Fourteen Greater Manchester SMEs attended a workshop in Stockport on 28 April to explore the role of eco-design in their packaging, with reusability and returnability high on the agenda.
The workshop was arranged by the Business Growth Hub as part of its new Eco Innovation programme of support, which aims to help companies identify opportunities where environmental innovation can transform their existing products, packaging and processes or drive the development of green service offers.
Attendees ranged from dedicated packaging providers and packaging designers to paint manufacturers, food producers and specialist textiles firms.
Led by Mark Hilton, an eco-design and resource efficiency expert from Eunomia Consulting Ltd, the workshop provided attendees with an overview of packaging optimisation - the process of minimising overall lifecycle impacts whilst maintaining or improving performance and value for money.
With around half of the UK’s 10 million tonnes of packaging waste produced each year coming from commercial and industrial waste, the environmental and cost-saving opportunity for companies is significant.
According to a small survey of 30 Greater Manchester companies conducted by the Business Growth Hub in March 2016, the most common drivers for re-designing products or packaging are reducing operational costs (87 per cent) and improving profit margins (71 per cent).
The key principles of packaging eco-design discussed during the workshop included:
- Product protection and handling: packaging should always ensure the protection of the product and should be easy to handle.
- The importance of shape: for example, cylindrical shapes require less packaging material than cubical shapes, but the latter can be stacked more efficiently and may reduce transport costs
- Recyclable and renewable content: some materials can be difficult to recycle and have adverse environmental impacts, so using single or easily separable recyclable materials is ideal
- Lightweighting and material optimisation: by removing packaging excess, material and transport costs can be reduced as well as regulatory compliance requirements
- Returnable transit packaging (RTP): closed-loop systems where packaging can be tracked, recovered and reused can significantly reduce waste and improve service for clients.
Claire Scott, environmental business advisor at the Business Growth Hub, said: “Packaging requirements vary enormously from business to business and there was a diverse group of companies at the workshop, each with their own individual needs and drivers. But the take home message is that there are opportunities for every business to optimise their packaging and this will only increase as the emerging circular economy develops in the future.
"Many attendees were interested in innovations such as adding low cost impact indicator labels to find out where packaging or handling needs to be improved in the supply chain. There was also plenty of interest in making more transformational changes towards returnable and reusable packaging through measures such as backhauling and ‘reverse logistics’.
"Some are already keen to trial these innovative approaches with priority customers and we will continue to support these projects as they develop."