What is the cost of packaging?

I have a thing about unnecessary packaging. The parcel that arrives on the doorstep with about 3 feet of bubble wrap protecting a paperback book, or that unbreakable jar encased in moulded polystyrene and a cardboard box. It has got to the point that if something has non-essential packaging, I won’t buy it.

As consumers, not only are we paying upfront for the packaging, but we are also paying to dispose of it, and this is even more pertinent in business.

I heard recently of a company who were putting their products inside cardboard boxes to protect them from the weather whilst they were waiting to be loaded into container ships. When it was pointed out to them that in fact their products were loaded directly into shipping containers and therefore not exposed to rain or wind, they suddenly realised they could make significant savings by dispensing with the unnecessary cardboard box.

This got me thinking about how we can encourage producers to get rid of all unnecessary packaging. In some areas of production, producers are responsible for the cost and environmental impact of waste disposal of their products and any associated packaging. This is called Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).

In the UK, EPR relates to waste packaging, electrical and electronic waste, used batteries and end-of-life vehicles. A recent discussion on the introduction of a deposit scheme to encourage the return of plastic bottles was based around extending EPR to their production.

Packaging in the business environment can make up a significant proportion of overall waste disposal cost, so an easy way to reduce overheads is to discuss alternatives with your suppliers. You could ask them to take back any single use packaging – this will make them reflect on how they can reduce their reliance on unnecessary boxes, bags or crates.

I worked with a food supplier who insisted on delivering my purchases in brand new, large cardboard boxes that I then had to disassemble and recycle. Eventually, I started giving the boxes back to the driver. The supplier contacted me and advised me that it was costing them to dispose of these cartons, which came as no surprise to me as I had previously been paying for this! We agreed that he would move to reusable containers that the driver would take back with him. This way neither of us was paying for unnecessary waste disposal, so we were both winners.

As consumers, whether in business or at home, we can all act to reduce packaging. We can stop buying products with unnecessary packaging and we can work with producers and suppliers to find alternative ways.

It might be worth pointing out that extra packaging adds weight to the load, so distribution costs could be increased as well.

By reducing single use packaging, not only are we helping to reduce the costs of production and distribution, we are also eliminating the need for so much packaging to be created and then disposed of. It feels like a win:win all round!



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