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Design for Efficient Material Usage

Using packaging materials more efficiently is a fundamental strategy of maximizing the value derived from natural resources. By implementing creative solutions to optimize the weight and volume of packaging and packaged products, impacts across the life cycle may be addressed and costs may often be reduced. This strategy offers particular opportunities to address the impacts incurred during the transportation of packages and packaged products, as gains in material efficiency can reduce the amount of fuel required and the impacts associated with fuel consumption.

Minimizing the material used in the packaging system

Finding creative solutions to provide more value with less material is a core concept of efficient material usage. With innovative design thinking, value and performance criteria can be maintained or enhanced while reducing material and cutting impacts in numerous life cycle phases.

Keep in mind:

  • Reductions in material should never compromise the primary function of product protection.
  • Gains in efficiency can be achieved without reducing any material. If innovative designs are used to increase the benefits of the packaging system without adding more material, then the efficiency is enhanced.
  • The complete system of primary, secondary, and transport packaging must be considered so reductions to one component are not overcompensated for by an increase in another component.
  • If possible, a holistic design process of the combined product and pckage system can offer the best opportunity for weight reduction.
  • Packaging graphic design is an opportunity to reduce and even eliminate constituents or components.

Questions to ask:

  • Am I introducing burden shifting by reducing the weight of one portion of the packaging system without considering its impact on the product and the rest of the packaging system?
  • Could a strategic addition of strength to one area of the packaging system allow for reductions or elimination to other portions of the packaging system?
  • Is there an opportunity to redesign the tertiary packaging as retail-ready packaging so that the existing secondary package could be eliminated?
  • Can the secondary or tertiary packaging be interlocked in the transport unit to increase stability and reduce the need for pallet wrap or strapping?
  • Does the mode of transportation influence the required amount of packaging? Could a change in mode of transportation reduce the structural requirements of the package system and allow less material to be used?
  • Do I need to use additional material to compensate for the reduced strength of the PCR fiber or polymers in my packaging?
  • Can the product be rethought to reduce the required amount of packaging? For example, concentrating liquid products, or packaging durable goods slightly unassembled to make them more compact?
  • Can the product filling process be rethought to achieve gains in material efficiency? For example, reducing void space to make the product more compact?
  • Can the benefits of the packaging system be increased without requiring more material? For example, reducing residual product loss so more product is delivered and the packaging is more efficient at performing its functions?
  • Are all packaging components or layers necessary?
  • Does packaging extend the product’s life? Can product consumption be maximized and consumer handling be improved (opening, closing, etc.)? Does the packaging limit certain consumers’ experience (children, seniors, individuals with a physical handicap, etc.)?
Useful Measurements:
  • percentage weight reduction in the packaging system
  • GPPS attribute: packaging weight and optimization
  • GPPS attribute: packaging to product weight ratio
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Maximizing the cube efficiency during transport

The overarching goal of this strategy is to avoid transporting air by minimizing void space. This strategy may be applied to two transportation phases of the life cycle: transportation of unfilled packages, and transportation of filled packages. Maximizing volumetric efficiency may also lead to sustainability gains in other life cycle phases such as warehousing and storage – particularly if energy- intensive refrigeration is required.

Keep in mind:

  • The primary objective is to increase cube efficiency, so shapes that pack well into cubes and rectangular shapes tend to do best.
  • The overall volumetric efficiency depends on the efficiency with which the product fits in the primary package, the primary package in the secondary package, and the secondary package in the tertiary package or transport unit. Every part of the product-package system matters.
  • If possible, a holistic design process of the combined product and package system often can offer the best opportunity to maximize volumetric efficiency.

Questions to ask:

  • Are any of the packages in my system able to collapse or fold flat for transportation prior to being filled?
  • Could the product be rethought to reduce void space during transport? For example, shipping a product slightly disassembled so it ships flat?
  • Could an addition of strength to the packaging system result in increased stackability so the product-package system could occupy more of the shipping container?
  • Is the maximum amount of the pallet footprint used? Are the dimensions of the pallet footprint considered when determining the dimensions of primary and secondary packaging?
Useful Measurements:
  • Packaging-to-product volume ratio
  • Collapsibility
  • Stackability
  • GPPS attribute: cube utilization
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Thinking outside the package: improving the transportation system

In addition to improving the transport efficiency of the packaging system and product, the design team may have the ability to improve the sustainability attributes of the transportation system itself. By optimizing transport routes and using the best mode of transportation and fuel type, transportation costs and impacts may be significantly reduced.

Keep in mind:

  • For ground transportation, freight trains tend to incur lower impacts than trucks, and combination trucks (hauling multiple containers) tend to incur lower impacts than single-container trucks.
  • For trans-oceanic transportation, freight ships tend to incur lower impacts than air freight.
  • Fuel type is important. The same mode of transportation will incur different impacts depending on the type of fuel used.

Questions to ask:

  • Are distribution routes optimized for efficiency?
  • If the mode of transportation is changed, does it change the structural requirements of the packaging system?
  • If the mode of transportation cannot be changed, can the fuel type be changed?
  • Could improvements be made in the operation of vehicles to gain impact reductions?