The most common types of packaging materials used commercially include
- Paper and Paperboard
We live in a world where more and more of the things we use every day are shipped from all over the globe directly to our homes or businesses. As a result, packaging and its related processes and materials has become a huge component of most manufacturing and distribution companies.
Learning how to package things better, more securely, and at a lower cost has become a critical factor in managing this particular operating cost for businesses. The issue of reusing and recycling packaging has also come to the forefront as consumers and companies become more environmentally conscious of our world’s limited resources.
What are some advantages and disadvantages of these packing materials? What impact do they have on companies and consumers? And what is the best way to manage and maintain shipping and packaging materials? We uncover these questions in this article.
Definitions of Packaging Terms
Before we dive into the different types of packaging and the role they play within manufacturing, it’s important to define some common terms related to packaging materials. Here are some common ones:
In general, recyclable materials are those that can be used again after undergoing a chemical treatment and process. Many items that we use in our everyday lives that are often thrown away can instead be recycled and used to create a new product or packaging material.
Paper, cardboard, glass, aluminum, and certain types of plastic are commonly recyclable and can be collected, processed, and sold as raw material.
Renewable materials refer to those that have components that are bio-based and can be naturally renewed. For example, some parts of a sugarcane plant can be used to create a bio-plastic material.
Compostable or Degradable
Compostable materials are those that are capable of breaking down to their elemental parts without leaving any toxic remains within about 90 days. Although the term “degradable” sounds as if it is referring to the same idea, this term is often not regulated by the amount of time required. Technically, everything will degrade eventually. The key difference is the amount of time that is required.
The Importance of the Right Packaging Material
Making the decision on which type of packaging material to use, as well as how it is used, is critical to the successful selling and distribution of your product. Some critical factors to take into account include the design and branding of the package, how the product is to be sold, where it will be distributed, transportation methods, returns policy and logistics, your packaging budget, and sustainability issues.
Pros and Cons of Each Packaging Material Type
Each packaging material has its advantages and disadvantages. It is important to carefully evaluate your options and choose the material that will give you the greatest number of benefits with the fewest drawbacks in the long run.
Plastic is probably the most well-known packaging material. It ranges from packing peanuts to large clamshell containers and everything in between. According to Plastic Pollution, the world produces more than 350 million tonnes of plastic each year.
Since plastic is incredibly flexible and can be manufactured to adhere to a multitude of properties, it is frequently the packaging material of choice. Plastic is flexible, lightweight, and durable. It can be created to be food-safe, transparent, or opaque, and can also be chemical and heat resistant.
The major disadvantage of plastic is that, depending on the type, it can be extremely difficult to recycle. According to National Geographic, only 9% of plastic is ever recycled.
According to Packaging Outlook, 90% of people in 2017 preferred liquids to be packaged in glass—mostly including wine, beer, and others. Additionally, some medical supplies are shipped in glass.
Glass has been used for many years, particularly in food and beverage production because it is a nonporous, nontoxic material that does not leach things into food and drink. As a result, glass also preserves the flavor and freshness of its contents for a longer period of time. It also can be created to be beautiful and aesthetically pleasing, and is 100% recyclable.
The main disadvantage of glass is it requires a great deal of heat and energy to manufacture, making its carbon footprint relatively large and its production cost high. In addition, shipping glass containers can be difficult as they are much more likely to break in transit.
Although most people do not encounter steel packaging in everyday life, it is commonly used for shipping large quantities of items within industrial manufacturing. This may include steel drums or other large shipping containers that can often be reused.
Steel containers are incredibly durable because they are manufactured to tolerate harsh handling, weather conditions, and heavy loads. It is also one of the most recycled goods in the world, and 70% of steel used in shipping is reused.
Aluminum packaging is versatile and includes aluminum cans, foil, and aerosol products. This material is highly resistant to corrosion and offers excellent production against light, ultraviolet rays, oils, and oxygen. It is frequently used to package food or medications due to its hygienic and nontoxic nature, as well as its ability to extend the shelf life of products.
Aluminum is light and durable and can be used with laminates to provide extremely thin barrier protection for food and beverages, which means fewer materials are used in this type of packaging, saving resources and energy.
About 65% of all aluminum is recycled.
Paper and Paperboard
When you think of packaging, you probably immediately think of the boxes and bags that show up on your doorstep. Paper, paperboard, and cardboard cartons are frequently used as packaging for products in stores as well as used in shipping.
Corrugated cardboard, for example, has excellent structural stability for shipping, storing, and even marketing products. Since it is easy to print on paper-based material, it is simple to incorporate branding right into your packaging. In addition, paper and cardboard are easily recyclable, completely renewable, and frequently reusable for those environmentally-conscious companies and consumers.
Although they are inexpensive, lightweight, and flexible, they are not as sturdy as some other packaging materials. That said, they are easy to stack and store as well as collapse for recycling.
Wooden packaging material can be made of hard or softwood and can successfully support, protect, and transport a wide variety of goods. This packaging material may include pallets, boxes, bins, drums, or other containers. In addition, wood packaging can frequently be used and reused for several years as well as repaired if damaged. At the end of its useful life, wood packaging is completely compostable, making it one of the most environmentally-friendly packaging solutions available.
Wood packaging can be found in food, beverage, grocery, automotive, construction, and other industries. The main disadvantage of wood is that it can harbor pests and be damaged by insects more easily than plastic, glass, or metal packaging.
Ways to Reduce Packaging Costs
As your company grows, you may find that packaging management becomes nearly a department in and of itself. As a result, you’ll want to find ways to make it run more efficiently and less expensively. Here are a few ways to reduce your packaging costs.
Streamline Storage and Packaging Material Usage
Be sure your most popular packaging materials are stored in an easy-to-access location and keep your inventory well-stocked. Move less frequently used packaging materials to a more remote area.
Automate Common Packaging Tasks
Consider investing in robotic technology to assemble or pack cartons if you are currently paying individuals to do these repetitive tasks. Shift your staff to higher-level, more rewarding tasks to grow your company.
Optimize Size and Space
Be sure you minimize the amount of material used by sizing packaging appropriately, or finding ways for packaging materials to serve double duty, perhaps as a self-standing merchandising display. Also, shift to smaller boxes or include multiple items in the same package.
Although accepting returns is a critical part of expected levels of excellent customer service today, be sure you have cleaned up your confirmation and order process, so that the number of returns can be as small as possible.
Stay on Top of Packaging Developments
Be sure you keep an eye on things like new packaging technologies, designs, and packaging developments. These can reduce things like damage, returns, or other shipping problems.
How to Reduce and Reuse Packaging Material
By finding ways to reuse, reduce, and recycle packaging materials, you will lower costs and save money. Being seen as a responsible corporate citizen that keeps sustainability a priority is also a benefit. Here are some ideas to consider:
- Explore packaging materials made from recycled content.
- Find ways to reuse sturdy wood or metal containers.
- Use sustainable or renewable packaging materials.
- Use stretch wrapping for safer packaging and less breakage.
- Select biodegradable loose filling materials.
Packaging in the Food Manufacturing Industry
If you are in the food manufacturing industry, you will have several other considerations when selecting your packaging material. Besides looking at the cost, availability, and sustainability of the material, you will also need to consider how it keeps food and beverages safe, secure, and fresh.
Tamper-resistant packaging is important in food production as well as using food-grade material, especially when choosing plastic packaging. Certain types of packaging lend themselves to better marketing and branding opportunities, which can be a competitive advantage on crowded grocery store shelves.
Using a CMMS for Packaging Material Management
Managing, reducing, and reusing packaging materials is a complicated task. However, it is not enough today to simply use packaging and forget about it. It must be managed and maintained in a planned and orderly way.
That’s where a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) can bring your company to the next level. A CMMS can help you ensure that packaging equipment and machinery is working well and eliminate or minimize the points where food contamination can occur. By managing reactive, preventive, and predictive maintenance tasks, a CMMS is a critical tool in helping food manufacturers deliver safe, nutritious, and fresh products to the general market.
Companies can also use a CMMS to manage packaging materials and related assets by integrating purchasing and monitoring of these materials into the company’s overall system.
As the world continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, many manufacturers have had to face additional packaging challenges. For example, local lockdowns have drastically increased the amount of packages of food and other essential items that are shipped to individual homes.
Food manufacturing companies that have served restaurants, hotels, and resorts are no longer able to sell products packaged for mass consumption, yet demand for smaller, family-sized packaged products has skyrocketed as people have stayed home.
These and other challenges are the issues of the day, and those companies able to pivot their production lines and packaging options will be the ones to successfully take advantage of these new opportunities.