mind” is a great line our marketing director came up with for one of our brochures, because it is so true, especially if you are one of the up and coming e-commerce companies. All of those boxes, tape and void fill you use to get your product from point A to point B are a major expense, but also a terrific opportunity to be eco-consistent and make a great first impression.

Here are ten ways secondary packaging can help you reach your overall sustainability objectives in 2010 as well as reduce packaging costs.

1. Use the 80/20 rule to right size your secondary packaging.
One of the most common mistakes we see is companies sizing their packaging for the largest size product they ship rather than the largest volume product they ship.

2. Consolidate box sizes
If you have more than a dozen box sizes and unless you are P&G or Kraft, make 2010 the year you review your box sizes in an effort to reduce inventory. Almost every packaging audit results in sizes that can easily be eliminated.

3. Look at your packaging from the recipient’s perspective, not yours
Example - most customers do not consider white boxes as eco friendly as brown boxes and generally they are right. White boxes also look great when they are outbound but not so good when they are inbound.

4. Identify and eliminate sustainable dead ends
Simply put, if it can’t be recycled or reused, don’t utilize it. The perfect example is those paper/poly bubble laminate mailers used by almost every company. A mailer that is all plastic or all paper has a chance of being recycled. The paper/poly combination can only end up in the nearest landfill.

5. Grade your packaging on an “eco obvious” scale
Not only is it green, is it obviously green? Recently someone in the sustainability business asked me if there was an easy way to tell the difference between eco friendly, biodegradable packing peanuts and the plastic ones? That indicates corn starch, biodegradable, or other eco friendly packing peanuts are not as eco obvious as some believe.

6. Commit to using recycled packaging materials whenever possible
If we recycle and we all should, we also have an obligation to try to use as much recycled product as possible. Why do companies use corrugated pallet pads and sheets made of virgin board? Only two possible reasons: they don’t know or they don’t care.

7. Re-evaluate eco friendly plastics for void fill and cushioning
Bubble and inflatable products have come a long way in the last twelve months and the cost has come down to earth making them cost and performance competitive. They are also very economical to use, ship and store so it may be a great time to reconsider them as a void fill or protective packaging option.

urgent package

8. Consider custom size, custom grade and custom print packaging
As important as branding has become, there are many cost and environmental reasons to go green with custom products. Example – many companies use large volumes of “stock” box sizes even though they are larger than necessary, require more void fill and result in higher shipping costs. The correct size can save money in all of those areas.

9. Give paper box sealing tape another look
Many companies originally began box sealing with water activated paper tape but made the switch to plastic for convenience reasons. WAT dispensers are now less expensive, easier to use and remember, paper always trumps plastic in any eco comparison.

10. Review your shipping container options
Sometimes the best, most eco friendly box is no box at all. A great example is the number of companies who ship soft goods in corrugated boxes rather than low cost plastic or paper shipper envelopes.

The world of packaging materials is constantly changing, especially recently with the increased interest in sustainability. Even if you reviewed your packaging operation just two short years ago, you may be terribly out of date. 2010 may be the best year yet to go green and reduce cost while doing it.

Sustainable Packaging Focus on Reuse in 2010

It is that time of the year for projections and when prognosticators tell us what to expect this coming year and new decade. I admit not having a crystal ball and prove it on an almost daily basis, yet I believe there are some trends developing that are fairly obvious, if you know where to look.

The Other “R”

three-tenors.jpgOne of the trends that I see becoming most obvious is a serious interest on the third or forgotten R in sustainability, which is reuse. It reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where the plot revolved around “the other guy” in the famous singing trio, The Three Tenors. Reuse is the R many people have a difficult time remembering when asked. Most people remember recycle and reduce, just like music enthusiasts and Three Tenors fans, quickly deliver the names of Placido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti. However much like the third tenor, Jose Carreras, reuse seems to be overshadowed by the company it keeps.

Why is Reuse Coming out of the Shadows?

Reducing packaging materials is a never ending task and opportunity since new and improved, stronger materials are introduced every day. For example, thin gauge LDPE, one mil and thinner films are now satisfying applications that a couple of years ago required a 1.5 mil or even 2.0 mil thick film.

I do believe however much of that low hanging fruit, or most obvious material reduction opportunities have been taken by the companies inclined to do so. In other words, if a company has not already taken advantage of the potential cost savings material reduction offers, they are probably less likely to see the light in the coming year.

three-r-s.jpgThen there is the most popular R, which is recycle. Everyone talks about it and agrees it is a good idea, but most also agree as a society we probably recycle less than 40% of what is recyclable. Don’t misunderstand, there is no greater advocate than me of using recycled as well as recyclable packaging materials but that too is likely to only deliver incremental gains in 2010. Until recycling becomes more profitable or mandatory and using recycled materials is required of the largest packaging users in our country, this is an uphill battle and a good topic for a different blog post.

Simply put, reuse will grow in 2010 because it represents the largest potential savings and the economic and bottom lines are still the largest motivators for any action, including a move in the green direction.

What Makes Reuse Such A Good Option?

Common sense tells us that the easiest and greenest alternative is the reuse of a packaging product that has already been made and previously used. There is virtually no transportation fuel required to ship raw materials, components or the finished product itself. The energy it required to manufacture and ship has already been consumed so any use beyond the initial use is an environmental bonus. In most cases, the more often you are able to use a packaging product, the smaller its carbon footprint becomes. We believe that 2010 is the year when we start becoming a less wasteful society in our homes and our businesses and reuse is an important part of that eco focused strategy.

The Challenges

First and foremost the manufacturers of packaging products need to start thinking in terms of product reuse. Most packaging materials are designed to be single use and disposable. If sustainability is a paradigm shift for consumers, making reusable packaging materials is an even greater change for the companies manufacturing them.

For as long as they have been around, packaging manufacturers have seen the economic benefit of selling throw away products because that obviously helps them to sell more products. So now we as consumers need to encourage and motivate those same companies by choosing, buying and reusing the products that are designed to be used multiple times. We need to provide them with the market share they crave and that will drive their competitors to respond with similar products.

2010 and Beyond

As I have mentioned many times, there is no single solution to the enormous environmental problems we have created so a combination of “all of the above” is perhaps the best long term solution. After all Jose Carreras has an incredible voice but he seems to sound best when he sings with those two other guys.

Short Term Decisions, Long Term Consequences

Purchasing Priorities

What is Driving Your Secondary Packaging Choices - Part 2

In Part 1 of this post we discussed buying packaging out of convenience and habit rather than taking the time to venture out of our comfort zone and current supplier base. We also talked about the difference between price and cost and how price is the easy way but usually less effective way to compare packaging products.

We all realize how short staffed organizations are today and how that increased pressure can lead to short term rather than long term decisions. One area where this is most obvious is in that of sustainability. Understandably many procurement operations today are in reactive mode rather than proactive effort because they lack the time to do their homework and investigate the products they buy. Research and evaluation are tough to do when production requires the unanticipated packaging component to be in their hands in three days. No one wants to be responsible for a missed ship date because “purchasing forgot to order boxes” or other necessary secondary packaging.

Still, I believe that sustainability does not have to be compromised in favor of expediency if two simple questions are asked of the products we buy and use.

What Is the Packaging Product Made Of?

Asking about the composition of a packaging product is always a good idea because that usually leads to conversation about eco friendly packaging options. We know that products made with recycled content are typically greener than products made with virgin content. I think most people would also agree that the higher the recycled content, the better, and the use of PCW (post consumer waste) is more beneficial to the environment than post industrial or post production waste.

A good example is newsprint paper that is usually manufactured in large log rolls and then cut into smaller rolls or sheets. The scrap that is generated in the converting or manufacturing process would be considered post production waste. If that newsprint was used to print a newspaper and was later recycled by the reader, that recycled content would be classified as post consumer waste.

Use of recycled waste, whether it is PCW or not, minimizes the need for virgin content and keeps more waste out of the land fill. Both are very good goals for our businesses.

Where Will the Packaging Product Wind Up?

Eventually the packaging products we use will end up as waste. The longer we can avoid that the better and the more options we have on what we are able to do with it, the better. The “Three R’s of Sustainability” – reduce, reuse and recycle, will usually provide all of the guidance we need to make a good, green decision.

Reduce is probably the most overlooked opportunity for sustainability as well as savings. For example packaging films are being formulated to perform better at thinner gauges, yet companies tend to order and reorder the thicker films they have always used. Call it habit or fear of the unfamiliar, substantial waste and dollar savings are missed as a result.

Another potentially lucrative area for packaging and cost reduction is corrugated shipping boxes. There are many ways of reducing the amount of packaging you use ranging from board thickness reduction, to right sizing and redesign. A review and analysis of current corrugated use typically has no cost and takes very little time. With expected 2010 increases, the timing of a packaging audit may never be better.

Any packaging product that is able to be reused, over and over again is obviously a good thing. An excellent example is the intra office mail envelope. We have all seen and used that tattered yellow envelope, usually with previous recipients names crossed off and a reclosable string tie. That is paper and dollars that were well spent because unlike most packaging products, they do not become waste after one single use.

Many packaging manufacturers are starting to see the value and benefit of creating multiple use products and using or even asking for them will help drive that positive trend. Even products like inflatable air pillows used for void fill are engineered to hold air longer so they can potentially be reused many times before they are ultimately recycled.

When we talk about the end state of a packaging product, recycling is probably the most advantageous for numerous reasons. Generally a recycled product requires less new base ingredient (plastic resin, wood fiber, etc.), and less fuel to remanufacture it and to transport it.

A packaging product that can easily be recycled and used to make more packaging products is the ideal. Certainly no better example exists than the simple, corrugated box. It can be recycled anywhere and everywhere and can easily be made into more corrugated boxes. A horrible example is cushioned mailers that are paper on the outside and plastic bubble on the inside. Individually both components may be good but when laminated together, neither product can be recycled and they can only wind up in a land fill.

We’re All in this Together

Even though I am a seller of packaging materials, I also buy them so my suggestions are ones I utilize on an almost daily basis. We are all trying to do more with less and reduce costs as much as possible.

We are also in the same boat in terms of the environment and what we all help to create is what we will end up with, and so will future generations.

Sustainable Packaging – Everything Old Is New Again

aunt-elses-aebleskiver.jpgRecently I had the opportunity to attend the 2010 International Housewares Show, which I always enjoy because of the many new products and innovations that are annually launched there. As a lifelong packaging guy, I also could not help but notice the amount of “old” packaging I saw there. Please note, I now always use the word old with the greatest respect and sincere appreciation.

Packaging Sustainability Is “Retro”?

As the classic song says; “no need to remember when” because eventually, “everything old is new again”. In other words what we have always suspected is true in fashion and other facets of life, seems to be accurate about packaging as well. All of the old packaging products that were once replaced by products deemed as sleeker, newer, more high tech and better, are back again.

fragrant-passage-candle-company.jpgMost noticeable is the reduced use of plastics in many different applications. They are starting to be replaced more frequently with paperboard, corrugated and even paper bag designs, as well as glass and metal containers. It seems the green market in search of a new, authentically “natural” look has dusted off some of these older materials, pulled them out of moth balls and reintroduced them to create ironically, a new look in packaging many of us boomers remember fondly from our younger days.

Paperboard Packaging Is Back to Basics

“Plain and simple” are no longer dirty words when it comes to design - in fact, they have become highly sought after end results for “natural” and organic products. Suddenly out of fashion are the high gloss, bleached white finishes, and bright colors as paperboard designs become much more basic, with soft, earth tone colors.

The other thing that is different is the board content of many of these new, old designs. You see a lot more natural Kraft (NK) which of course is brown in color and double Kraft lined (DKL) which has a high recycled content, and a lot less SUS (solid unbleached sulfate) and SBS (solid bleached sulfate).

Kraft Corrugated Is “Cool”

fetile-earth-corp.jpgAnother packaging product that has become much more popular is micro, or e-flute, corrugated board for applications that have been traditionally done in paperboard. It seems the natural look of corrugated is now a plus and it also provides good strength versus cost compared to heavy caliper paperboard. Much like its paperboard cousin above, today’s corrugated design features few coatings and is usually printed in muted colors with vegetable based inks.
Glass and Metal versus Plastic Containers

nellies-all-natural-products.jpgI have sold plastic for my entire career and I truly believe that there are some applications where plastic can indeed be the most eco friendly option. Many die hard “greenies” would argue with that and would be thrilled to see how much plastic is being replaced by good old fashion, glass and metal packaging.

Keep in mind in the past, plastic displaced metal or glass for reasons of design, convenience and/or weight. Certainly plastic offers some distinct and unique benefits but the green market today sees glass and metal as two of the most reusable and renewable packaging substrates available. Both glass and metal can be easily recycled almost anywhere, even in curb side recycling programs, while plastic recycling still lags behind in some communities.

In addition plastic has a very negative reputation to overcome whether the topic is BPA or its petroleum base. Neither is true of all plastics but regardless of the facts and specific situations, glass and metal have a much more positive green image. That of course makes them the obvious and logical choice for natural and organic products.

A Never Ending Cycle

“The more things change, the more they stay the same” was a favorite expression of a dear old friend of mine. Certainly the sustainability and packaging trends I saw at the Housewares Show would be proof of that.

This means undoubtedly in time we will likely see the return of bright colors, high gloss finishes, and yes, even plastic containers. I suspect however that if this shift to green is permanent, and I am certain it is, those products will have to reappear in safer and more earth friendly forms and formulations.

In the meantime I will continue to hang on to my eight-track and cassette music tapes, because, well … you just never know.

Mainstream Media Not Very Sustainable on the Environment

With another Earth Day upon us and especially with this being the 40th anniversary of the very first Earth Day, you can expect an avalanche of positive and upbeat green stories in every newspaper, magazine, radio, TV and of course all over the Internet. Very few of them are likely to offer any valuable insight and even fewer will provide solutions, but most will be the “feel good” green stories the media loves and believes we want to hear.

We had firsthand experience with this last year when a local newspaper asked to interview us for its Earth Day feature article. I chatted with the reporter for over a half hour about the role the packaging industry must play in the environmental solution, the fast growing green market and about the many misconceptions including the most popular one - earth friendly packaging products are more expensive.

What appeared was an article focused our personal recycling effort at home which is what the reporter could relate to and what she obviously thought her readers could understand. I believe she sold her readers short and underestimated their concern and grasp on a very important topic.

Sustainability Has Grown Up

Overall, the public has matured past the need for eco pabulum and though we are all entertained by stories of people who make lampshades out of used plastic containers or furniture out of empty aluminum cans, most of us seek answers and guidance.

God bless the creative people among us who find new ways to use what would otherwise be trash. They make for interesting stories, especially around Earth Day but they are not going to solve our depleting landfill problem, our drinking water shortage or our climate change crisis.

circle-the-globe.jpgEarth Day is undoubtedly the one day of the whole year when most of the world is focused on the environment and a tremendous opportunity to inform and educate is for the most part lost. The media continues to feed us easily swallowed “green Jell-O” which is eye catching and fun to eat but not very filling.

Earth Day – The Morning After

My question to every media outlet whether it is print or electronic, is where will you be on Friday, April 23rd, the day after Earth Day? The answer in most cases is somewhere else. They will be writing and talking about summer fashions, the newest trendy restaurant, or perhaps Memorial Day events. They will be focused on almost anything other than the obvious problem with the environment and the world that is slowly running out of green.

I recently met with a magazine publisher who is very proud of the fact that they now produce an annual green issue, of course in April to coincide with Earth Day. I think that is wonderful but I cannot help but notice the other eleven issues they publish every year, rarely include a word about the environment or sustainability. Their responsibility to their readers has to go far beyond telling them about the recycled content of the paper they use for their magazine or the type of ink they utilize to print it.

Most segments of the media could stand to learn from their brothers and sisters whose work is focused on the packaging industry.

Packaging - Part of the Problem and Part of the Solution

Being involved in the green movement and also being part of the packaging industry is not always easy. It is kind of like being a fan of the Chicago Bears, and spending time in Wisconsin during football season. The packaging industry is one of the most popular targets and quite often unjustly blamed for all that is wrong with the environment.

However, I am proud to say the industry has generally acknowledged being part of the problem and assumed responsibility for helping to develop short and long term solutions for the problems that they/we helped to create. Tremendous progress has been made in a relatively short period of time in terms of source reduction, the use of recycled content, manufacturing with recyclable content, and even in the design and marketing of reusable packaging products

What I am also very pleased with is the way publications like Packaging Digest and other industry print and digital media have covered sustainability, day in and day out. They tell it the way it is, good and bad and that is exactly what is necessary to continue positive forward momentum. New products and solutions are being developed almost daily and the packaging media is the one spreading the news and helping to bring about the necessary change of products, processes and mindsets.

Happy Earth Day to all with a sincere wish for continued education and innovation to go along with the celebration.