Reduce waste by optimising secondary and tertiary packaging

Reducing waste by optimising secondary and tertiary packaging is one of five key areas that offer the biggest opportunities for waste reduction in food and drink manufacturing and retailing.  These five areas are:

  1. Improve systems and processes
  2. Implement Lean/Continuous Improvement type processes
  3. Collaborate
  4. Optimise secondary and tertiary packaging
  5. Redistribute

Secondary and tertiary packaging play vital roles in preventing damage to product and therefore food waste but WRAP research has shown there are still significant opportunities to optimise and reduce these types of packaging.

The performance demands of the entire supply chain, from filling operations through distribution, retail and consumer stages, need to be considered in order for secondary and tertiary packaging to be fit for purpose and be optimised to avoid unnecessary waste.  Appropriate performance criteria for secondary and tertiary packaging should be included in packaging component specifications.   This approach is often referred to as 'performance packaging specification'.

How to deploy 'performance packaging specification' to optimise secondary and tertiary packaging

  1. Understand the role and impact of the packaging with the product - do not consider these as separate properties. Functionality and vulnerabilities should be considered along with packaging performance in order to deliver product safely and in prime condition to the consumer.
  2. Understand the total supply chain - consider the performance demands of the entire supply chain from filling operations through distribution, retail and consumer stages in order for appropriate performance elements to be detailed in packaging component specifications.
  3. Collect and analyse data from the entire supply chain and identify critical performance criteria in consultation with your suppliers and other sources of expertise.
  4. Utilise simulations and trials - verify material and distribution pack performance against the identified needs.
  5. Work in cross functional teams - involve all key stakeholders in the total supply chain.
  6. Buy on the basis of performance needs not material specification.  You may be missing out on the opportunity to reduce total costs if you do not.
  7. Review regularly secondary and tertiary packaging, ideally every two years.
  8. Specify packaging as a unit: primary, secondary and tertiary should work as one unit.  The required performance particularly in retail and distribution phases of the supply chain can be provided using a combination of the performance of different levels of packaging.
  9. Utilise trained staff to identify opportunities and communicate effectively.

Opportunities in secondary and tertiary packaging optimisation

There are many variables and solutions to optimising secondary and tertiary packaging and considerations are best taken on a case by case basis. WRAP have compiled a number of guides and case study examples that are useful reference points to consider when approaching optimisation of secondary and tertiary packaging:

Investing in re-usable crates

apetito provides frozen food and catering solutions to care homes, local authorities and hospitals. In 2009, it invested in re-usable plastic crates to replace previous single-trip corrugated cases. As a result, it saves 112 tonnes of carton board per year and avoids 230 tonnes of CO2. Further cost savings were achieved through better product protection, storage capacity and transport, and the company’s investment was soon repaid. Additionally, customers benefited by having less waste to process.

Benchmark report on secondary packaging

Analysis based on data from nine major retailers helped to produce benchmarks for the carbon-related impact of secondary packaging  for 10 product categories; Wine bottles 75cl, Juice cartons 1L, Cereal boxes 500g, Crisps 20-30g,Steel cans 390-410g, Plastic bottles 1L, Plastic bottles 2L, Eggs 6 pack, Crisps 150g and Salad bags.  The formats and weights of the secondary packaging were used to derive a carbon impact per product unit and the examples with the least carbon impact were reported as best in class. The report  demonstrates the range in the carbon impact of secondary packaging for different product categories and by doing this hopes to drive further packaging optimisation in the grocery supply chain.

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