‘Precycling’ – don’t just recycle, be resourceful

For consumers, the perception of sustainability of a product or a brand has evolved from being just a purchasing consideration to becoming a strong purchasing catalyst. For brands, retailers, and other businesses, consumers’ growing green consciousness, coupled with demanding regulations and dwindling resources globally, has pushed sustainability to the top of the agenda (and into the bottom line).

As anyone with the aftermath of a round of e-commerce purchases littering their living room floor can tell you, packaging and sustainability are inextricably linked. More commerce means more packaging means more waste. Manufacturing is at the beginning of this chain of waste, which places a responsibility in waste reduction at the core of firms’ responsibilities.

The European Commission recently revised up its ‘Circular Economy Package’ recycling targets, with the adoption of a common European Union-wide goal of 75 per cent packaging waste to be recycled by 2030. Manufacturers with significant packaging operations must act now to avoid being seen as environmentally unfriendly, and to ensure they can prove their sustainability credentials.

The global leader in packaging is Sealed Air, and the business has spent years educating its customers and the marketplace that sustainability is not just about recycling, but that it is about being more resourceful at every step of the supply chain operation, establishing sustainability objectives that can be met long before any package needs to be recycled at all. This is precycling.

Ken Chrisman, President of Product Care for Sealed Air, discusses how the company promotes sustainability throughout the supply chain and manufacturing process, and how the Fortune 500 business is pledging to make a global difference in its own right.

“This is a critical time in the history of Sealed Air, in the history of the industries we serve and in the history of the world. A convergence of sustainability, technology and business is redefining how businesses operate, and redefining how organisations should view their environmental responsibilities.

“We are a global company, and the innovations we create can have a truly global sustainability impact, which is why we place resourcefulness at the heart of our organisation. Sealed Air’s 2020 Sustainability Goals demonstrate our commitment and accountability for our sustainable solutions and superior products. With these goals, we are empowered, innovating, and improving. Every day, for our customers, for the world.

“Packaging professionals need to be taking a similarly holistic view of their operational and fulfilment processes. Resourcefulness requires an assessment to be made as to how a packaging choice will impact a business throughout its supply chain and right to its bottom line, not just how it will be recycled after use.

“Manufacturing firms are integral in setting a precedent in the supply chain. By leading in the supply chain process, firms have the responsibility to champion the precycling process ahead of any considerations surrounding recycling efforts. Manufacturing needs to lead the way in protecting resources effectively as well as utilising them efficiently.

“There is no amount of recyclable, biodegradable, reusable packaging that can wipe out the carbon footprint of a damaged item. Damaged items have to be returned, repaired, rehandled, repackaged and reshipped – all of this requires resource and impacts sustainability immeasurably. And damage reduction is just one of many issues packaging professionals grapple with that have an outsized impact on sustainability.

“It isn’t enough, nor is it good business sense, to only look at how a packaging solution impacts your carbon footprint. These can be serious procurement decisions that can have a significant impact on the health of a business.

“As a company, we invest heavily in R&D innovation – and yes while a great deal of that investment goes toward creating more recyclable, sustainable solutions, it also fuels technology for businesses to make more of the resources they have available, helping them to be more efficient in their use of energy, source material, and manpower. That is the beauty of packaging – it can create a world where businesses save the world and safeguard their profit margins at the same time.

“This is certainly true for manufacturing where packaging can be a major power play in meeting green objectives. By safeguarding your materials, packaging provides a knock-on effect in the reduction of energy use and costs throughout the manufacturing process.

“From the start, our products had this impact. Our globally recognised invention, Bubble Wrap, was truly revolutionary both as a product and as a value proposition. It enabled an economic boom of manufacturing and entrepreneurialism by creating the concept of affordable small parcel shipping. By wrapping items essentially in air, businesses were able to reduce packaging size and weight, and – most importantly – reduce loss from damage. In other words, it promoted sustainability long before it was fashionable.

“Bubble Wrap, of course, is only the beginning. We have developed automated packaging solutions that automatically reduce empty space in a box to reduce the need for filler materials, and others that ‘read’ the barcode of each order and dispense only the amount of packaging material needed. This cuts down on material use, but also reduces the overall size of the package, which has a compound effect on the amount of freight energy needed to deliver each order. We even look at ways to be resourceful that are invisible to most consumers, like our Shrink films provide high performance protection with a proprietary micro-layered technology that uses significantly less plastic.

“We’ve even taken a look at our original invention, to see how it could be more sustainable. Our new Bubble Wrap IB ships in flat, airless rolls and is inflated on-site when it’s needed. This reduces the number of trucks on the road needed to ship the same amount of wrap by more than 75 per cent.

“Packaging operations can reduce waste by reducing damage, be more resourceful by increasing the speed of fulfilment, and reduce thefinancial and environmental cost of shipping by reducing the size of every package that ships out the door. It may sound counterproductive, but we truly are packaging company that wants customers to use less of our packaging by finding the right, resourceful solution for every item they ship.

“Sustainability isn’t just recycling; and it isn’t enough just to reduce the amount of waste going to landfills – these are, in fact, small elements of a much bigger sustainability picture. And organisations, particularly those in manufacturing that have a reliance on packaging, need to begin thinking holistically about where opportunities for sustainability exist inside their operations.

“Simple and easy changes within the manufacturing process can lead to significant waste reduction and cost savings that contribute to a greener and more efficient supply chain. Only when these changes are put into action can manufacturers and the supply chain overall learn how to contribute to a resourceful world that can sustain its own future.”

Sealed Air Corporation
Sealed Air Corporation creates a world that feels, tastes and works better. In 2015, the company generated revenue of approximately $7.0 billion by helping its customers achieve their sustainability goals in the face of today’s biggest social and environmental challenges.