How to be a "greener" at packaging?
January 31, 2010 10:38 AM   Subscribe

"Greener" Packaging - My company is trying to be better reducing our packaging costs and waste. Currently, we use a lot of foam and cardboard boxes. What have you seen that works? Lots more inside

My company is trying to be better reducing our packaging costs and waste. Currently, we use a lot of thin foam rolls and cardboard boxes.

Our products are custom, so size and weight can vary dramatically (1lb to 50lbs per part). A typical part would be made of metal or plastic. Scratches or dents to the part can make it unusable.

As a start, I'm thinking there is a good opportunity to use shredded paper as product packaging for our lighter products (3lbs or less). My initial thought is to get a high powered shredder and use the shreds. However, I don't want there to be an explosion of shreds, so they'd have to be encapsulated somehow.What's the best way to use shredded paper as product packaging? Should I use plastic bags, cardboard, etc? Does a particular type of shred (diamond, crinkle, etc) make better packaging?

Instead of using cardboard boxes, I'm looking into reusable plastic crates with dividers for local deliveries. This way we won't have to package parts individually and eliminate the need for cardboard and foam.

Are there any other innovative ways your company has used to reduce packaging waste and cost? What websites would you recommend for helping a small business to get "greener"?

posted by colecovizion to Work & Money (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Lots of companies have found using popped popcorn as packaging material works well, and I for one think it is really cool.
posted by emyd at 10:43 AM on January 31, 2010

I've seen a lot of companies using the corn-based peanuts that dissolve easily in water.

The air-filled pillows seem pretty easy to use, but I don't know how well it would work with your stuff (they might get punctured easily).
posted by Madamina at 10:44 AM on January 31, 2010

I think this product is going to be huge someday.
posted by InkaLomax at 11:02 AM on January 31, 2010

There are outfits, now, that will recycle styrofoam - we have a program at our open-area lab. They'll even take rinsed-out food containers.

In addition to popcorn, there are starch-based "foam peanuts" that dissolve in water. I prefer crinkled paper over shredded paper - the shredded stuff does get everywhere and leaves lots of powdery residue. I've also seen a lot of blown up plastic bags - like giant bubblewrap.

As for the shipping container, haven't seen anything outside of styrofoam and cardboard boxes (and wooden crates for big equipment) roll through the lab - and a lot comes through every day.
posted by porpoise at 1:45 PM on January 31, 2010

Reusing or not-using packaging (as you describe for local deliveries) is obviously a better approach in the situations where it works.

For padding shipments, one thing I've seen is brown paper that's had numerous cuts so that it takes up more space, kind of like an expanded steel catwalk (except made of kraft paper). Digi-key uses it and I've seen the brand name for it but I can't remember it offhand. Anyway, it works well as long as the objects being wrapped aren't too dense. Digi-key uses this stuff to fill most of the volume, then a layer of thin uncut paper, then a plastic bag, then an antistatic bag around the actual parts— seems kind of like overkill, but it's got to be better than an equal volume of styrofoam peanuts.

One thing to consider is that shredded or cut paper isn't as recyclable as larger pieces of the same paper, because the shredding shortens the paper fibers. So perhaps the thing odinsdream describes is better. It probably depends a lot on exactly what you're shipping.
posted by hattifattener at 2:35 PM on January 31, 2010

Ah, here we go: the cut paper stuff is called Geämi.
posted by hattifattener at 2:39 PM on January 31, 2010

As I've posted before, but hopefully with working ASCII art:
For shipping, depending on the object, you don't really need to make a full box.
  1. Choose the largest direction of your object (x), and measure the distance around the object in the other two directions (y). For example, for an 8x2x2 box x=8 and y=8.
  2. Find a piece of corrugate that is 6" wider than x and 1-2" longer than y (14" x 10" for our example).
  3. Line up one of the long edges of your object with the 14" edge of the corrugate, in the middle (3" overhand on each side).
  4. Start rolling your object up in the corrugate. When you are done there should be a 1" overhanging flap.
  5. Glue the flap down with white glue, and hold it in place with elastics, or binder clips (remember, there is some overhand), or whatever, and let dry.
  6. Form pieces to plug the ends of the roll. For the example, they would be 2"x4", a 2"x2" centre, with 1" flaps on each side.
  7. Glue the flaps, and insert the plug into the end of the roll on each side.
The cross section will be something like this:
─────────────────────────  ──┐┌─────────────┐┌──    ││ Object      ││   ──┘└─────────────┘└───────────────────────────
The key benefit, it can be dropped on either end with very little effect to your object. Problem, it can't take punctures well, because your object doesn't have any buffer from the corrugate. Another problem, a drop that just happens to impact along the long edge won't be absorbed by packaging, so something very brittle might not survive very well.

I developed this after looking at books mailed by Indigo (a large book seller in Canada). The technique is great for books because drops on corners, which would otherwise cause a lot of damage, are absorbed by the overhang. At the same time, drops along the long surfaces/edges wouldn't harm a book, so the lack of padding in that direction isn't an issue.
Note that indigo didn't bother with end caps. Instead they had die cut cardboard that was popped out to stop the book from moving.

In the end though, it really does depend almost entirely on the details of the item you are shipping.
posted by Chuckles at 3:23 PM on January 31, 2010

Here's another try..
─────────────────────────  ──┐┌─────────────┐┌──    ││ Object      ││   ──┘└─────────────┘└───────────────────────────

posted by Chuckles at 3:24 PM on January 31, 2010

Here's another try..
    ││ Object      ││ 

posted by Chuckles at 3:25 PM on January 31, 2010

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