Behind the Scenes Sustainability Opportunities Part 2: Tertiary Packaging

December 09,2022 Category: Cost Savings, Packaging Development, Quality Optimization
As the importance of sustainability continues to increase for brands across all industries, sustainable packaging has transitioned from a “nice to have” feature to a necessity across packaging and distribution functions. Primary packaging tends to get most of the attention when packaging teams take on sustainability initiatives because it’s the most visible to consumers or end users, but that’s only a piece of the puzzle. There are many options to improve sustainability through secondary and tertiary packaging.

Adept Group covered sustainability opportunities in secondary packaging in a recent blog, and this blog will focus on opportunities with tertiary packaging. 

Tertiary Packaging

When products are shipped from one location to the next in the supply chain, tertiary packaging is used to group primary and secondary packaging together to make distribution, transportation, handling and unitization easier, along with maintaining load integrity. It may provide additional protection to the product as it makes its way through the supply chain. To note: the primary or secondary packaging may be the shipper itself, which is palletized into the tertiary unit load.

Many sustainable packaging options are similar between secondary packaging and tertiary packaging – lightweighting and rightsizing are great ways to include more boxes on each pallet, and optimized palletization can further increase shipping efficiency. Reducing fuel and transportation costs can be easily achieved this way. Tertiary packaging can also benefit from sustainable packaging materials, although options may be more limited since product protection is the crucial function of tertiary packaging. There are, however, a number of common opportunities brands can consider – some tried-and-true and others that are just recently gaining popularity. 

One example is switching from pallets to slip sheets. They are cost-effective and typically made from recyclable materials such as corrugate. A transition to slip sheets brings the added benefit of cost savings, as they are a replacement to traditional wood pallets that can become expensive when the price of wood increases. Though this option may not be viable in all circumstances, thorough package and distribution testing can reveal if slip sheets are a safe option for a given product. 

While there are choices available, the option that’s best for a brand is likely unique to its product. As technology advances and new opportunities emerge, contract packaging engineers can help brands incorporate strategies they may not have otherwise considered.

E-commerce has grown in popularity over the last decade and accelerated over the past few years. Because of that, brands must explore sustainable packaging options and how they interact with these online retailers such as Amazon and Walmart. Amazon, for example, has been experimenting with several waste-reducing solutions such as Ship In Own Container (SIOC) that eliminates over-packaging, and Frustration-Free packaging that reduces materials and makes packages easier to open. Now more than ever, companies have plenty of opportunities to save on costs, implement sustainable practices and provide a better experience for consumers - it’s just a matter of acting on these opportunities.

Additional Considerations

In reality, packaging departments have very little direct control over the supply chain. The rest of the time, brands rely on multiple channels and third parties to deliver products to their destination. That is why developing packaging that accounts for the different touchpoints and interactions between handlers is essential. By streamlining the packaging process and taking an agnostic approach to materials and transportation, brands can potentially reduce those touchpoints and choose lighter packaging materials, which can decrease fuel consumption.

During development, packaging should fit the needs of each unique product and each individual market. In many cases, the primary packaging is the only packaging the consumer will see - so instead, consider materials that prioritize sustainability over aesthetics for secondary or tertiary packaging. In retail environments like in club stores, packaging that would normally be “behind the scenes” may be a part of the product display, so consider how you can incorporate sustainable packaging to engage with the environmentally conscious shopper. Conducting a channel audit is an excellent way to determine how to begin or make progress against your brand’s sustianability initiatives.

While putting sustainability into action is important, this cannot be at the sacrifice of the requirements laid by the channels in which brands hope to sell their products in, but also by governmental agencies such as the FDA and guidelines published by the EPA. Other limiting factors may be technical or operational elements that haven’t yet been accounted for. Sometimes initial costs are expensive or a process for reducing waste has not yet been established. The reality is, there are many myths surrounding sustainability, and while some companies may find their journey challenging, there are many opportunities that make a big impact for brands to consider.

Get in Touch

Adept’s team of skilled and experienced sustainability professionals understand the total impact primary, secondary and tertiary packaging have on the environment, economy and communities throughout their lifecycle. We have the resources, tools and support of a vast network of experienced packaging professionals to guide companies through any stage of their sustainability journey. Send our team a message and let us know what your goals are. We’re ready to make strides together.