Better than 75 million tons of packaging waste are generated annually by the aggregate of commercial, residential and institutional users, according to the U.S. EPA. Unfortunately, only roughly half of that amount is recycled. The end result is that about 37 million tons per year end up in the landfill, accounting for at least 30 percent of all municipal solid waste. Leading companies, however, continue to step up efforts toward packaging waste reduction.
General Motors has been a leader in promoting waste elimination efforts. As of February 2018, the company reported having 142 landfill-free locations around the world, including 79 manufacturing plants.
GM has also demonstrated its commitment to social responsibility by sharing their best practices. Some of these tips are outlined below.
1. Reduce Packaging Weight
Light-weighting has become a very popular strategy towards reducing the amount of packaging used, resulting in reduced packaging expenditure, and less packaging waste generation. Heavier shipping materials such as wood pallets can translate into greater fuel consumption and greater carbon emissions. In some cases, wood pallets have been replaced with reusable recycled-content plastic containers, which reduces weight and overall transportation costs.
2. Increase Part Density
The automotive industry has been a leader in designing packaging to increase part density in containers, in other words, optimizing space utilization by shipping more parts in the same amount of space. Greater part density translates into the need for fewer containers, fewer shipments, and ultimately, transport cost reduction. In global supply chains, the payback for improved part density is particularly attractive. Examples of increasing density include a GM team in Brazil which managed to add an extra layer of parts per container, thus eliminating the necessity for 23 extra containers. In another pack they rearranged the packaging design from a linear grid to a geometric pattern, thereby reducing the shipping requirement by 38 boxes.
3. Packaging Design to Prioritize Safety
One way that GM helps create a safer workplace is through requiring materials to be shipped in boxes with lids. This idea, similar to a shoe box, eliminates the need for box tape. The use of tape dictates that employees will have to use knives, which creates a safety risk. By designing out the need for tape, cut wounds from box knives are eliminated. Automotive has been innovative in a number of other respects regarding improved safety, such as the move to smaller, lightweight containers with handholds, and drop doors in intermediate bulk containers to provide ease of material handler access to parts.
4. Reusable Packaging
The automotive industry is a leading user of reusable packaging systems. Well designed reusable packaging systems are robust solutions that can help manufacturers to improve part protection in transit, as well as offering superior part density, improved worker safety, and other benefits, as outlined in these case studies.
3. Design Packaging for Ease of Recycling
If packaging materials are mixed, like a cardboard liner with a wood frame, stapling the two pieces together makes recycling inconvenient. Materials must be separated first. Stapled materials should allow for “breakaway," the easy separation of the two parts. On the other hand, separation is not required if a cardboard post is stapled to a cardboard box. Design for recycling is important.
4. Make the Best Packaging Decision at the Source
By getting the packaging right at the part producer, extra handling can be avoided. In some cases, parts being shipped from overseas in non-sustainable or single-use packaging must be repackaged at a domestic facility to reusable packaging before being sent to the assembly plant.
5. Coordinate with Suppliers and Optimize
Collaboration is critical to packaging success. GM works closely with its suppliers to develop uniform shipping specifications before a new production program begins. This approach permits a better alignment of processes and greater efficiency.
Additionally, GM provides guidelines with respect to maximizing freight utilization of delivery vehicles, with an eye to saving overall fuel and reducing the cost of part shipment. Reviewing packaging plans up front helps avoid such potential inefficiencies.
GM mentors about 25 companies a year on how to manage their waste streams, ranging in size from small enterprises to large multinational corporations. The company provides useful information in a landfill-free blueprint.