Sustainability in our Supply chains: the 5 Dimensions of Appropriate Packaging Application
If you were to approach the man on the street and ask him about sustainable packaging, there is a strong chance that the conversation will turn to discussions about paper and other plastic alternatives. Whilst there is nothing inherently ‘wrong’ with this approach, I would like to spend some time today digging into the true meaning of sustainability, and outlining what we at Eastpac have come to term the ‘Five Dimensions of Appropriate Packaging Application’, or ‘5DAPA’. We’ll then go on to explore their application to the Cold Chain and FMCG Industries.
But firstly, a quick introduction to myself; I work as the Business Development Manager at Cold Chain Federation member Eastpac Group. I have been with the company for 6 years now, and take a keen interest in the dynamics of the modern supply chain industry. Of specific passion is the current explosive growth of distribution networks, including large fleet expansion and the increase in big shed construction projects. I find particular fascination in following the journey of products right from their origin through to the consumer, and it’s this passion that has led me into the transit packaging business with a desire to make a tangible impact on the clients I work with, in the areas of cost effectiveness and operational efficiency.
The first Dimension is the ‘Product’; this refers to the format of material that you are using, such as Strapping, Pallet Wrap, Tape, Pallet Jackets, or Boxes. It is important to determine at the start of the process whether you are using the correct product, as this will have ramifications as you move through the 5DAPA process. For instance, if you are palletising fresh produce, you will need to determine whether you will use Strapping, Pallet Wrap, or Aerated Film. You may determine that the product needs to breathe, but that the pallets need to run on your existing wrapping machines. Therefore, Aerated Film would be your choice, as Standard Wrap won’t let the product breathe and you can’t go to the expense of installing a new strapping line yet.
Once the product is determined, the subsequent step is to determine the material that it will be made from. Material is the best known of the five dimensions, as it is arguably the one with the biggest effect on environmental sustainability. However, as we have mentioned, there are multiple dimensions to effective packaging sustainability.
When considering the material choice, it could be said that there are three ‘sub-dimensions’ to this one aspect. These are defined as cost, suitability, and sustainability, the latter being the sum of the preceding indicators. For example, if a material choice is more expensive and not suitable for the task, it would not be a sustainable choice for your company.
Cost can be simply defined as the price of the item as unit, but there are other important and indeed more accurate definitions, such as the price per measured unit (such as metres), the cost per packaged, ready-to-despatch unit (parcel, pallet, shipment, etc.), or even the price of the item offset against any returns generated; such may prove that the item does not have a ‘cost’, but rather has a ‘saving’. We will explore this in more detail in the future.
Suitability of the material will change according to it’s application. For example, it is not suitable to use Pallet Wrap to package parcels, but it is suitable when preparing a palletised load for shipment; much as it is not suitable to use paper materials in a high-moisture or wet environment. This is largely why plastic wrapping films are still highly popular in Cold Chain and FMCG operations. If you would like external expert advice on the suitability of your material choice to your application, please reach out and I would be happy to give guidance where required.
Thirdly, we come to the performance of your material choice. Performance is different to suitability, and is not about how your material performs under different circumstances; it is a separate dimension in the 5DAPA process, and one that is often overlooked.
It is always important to consider the performance of any material that you are evaluating. As with cars, aircraft, telecoms, and IT, Packaging Technology is continually advancing and making use of modern technology. The phrase ‘Modern Technology’ will often make a buyer shrink in anticipation of a considerably higher cost, but in reality all it means is that it performs much better than the standard products that flood the market, in much the same way that a modern VW Golf is faster than the first Golf GTI. For example, Smartwrap is a machine film that utilises ‘Modern Technology’; It is a thinner film, which can stretch further than more common films. This means you use less material, and reduce your cost per packaged unit, which brings you savings. In the same vein, STIXX tape is a thinner tape which is stronger that other tapes; again, you use less material both in the quantity you use and the thickness of the material you do use. This is why we choose to operate on an individual-case basis, in order to prove the real savings to our clients.
The fourth Dimension, but in no way less important than the previous three (if anything the importance increases as we get further through the process), is the method in which the material is applied. This Dimension works closely with the third Dimension, Performance. There is no point in choosing a product of higher performance if you are not intending to make full use of it. For example, there is no point in purchasing a stickier, stronger tape like STIXX if you continue to apply 15 strips to each box. Nor is there point in selecting a 400%PPS-capable machine film, and continue to apply it at 250%PPS settings. In these cases, such methodology can actually work against the 5DAPA process, in counteracting the savings and improvements gained. New materials must require new methods.
There are also new methods that can be taught to maximise the use of more standard products, such as ‘roping’ and ‘butterfly’ techniques when wrapping pallets by hand. Eastpac offer onsite training to our clients at no extra charge, to make sure you are getting the most out of your materials.
Lastly, it is vitally important to explore the potential side effects of the product you choose to use in your operations. This last dimension could be said to be the sum of all the previous dimensions, and could prove to be the make or break of the success of your operation.
It is good to take the features and benefits of all the products under consideration, and carry out an If/Then exercise with Best Case and Worst Case scenarios. For example, such an exercise for evaluating Gripfilm hand Palletwrap might draw attention to the more comfortable user position, which removes the risk of back and hand injuries, which may lead to staff absences, cover costs and agency fees, or in the very worst case, legal proceedings. It may also highlight the increased strength of the film, which would mean a reduction in collapsed pallet loads. With a standard, weaker film, collapsed loads may generate additional costs in load rejections, return transport, rework time and labour, and potential injury risks to drivers and operators, and associated claims.
Therefore, we understand how the 5DAPA process demonstrates that packaging sustainability in our supply chains is more than a single issue of choosing a more environmental material. It is, in fact, a sum of issues, or ‘Dimensions’ that make up the whole subject. Equally, these dimensions, when broken down, can also provide a step-by-step guide that can be followed when evaluating new packaging materials, to ensure the most sustainable outcome.
At a time when sustainability is a key topic in all industries, but particularly the Cold Chain and FMCG industries with their heavy reliance on transit packaging, the 5DAPA process has never been so important. Many businesses are trying to offset inflationary increase in parts of their operations, such as power, fuel, and raw materials, with cuts and reductions in other areas such as consumables and packaging. Such reductions can be achieved (a great number of businesses are overspending in these areas), but if the process is not carried out properly they can end up leading to greater costs as a knock-on effect, thus rendering all efforts to reduce costs as null and void and not making the company any savings; In fact, some effects could be a loss of customer confidence through increased damages or production downtime, leading to the loss of business.
I’m grateful to have had this opportunity to outline and explain the 5DAPA process to you, and demonstrate how it can drive sustainability in our supply chains. If you would like any free, impartial advice, please do reach out to me; we’re here to help!
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