Forklift with carton boxes loading the truck

Designing Packaging for Challenging Distribution Environments

A significant challenge of new package design is planning for the variety of conditions it will face throughout its supply chain. From overseas freight to traditional domestic shipping and the last-mile challenges of the e-commerce distribution environment, there are many potential hazards to consider. These challenges can be compounded when planning packaging for products that require controlled temperatures during shipping. Fortunately, there are a handful of synergies between the most challenging of these environments, and knowing more how to plan for them can simplify the process.

Factors that Impact Material Selection

Beyond the unique needs of a product, its supply chain contains many environmental impact conditions that inform the package development process. When shipping products and storing them in warehouses in palletized format, stacking strength is a crucial consideration. The package design must be strong enough to withstand the weight of the product stacked above it when palletized either as part of a unitized load or when shipping as an individual product in the e-commerce distribution environment before last-mile delivery.

The package must also be engineered to endure a variety of other conditions that have potential to damage a package and its contents, including vibration from transport when in both palletized and loose load format, mechanical handling hazards such as a fall or side impact from a forklift, and direct, concentrated impact from other objects it may encounter in its distribution environment.

A variety of testing protocols are available from the International Safe Transit Association (ISTA) and ASTM International. These two organizations offer standards and protocols to cover package testing needs for nearly every type of product, package type and distribution environment. Working with labs certified by these organizations, packaging teams can ensure their designs pass simulated tests that are designed to closely mirror real-world conditions.

If a product has unique needs or is likely to encounter unique distribution conditions, it may be helpful to conduct additional tests in real-world environments. If this step is necessary, there are some great options for GPS-enabled trackers that monitor data such as temperature, humidity, acceleration/impact and location in real time. You can read more about those trackers in our blog about Identifying Sources of Packaging Damage.

Mitigating Condensation Challenges and other Moisture Risk Factors

Regardless of corrugate strength, exposure to moisture will cause paperboard to fail. Controlled-temperature products, especially those that experience a  variety of ambient temperatures when traveling as ocean freight, are highly susceptible to moisture from condensation and other sources.There are a variety of solutions that can mitigate the risk of damage from moisture.

Corrugate packaging can include vent holes that allow moisture to drain out. Waiter-resistant adhesives, which are used as a standard feature by many suppliers, can also help packaging endure exposure to moisture. While recycled content offers a variety of sustainability advantages, packaging that is at a high level of risk for exposure to moisture may benefit from the use of virgin fibers, which studies have shown to be more resilient to humidity and moisture than recycled content. Moisture-absorbent pads and desiccants can help to absorb atmospheric moisture and reduce condensation within a package, and carton liners such as plastic bags can prevent condensation-related moisture from contacting corrugate packaging. Internal dividers with negative headspace can add support that helps corrugate hold up when exposed to moisture, and storing pallets in a dry, indoor environment eliminates the risk of corrugate absorbing moisture from them. In addition, many suppliers have their own proprietary moisture-resistant coatings that can be applied to corrugate.  If the current supplier does not offer an option for moisture-resistant coating, it may be worthwhile to investigate alternate suppliers that are a better fit for the needs of the product and its packaging. It is also important to note that, while not common, was coatings render corrugate unrecyclable. Very few suppliers offer wax coatings because of this, but it doesn’t hurt to verify that the supplier is using a non-wax coating for moisture protection.

Testing for E-commerce vs. Ocean Freight Environments

If product packaging will experience both e-commerce and ocean freight distribution environments, one might assume that it’s important to test the packing for both environments. That is likely unnecessary, however, as the simulated tests for e-commerce environments are typically more rigorous and it’s safe to assume that packaging that performs under tests designed for the e-commerce distribution channel will also withstand the ocean freight distribution environment.

If you need help designing packaging that will hold up throughout a variety of difficult conditions, it can be helpful to seek guidance from experts with experience planning for all distribution environments. Get in touch, the Adept team is ready to help.

Reduce the costs in your packaging

Getting Started with Packaging Cost Savings

The factors that determine a brand’s packaging spend are varied and can be highly nuanced. These factors range from the design of the packaging itself to the materials used to create it, the processes used to pack the product and the shipment methods that carry the product from the packaging line to its ultimate destination. Those key factors and every input in between combine to determine the overall spend. With that level of complexity, it can be easy for brands to miss optimization opportunities and overspend on packaging without even recognizing the problems. This making getting started with packaging cost savings a tricky part of the process.

While the process of reviewing every aspect of a packaging operation can seem daunting, recognizing factors that lead to overspending and identifying solutions to rein in those costs is within the grasp of every packaging team.

Factors that Drive Up Packaging Costs

There are many factors that impact the costs of packaging, and changes to any of those factors can lead to a brand overspending on its packaging operations. The most obvious of those factors is time; as packaging technology advances over time, newer materials and packaging specifications may offer equivalent or improved product protection at a lower cost. For brands that sustain success over a long period of time, packaging may remain unchanged. As the saying goes, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. But sticking with the same materials and packaging processes as lower-cost alternatives become available can lead to overspending on packaging.

Rapid growth or change is another factor that can create a deficit between the current packaging spend and an optimized packaging spend. Pricing agreements a brand reaches with its packaging suppliers can become a source of cost inflation when a brand grows quickly. A year-over-year increase in sales is likely to produce a proportional increase in the amount of packaging materials required to safely ship products to customers. Revisiting those pricing agreements and renegotiating rates based on new quantities is likely to produce a lower cost per unit.

Similarly, a change to the brand’s business, such as the rapid shift e-commerce during the initial COVID-19 outbreak, is also likely to push packaging costs off course. For these brands revisiting their agreements with suppliers and adjusting them to suit their new packaging needs can reduce the potential for overspending on materials.

Sometimes the packaging process can be a larger source of overspending than the packaging materials. Operational inefficiencies can take many forms. Inefficient planning for packaging storage can lead to lost time in bringing the materials to the packaging lines. Storage and purchasing efficiency can also be improved through packaging SKU rationalization, which highlights opportunities to reduce the number of packaging specs in a brand’s portfolio. Packaging machinery that doesn’t perform up to its potential can also slow the process down – a problem that can be quantified by evaluating Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE).

Many brands have recently discovered opportunities to save on costs by switching from wood pallets, for which costs have ballooned in recent years, to inexpensive and sustainable slip sheets across their manufacturing and packaging operations.

Overpackaging products is another trap that’s easy to fall into. Ensuring a product reaches the customer in good condition is the top priority for packaging teams, but this can lead to wasteful and inefficient design. The best design is the one that optimizes packaging materials with just the right amount of protection with out driving up costs with packaging that’s too heavy or takes up more space than needed during transportation. To find the right balance, brands need to understand their distribution environment, the modes of transportation used during shipping, their product’s unique needs and the requirements of secondary and tertiary packaging. Then they must design a package that meets the needs of all of those factors without adding unnecessary weight and size.

The opposite side of that coin is insufficient packaging that fails to protect the product from damage during shipping. These costs show up in the form of product returns, rework and warranty expenses, and potential harm to the brand’s reputation, which can have a negative impact on sales. While the process to solve this issue can be complicated, involving a careful identification of the root cause, design and engineering to eliminate the problem and extensive testing to ensure the new packaging will perform before commercializing the new design, it can pay off in big ways.

Getting Started on Solutions

For packaging departments that suspect they may be able improve their costs or those that haven’t evaluated their packaging costs recently, a packaging audit is a great way to identify inefficiencies and areas for improvement. Among other benefits, a detailed packaging audit can highlight the difference between the current packaging spend and an optimized packaging spend while also providing roadmap for closing the gap.

Lean on the Experts

For packaging teams that lack the expertise to root out inefficient spending or those that are stretched too thin by current projects to invest time evaluating each aspect of their operations, it is helpful to work with an outside partner with experience optimizing packaging costs. The Adept Packaging team includes experts in more than 60 specialized packaging disciplines, including cost savings. Get in touch to learn more about how we can work with your internal packaging team to identify areas of concern and provide solutions to help you achieve bottom-line savings throughout your packaging operation.

Natural packaging product (dish, plate, bowl and cup), Biodegrad

The Growing Appeal of Paper-Based Packaging

Packaging waste is the one of the biggest sources of pollution, both on land and in water. The proliferation of packaging-related pollution has prompted many brands, especially those in the CPG and food & beverage industries, to invest in reusable, recyclable and compostable alternatives to traditional, plastic-based packaging.

One of the key drivers of this move away from plastics is their low recycling rates. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), only 8.7% of plastic makes it through the recycling stream, compared to 31.3% of glass, 34.9% of aluminum and, most impressively, 68.2% of paper.

Moving Away from Plastics

Knowing that plastic is the biggest culprit for packaging-related pollution, a popular transition plan has been to reduce single-use plastics to less than 5% of packaging in 2-3 years and eliminate it completely from packaging in 3-5 years. Prompted by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Global Commitment, many brands plan to have 100% recyclable packaging by 2025. More than 500 brands have signed on to this commitment, including L’Oréal, MARS, Nestlé, PepsiCo, The Coca-Cola Company, Unilever, Colgate and Walmart.

While moving away from plastics is important, it isn’t possible unless there’s a replacement packaging material to move towards, and for many brands, easily recycled paper is the solution.

Paper-Based Alternatives

Paper packaging such as corrugated boxes, paperboard cartons, and paper bags and sacks are nothing new, but recent advancements have made post-consumer recycled paper and barrier-coated paper viable options for many types of products. Recycled kraft paper bags are now an affordable, viable alternative to bags previously made from primarily virgin fiber. Polyethylene (PE)-coated papers feature excellent moisture and grease barrier protection. They can be printed on and can be used for hot products, which makes them a better option for food service brands than waxed papers, and like waxed papers, they can be recycled in many situations.

There are also a growing number of options for barrier-coated papers that don’t use PE, making them recyclable in all traditional recycling systems. Many of these non-PE barrier coatings are also compostable, making them a viable solution for an even broader range of sustainable packaging initiatives.

For products that don’t require packaging with moisture barrier properties, paper materials without barrier coatings are also a great alternative to plastics. Suppliers such as Paptic produce versatile paper bags made from renewable materials that are recyclable and durable enough for reusable packaging applications. Sylvicta, by UK-based supplier Arjowiggins, produces translucent paper with strong oxygen barrier properties, making it an excellent option for packaged food products. Their unique material is fully compostable and recyclable.

Brands Investing in Paper-Based Innovation

The popularity of paper-based materials as an alternative to plastics is evident in a number of brands who have made recent headlines with news about their efforts. Chobani recently announced they’re launching paper cups to replace the plastic cups they used to hold their oat-based yogurt products. This switch means yogurt joins their oat milk, cold-brew coffee and coffee creamers in using recyclable paper packaging. 

In the beverage space, Absolut launched a paper-based bottle prototype for trial in Europe. Their bottle, made from 57% paper and 43% recycled plastic, is a step toward their ultimate goal of producing a bottle made from 100% bio-based materials. Coca-Cola Europe is working with Danish start-up Paboco to develop their own paper bottle, while beer brand Carlsberg works to develop its own 100% bio-based bottle made from sustainably sourced wood fiber, both of which would be huge developments for the bottled beverage industry.

Cosmetics giant L’Oréal is also working with Paboco to create a sustainable paper bottle, demonstrating paper packaging’s viability beyond the food & beverage sector in the CPG space. Pulpex, a sustainable packaging technology company established by Diageo in partnership with PepsiCo, Unilever and GSK’s consumer division, is working with Stora Enso to produce bottles made from wood fiber pulp and a thin barrier coating. This bottle would be a viable option for brands in a variety of industries.

Evaluating Your Options for Paper Packaging

While there are sure to be many innovations in paper-based packaging in the coming years, there are a wide variety of options that are available for brands to incorporate into their packaging portfolio right now. If reducing or eliminating plastics is a part of your brand’s sustainability goals, working with a supplier-agnostic partner to evaluate paper packaging options can help you reach those goals more quickly.

Adept Group has experts in more than 60 specialized packaging disciplines, including sustainability and materials science. Whether you’re evaluating paper-based packaging to learn if it works for your brand or you’re ready to start looking at specific options to advance your sustainability initiatives, get in touch. We’re ready to help.

Packaging Damage

Identifying Sources of Packaging Damage

Packages damaged during shipping can be a major source of preventable costs for a brand. By some estimates, as much as 11% of unit loads arrive at a distribution center with some level of damage. Other estimates say that damaged packages have increased by 19.1% due to the spike in e-commerce demand during the COVID-19 pandemic. Considering that manufacturers spend more than $150 billion on product packaging each year, all that damage can really add up, meaning identifying sources of packaging damage is more important than ever.

While expenses like repair, warranty and shipping costs may be the most obvious, packaging and products that take damage during shipping can harm a brand’s reputation with its consumers and lead to hidden costs like lost market share. To address this preventable source of costs head-on, it’s helpful to know more about root cause of that damage, including when, where and how it occurs as products move through the supply chain.

The Power of GPS Trackers

GPS tracking technology provides detailed, real-time visibility into the conditions packaging and products face throughout the supply chain. Small and relatively affordable GPS trackers can wirelessly report data that helps brands make informed decisions about a variety of critical issues, including where and when packaging incurs damage. This data includes location, temperature, humidity and – perhaps most importantly – acceleration, all reported accurately and in real time.

This insight provides valuable clues that make identifying the sources of packaging damage as simple as reviewing a spreadsheet of output from the trackers. For temperature-sensitive products, temperature data from the sensors provides insight into when and where a temperature excursion occurs, which can help determine if it was caused by an equipment failure or if there’s need for to revise packaging to provide better insulation against ambient temperatures.

When damage is reported, it provides packaging professionals with the ability to see where and when an anomalous event, such as rapid spike in acceleration, occurs. Knowing if the event that caused the damage happened during transit or within a warehouse or distribution center helps determine if the issue is the packaging itself or the way forklift drivers and other handlers are treating the package. If the damage occurs in a warehouse environment, the timestamp will allow management to determine which shift was responsible and train employees on how to handle the product better, reducing the amount of damage that will occur in the future.

GPS Trackers in Action: A Case Study

Adept Group conducted an audit on a client’s packaging costs and identified an opportunity to reduce damage and save on costs by converting one-use wood pallets into more durable, reusable pallets through minor design modifications. To prove the durability and cost saving potential of the modified pallets, Adept conducted a pilot program to establish how many uses the client could get from each before wear and tear made them unusable. Each of the modified pallets used in the pilot was equipped with a GPS tracker to provide real-time visibility into the conditions the pallets faced during shipment.

The trackers provided data on transit times and dwell times at each location throughout the supply chain. They also provided visibility into impacts (brief spikes in acceleration) and other related events that can lead to damage. The prototype pallets were marked to clearly distinguish them from regular pallets and to link them to the identification number of its GPS tracker in case they get separated.

To meet the cost-savings goals for the project, each pallet would need to hold up for a minimum of three transit cycles, with six cycles considered optimal. Four key pieces of data were monitored closely for each pallet – location by date/time, temperature, humidity and acceleration. If a pallet incurred damage that limited its use to fewer than the expected number of transit cycles, the engineer who ran the project needed to know what caused the damage and where and when it occurred.

During the pilot, five pallets incurred impacts/acceleration events that were outside the expected range. The tracker recorded the magnitude, location and time for each of these impacts, making identifying the sources of packaging damage easy. These pallets were inspected to confirm the damage from the events, finding results that ranged from splits in the wood to boards with large chunks missing. The results of the pilot were an enhanced pallet design that could hold up to the expected range of stresses and identification of the locations and shift times that caused damage outside the normal range, which allowed those forklift operators to be trained in how to handle the reusable pallets without causing unnecessary damage. When the modified pallet design was expanded from the pilot program to the client’s entire shipping operation, it saved them more than $350,000 annually.

This case study focused on one specific use for GPS trackers to monitor pallets, but similar applications can be used to monitor conditions throughout the supply chain and distribution environment for packaging ranging from unitized loads to single parcel e-commerce deliveries. Knowing more about the specific conditions a package experiences during shipping provides an opportunity to make changes to the package design and modes of transportation to reduce costly damages.

If you’re noticing a large number of damaged packages that impact your bottom line, get in touch. The Adept team can provide a range of solutions, from a simple packaging audit to a robust, cost-effective GPS tracking program to help you eliminate costly packaging and product damage.

Biodegradable, Compostable, Disposable or Eco friendly utensil bowl and cup on yellow background, Sustainable concept

Is Compostable Packaging Right for Your Brand?

As brands look for new and more sustainable ways to package their products, compostable packaging plays a growing role in the conversation. A 2020 survey by McKinsey found that consumers expect more compostable packaging to be introduced, but many of the finer points about compostability are still not well understood by packaging professionals, let alone the end user.

When a packaging department weighs its sustainability options, understanding some important details about compostable packaging can help them evaluate whether or not it’s a good fit for their product and their customers.

Compostable vs. Biodegradable

While both conjure the image of something breaking down until it disappears, compostable and biodegradable are not interchangeable words. Compostable materials break down under a specific set of conditions over a defined period of time. Those conditions include pressure, heat, moisture and other factors that expedite the degradation of the material. The Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) and similar organizations around the world issue certifications for compostable products and packaging, and brands who want to market their products as compostable would be wise to pursue those certifications.

No such certifications exist for biodegradable packaging because the word is much more broadly defined. Given enough time and exposure to conditions such as sunlight and moisture, nearly any material can be considered biodegradable, including plastics, though they may take hundreds of years to break down. A supplier marketing their materials as biodegradable may be trying to pull a fast one, and packaging professionals would be wise to ask questions about how the supplier arrived at that designation.

Industrial Compostable vs. Home Compostable

Even within the realm of certified compostable materials, not all are created equal. Items considered home compostable, such as lawn clippings, tea bags and some food scraps, break down into nutrient rich soil over the course of a few months. For items considered industrial compostable, however, the conditions in a back-yard compost heap won’t cut it. They require tightly controlled conditions to break down in a similar amount of time.

A major concern with packaging that requires industrial composting is that widespread adoption is not supported by the current infrastructure. Most consumers don’t have access to industrial composting facilities, including many who live in major cities, so those materials frequently wind up in landfills despite their compostable designation. According to research conducted by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC), 27% of the U.S. population has access a composting facility, while only 11% has access to a facility that accepts compostable packaging.

SPC’s study also found that several states, including California, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and Rhode Island, have ordinances requiring businesses to compost their food waste. As more states and municipalities consider similar regulations, increased demand may soon drive growth in infrastructure and make compostable packaging a much more viable option for everyone.

Impact of EPR on Compostable Packaging

While Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) regulations are relatively new to the U.S., they’ve been around for a while in Europe and may serve as a preview for what everyone can expect as the idea spreads globally. Companies like Vegware, which produces compostable packaging for the foodservice industry, aren’t waiting for the commercial infrastructure to catch up to demand – they’re collecting it themselves and partnering with waste haulers to transport it composting facilities.

As both EPR and compostable packaging gain traction, it will be interesting to see if suppliers follow the example set by these U.K. suppliers by taking the lead on ensuring the packaging they produce makes it to a composting facility instead of a landfill.

Environmental Benefits of Composting on Soil

Soil enriched through composting can act as an important carbon sink, meaning it absorbs and stores more carbon than it releases. While the current amount of soil produced through composting make only a small impact on carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, increased use of composting may help mitigate environmental impact. Adding more fiber-based compostable packaging to the composting system can make the soil enriched by composting a year-round product, providing a valuable source of carbon during the winter months when sources such as yard waste are less plentiful.

Beware of “Greenwashing”

As consumers and watch dog groups grow more savvy about the environmental impact of packaging materials, it can be easy for brands to get caught greenwashing their marketing claims. “Greenwashing” is the act of making misleadingly positive claims about the sustainability of products, and the consequences to getting called out for this practice can range from a loss of consumer confidence in the brand to costly lawsuits for false advertising. Before touting compostability as a feature, brands should seek certification and think through the likely end-of-life scenarios for their packaging in order to avoid the appearance of greenwashing their products.

While the future looks bright for compostable packaging, current conditions don’t make it a viable option for brands in all industries. There are many factors, including availability of composting infrastructure and consumer preferences, that can help determine if it’s right for yours. The experts at Adept Group can help you evaluate opportunities for compostable packaging and many other sustainable packaging choices. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you’re ready to start conversation about your sustainability goals.

Containers with different types of garbage near light wall. Recycling concept

How to Build Sustainability into Almost any Project

Sustainability has been an impossible topic for brands to avoid in recent years. In C-suites, production lines, packaging departments and beyond, everyone has had to think about ways to decrease the environmental impact of the business. The good news is that by keeping a handful of concepts in mind, brands can build sustainability into almost any project their packaging team tackles.

The world produces around 300 million tons of plastic waste each year, and around 60% of the plastic produced since the 1950s either made its way to a landfill or ended up polluting the natural environment, including at least 8 million tons that go into the ocean every year. The bad news is that the need for more sustainable packaging is desperate; the good news is there is a wide margin for sustainable improvement in almost all packaging.

For organizations that aren’t swayed by the purely altruistic factors, there are plenty of other drivers pushing brands toward more sustainable packaging. Research shows that consumer demand for more sustainable products continues to grow. If a brand hasn’t responded to those changing consumer preferences, chances are its competitors have. Many of the biggest consumer brands in the world have publicly committed to aggressive sustainability goals, and dozens have partnered with organizations like the Ellen Macarthur Foundation to help them reach those goals.

State governments in the U.S. are considering Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) laws that shift the costs of handling packaging waste back onto the companies that produce it. Maine became the first U.S. state to pass EPR legislation, and Oregon may not be far behind. Those states are decades behind governments in Europe, where Germany adopted a form of EPR in 1991. These regulations are pushing sustainable packaging from something that’s nice to have to something brands can’t afford to ignore.

Combined, these drivers are pushing the packaging industry to accelerate sustainability programs, and while it may not be the only priority guiding packaging engineers, there are a handful of considerations that can help them build sustainable improvements into their other projects.

Design with the End in Mind

Any package design project should include a life cycle analysis that carefully considers the impact of a package at each stage of its life, including:

  • Resource extraction
  • Manufacturing
  • Distribution
  • Use
  • End of life

Each of these stages offers opportunities to improve sustainability, including reducing the thickness of corrugate and other materials to make manufacturing less wasteful and decrease fuel consumption during distribution and creating packaging that can be reused instead of thrown away after a single-use. End of life may be the stage where opportunities are easiest to identify, as recyclable and compostable materials remove packaging from the waste stream entirely. Thinking about the consumer’s experience with municipal recycling systems may lead to designing packaging from a single, recyclable material or a small number of recyclable materials that separate easily, both of which make responsible disposal an easy task for the end-user.

Use Recycled Materials

As the regulatory landscape that affects packaging waste continues to evolve, many brands will be forced to use recycled materials for their packaging. In the meantime, there are still plenty of environmental advantages to using recycled materials for packaging when compared to using virgin materials. From a consumer messaging perspective, manufacturing recycled plastics produces 65-70% less greenhouse gasses than manufacturing virgin plastic. Production of one ton of recycled plastic saves 5,774-kilowatt hours of energy, 16.3 barrels of oil, 98 million BTU’s of energy, and 30 cubic yards of landfill space when compared to virgin plastic

Purchasing recycled materials drives more demand for those materials, which makes them more profitable and incentives producers of recycled materials to scale up their operations, a long-term benefit for all brands.

Avoid Common Pitfalls

Suppliers are always going to leverage messaging that highlights the best attributes of the materials they sell, but it’s important to understand what they’re selling and what their claims really mean. Messaging around “biodegradable” materials, for example, can confuse both brands and consumers. Over a long enough period, just about all materials can be considered biodegradable; cynically, one can say plastic is biodegradable if you look at it over the course of hundreds of years.

Compostable” is a much more meaningful designation, as it signifies that the material biodegrades in a specific amount of time and under well-defined conditions. Doing the research upfront allows brands to have more meaningful conversations with their suppliers about sustainable materials.

Degradable additives are another easy trap packaging for packaging departments to fall into. Suppliers will tell you these additives help materials biodegrade, but this process breaks plastics down into microplastics that can remain in the environment longer. The EU has already banned some of these additives, and other regulatory bodies are likely to follow suit.

Use Less Plastic

Packaging is a growing driver of plastic production when compared to other uses for plastic, but it’s one of the easier areas in which we can decrease use. Despite the industry’s growing efforts, only 9% of plastic ever produced has been recycled. Benefits to reducing plastic packaging waste include lower greenhouse gas emissions, decreased use of non-renewable resources and less trash going to incinerators, landfills and the natural environment.

There are many ways to decrease the amount of plastic used in packaging, including decreasing the thickness of plastic packaging, designing plastic packaging to be reusable and using more sustainable alternatives.

Consulate A Sustainability Expert

Knowledge about technologies, materials, tools and regulations around sustainability is constantly evolving and it can be difficult to keep up with the latest information. An expert who focuses on sustainability can help demystify advances in the field. They’re also likely to have insight into what competitors and brands in other industries are doing to make progress against their sustainability goals and know what’s working and what isn’t. A true sustainability expert can provide a strategy tailored to meet a brand’s unique packaging needs and a set of clear, actionable steps to meet sustainability goals. Adept Group’s sustainability experts can help your brand conduct an audit and identify projects that will make the most meaningful impact toward your sustainability goals.

No matter where your brand is in its sustainability journey, Adept Group can help you accelerate progress toward your goals. If you’re looking for help building a strategy or advancing toward existing sustainability goals, get in touch. We can help.

Cardboard slip sheets isolated on white as alternative packaging concept, paper pallet for transportation and delivery

The Value of Switching from Pallets to Slip Sheets

For many brands, switching from pallets to slip sheets provides a lot of value. For brands in the process of improving sustainability throughout their organization, incorporating slip sheets into their supply chain improves the sustainability of tertiary packaging. Like many sustainability moves, it can also double as an opportunity for cost savings.

Problems with Pallets

Pallets are generally made of wood and are becoming a commodity that is no longer a low-cost, disposable part of packaging. The cost of a Wood Pallet can be 2-5 times more expensive than it was just 10 years ago. And as the availability of wood becomes tighter, wood pallets are harder to get, since less wood is available to use for pallets.

In many parts of the world, governments are passing new regulations that shift the burden of costs associated with packaging that winds up in the solid waste stream back onto the companies that create the packaging. This means that in some countries, one-way wooden pallets are now (or will be in the near future) not acceptable. We’ve even seen some movement on this front here in the United States, where Maine is the first state to take this kind of action with its Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for Packaging law.

A new law in Germany affecting U.S. businesses’ use of pallets states that “Companies which originate a packaging product which eventually ends up in the solid waste stream in Germany will be held responsible for disposing of that packaging.” This means that one-way wooden pallets are not viable in Germany.

These new pieces of legislation may indicate we’ll see more use of economic instruments and other measures in support of the waste hierarchy in the coming years through additional EPR laws. Producers are given an important role in this transition as their responsibility for a product is extended to the post-consumer stage of a product’s life cycle. Lastly, wooden pallets offer a home to insects and other pests, who use the wood as either food or shelter. Importation of pallets is a leading cause of rodent infestation and contaminations in a warehouse.

Slip Sheets as an Alternative

While most pallets are made of wood, slip sheets are typically made of light weight fiberboard, averaging a few dollars or less for each unit-load, making them inexpensive enough to be discarded after each trip. Their use also negates traditional tracking, recovery, repair and/or disposal costs for wood pallets. The cost differential between pallets and slip sheets continues to increase, making themo a very viable alternative to wood pallets.

Since slip sheets don’t have the depth that a pallet has, they’re a less attractive source of food and shelter to pests and, since they can easily be disposed of, the slip sheet can eliminate the risk of cross contamination from previous uses.

Because slip sheets are easily assimilated into the waste-paper market for recycling into new products, they’ll stay out of the solid waste stream and won’t be affected by EPR laws – a significant advantage from both cost and sustainability standpoints. Material handling unitized loads without pallets reduces costs, save trees, and reduces the energy required to transport, manufacture and store pallets.

Slip sheets generally have a lip on two sides that extends beyond the standard load pattern, allowing the slip sheet truck to pull the load onto the fork-lift forks or conveyance for moving, loading or unloading. While they generally are designed for a two-way entry and require a special slip sheet attachment to the standard fork-lift truck, this can readily be attached or detached within 30 minutes.

Performance Comparison

The tare weight of a slip sheet is typically 2 to 3 pounds, a small fraction of the tare weight of wooden pallets, which are typically in the 30-48 pound range. A slip sheet footprint can be identical to that of a pallet, but the space it occupies under a unit-load is insignificant compared to the 10 percent or more taken up by a typical pallet. Most net payloads of unitized product can be increased by 10 percent or more with slip sheets. Put in practical terms, the amount of product that would typically require 100 semi trailers to ship would require only 90 trailers when using slip sheets, saving time and fuel. 

Are Slip Sheets Right for You?

If you’re interested in an audit to learn about how switching to slip sheets can benefit your organization or you’re ready to make the switch, reach out. Our experts have helped companies just like yours save money and improve sustainability with slip sheets, and they’re ready to show you the difference it can make for your company.

Cube World. 3D lowpoly isometric cardboard boxes. The set of objects isolated against the gray background and shown from different sides

Designing Packaging to Protect the Product

Packaging that fails to adequately protect the product during shipping is likely to incur damage that drives unplanned costs. There are many potential hazards a package will face as it makes its way from the manufacturer to the customer, so it’s important that the primary focus when designing packaging is protecting the product. While this may be true, there are also risks of designing a package that provides more protection than needed, which also drives unnecessary costs and creates unnecessary waste. There are a handful of important considerations that can serve as a guide to optimizing the packaging design to protect the product and ensure it reaches the customer free of damage.

Consider the Distribution Environment

As supply chains gain more complexity, more touchpoints often result in more opportunities for package damage. As a result, designing with the entire distribution environment in mind minimizes the potential for costly problems as the product and its packaging move through the system. Understanding the needs of the product, where it ships from and its ultimate destination provides much the information needed to design packaging that provides adequate protection. Knowing whether the packaging will be shipped domestically or travel overseas will help inform how the packaging needs to perform.

A package will likely face a variety of shipping and storage conditions before it reaches the consumer. It may depart the packaging line as part of a unitized load, spend time in a warehouse, get shrink-wrapped with other packages of varying size and shape on a pallet, and face unpredictable conditions during last-mile delivery.

It is also helpful to plan for the unique conditions and hazards the product and its packaging will encounter throughout the distribution environment. During its journey, a package may spend time in a warehouse where temperature and humidity are not controlled, meaning it must endure a range of ambient conditions. Products intended for retail sales and e-commerce distribution will pass through a different number of touchpoints, with e-commerce often involving up to three times as many. Each touchpoint is another opportunity for the package to face conditions that may lead to damage. Designing with the distribution environment in mind also helps reduce time and expenses to successfully qualify the package design

Design for Secondary Packaging & Stacking

Careful consideration of the product and its distribution environment provides the background necessary to choose the right packaging materials and design. While an understanding of the product and the conditions its packaging will face are a good start, but packaging design also needs to account for the time the package will spend stacked on a pallet as a unitized load. The package design needs to support stacking a full pallet load without compromising the integrity of the packages at the bottom of the stack. The design also needs to be efficient enough to optimize the number of packages that fit on each pallet and eliminate wasted space within each package.

An efficient design includes a stacking pattern that accounts for transport overhang and underhang to protect against damage. The stacking pattern should feature the corrugation direction that provides the most stacking strength. Column stacking is ideal, as it provides point-to-point contact of cartons and eliminates shifting on the pallet.

Rightsizing to Reduce Cost and Improve Sustainability

Overpackaging can ensure the product arrives without damage, but it adds to the cost of materials and shipping. It also increases the amount of waste from the packaging, thereby reducing the sustainability of the package. Underpackaging can save on material and transportation costs, but puts the product at risk of shipping damage, leading to costly warranty claims, returns and repacking. The best design is the one that treads the fine line between these extremes. It optimizes packaging materials with just the right amount to make sure the product arrives at its final destination safely.


To create a design that is sized to fit the product and meets the sweet spot between over and under packaging, many factors must be considered. Knowing your distribution environment, unique product needs and accounting for secondary packaging requirements is a start. In addition, understanding the material properties of your package and how the integrity of the package might break down when exposed to temperature fluctuations, shock, stacking, and vibration will help you make decisions about choosing materials, components and a design that suits the unique needs of your product.

Lean on the Experts

Designing packaging the optimizes protection and minimizes costs can be challenging, but leaning on trusted experts can help your brand get it right. Adept Group has experts in packaging for all industries, and we have the experience to identify the design that works best for your product. If you’re getting ready to roll out a new product, experiencing damage you’d like to remediate or redesigning packaging for an existing product, reach out. We’re ready to help.

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The Value of a Sustainability Audit

While many companies have used sustainability influencers like the Sustainable Packaging Coalition and the Ellen McArthur Foundation to determine what areas they wanted to focus on to improve their sustainable operations, measuring their progress toward goals like designing for recovery, eliminating unfavorable materials and increasing recycling can be complicated.

Many companies have multiple divisions, several packaging lines, and thousands of different SKUs that require unique packaging. Many companies that have goals set, have vague targets and an undefined path to achieve those goals. Not to mention, determining how sustainable each type of packaging and component is and what actions need to be taken to make those sustainable is a big job. To accomplish this, companies can leverage a sustainability audit.

A sustainability audit is a tool that allows companies to evaluate their sustainability goals and objectives, stage-gate progress toward those goals and objectives, and determine what actions will result in significant progress toward those goals.

These are the steps we take to help our clients get to an informed place to make decisions about what project comes next:


If this position sounds familiar, you’re interested in evaluating your progress or you’d like to identify quick wins to help you move the needle toward your goals, contact us!

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E-commerce Packaging for a Booming Industry

Since 2019, retail e-commerce sales and e-retail revenues have grown exponentially. Companies have been forced to pivot in their business models to accommodate the changes in distribution environments and rethink e-commerce packaging. When brick-and-mortar stores began to close due to COVID-19 disruptions, many businesses had to choose between shutting down entirely and adapting to meet the challenge.

Enter the e-commerce channel.

Brands will need to invest in packaging solutions that are robust, sustainable and consumer friendly as they refine or adopt online retail as part of their business model.

According to Mordor Intelligence, The e-commerce packaging market was valued at $27.04 billion in 2020 and is expected to reach $61.55 billion by 2026.A report from Spiralytics projects the number of online shoppers will reach 2.1 billion in 2021, up from 1.66 billion in 2016.

This growth will force brands to acknowledge the potential of building or expanding e-commerce capabilities. With this increase in e-commerce popularity, distribution environments will change dramatically and make it even more important to consider these changes when designing packaging.

Optimizing Packaging to Stay Successful and Competitive

When designing packaging for e-commerce, it is important to think beyond the current distribution environment and evaluate how primary packaging will perform in future environments as e-commerce and last-mile delivery continue to evolve. It may be worth investing in redesign or innovation and robustness of the primary pack. If a primary package redesign is not feasible, there are a few additional considerations that may help: 

  • How can the secondary packaging be optimized for product protection while avoiding excessive packaging and the use of void fillers? 
  • Is it cost effective to design specifically sized secondary packaging for each product or develop fewer sizes and ship some products with access space and void fillers? 
  • How do companies find the right combination between product size and package size ranges?

Throughout this distribution cycle, a package can pass through up to three times as many touch-points as a traditional distribution environment. By optimizing primary packaging for e-commerce, brands can invest in packaging formats that use less secondary packaging, which can help to reduce shipping costs while preventing damage and providing better functionality for consumers.

Opportunities to Boost Sustainability

Growing in parallel with consumer interest in e-commerce is consumer concern about the sustainability of the products they purchase. This demand drives the use of more bespoke designs that eliminate excessive packaging and new material concepts, such as fully pulp-based, easy-to-recycle mailers.

More than in the traditional retail environment, e-commerce presents an even bigger responsibility to the consumer to reduce waste. In the traditional retail channel, the consumer is responsible for disposal and recycling of the primary package. In e-commerce, the consumer is left to dispose of and recycle all of the packaging (product and shipping packaging and materials).

It also presents increased opportunities to leverage sustainable packaging. Unlike packaging for the brick-and-mortar retail environment, where the look and feel of a package on a store shelf may influence consumer behaviors, many brands can prioritize sustainability over aesthetics for e-commerce packaging. Because consumers do their shopping and purchasing online, the packaging provides an opportunity to community sustainable messaging and recycling instructions.

As requirements for e-commerce packaging solutions grow, new demands emerge to encourage companies to rethink logistics, marketing and supply chain sustainability.

Key considerations for e-commerce packaging

Unknowns Abound during Last-Mile Delivery

Even after accounting for the rest of the distribution environment, the final delivery is difficult to plan for. How the package is handled by the carrier, its exposure to weather and several other factors are beyond the brand’s control. When the package reaches the consumer, however, the experience they have is not with the carrier, but the e-retailer. Damaged packaging and/or product can significantly impact a brand’s reputation.

According to eMarketer, ecommerce damage is estimated to set companies back nearly $6 billion per year, with 58% of Americans saying their relationship with the e-retailer would be impacted by a damaged product, making it important for packaging to withstand a wide variety of conditions it may face during last-mile delivery.

While the current state of last-mile delivery includes plenty of unknown factors, the future of this portion of the distribution environment also includes conditions that are difficult to predict and plan for, and that future may be closer than it seems.  

Amazon, UPS, and Google are already experimenting with delivery drones. Wing Aviation, owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet, has already received authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration to begin delivering goods via drone. When designing e-commerce packaging, companies need to consider what’s around the corner.

Packaging as Part of the Consumer Experience

As new online stores and subscription boxes emerge and physical retail stores turn to e-commerce, customers are prioritizing three benefits when they choose who to buy from online: speed of delivery, reliability, and hassle-free returns. It’ll be those three qualities that will have the largest influence on future e-commerce and omnichannel packaging design.

Choosing delivery formats that enhance the customer experience is a huge added value for businesses and consumers alike. Since most of the world’s shopping is currently being done online, companies have had to compensate for the loss of the consumer’s singular experience of being able to see or touch something on a shelf or rack before heading to the checkout line.

Birchbox, Julep, Trunk Club, FabFitFun and Glossier make the receipt and unboxing of their packaging fun and personalized. With more and more unboxing videos being posted to social media platforms like Instagram and YouTube, the impact of e-commerce packaging has never been greater.

How the package looks on the outside may impact how the product or brand is perceived, even if the product is not damaged. As more consumers move to e-commerce, brands should consider new ways to improve the packaging experience from start to finish.

If new to e-commerce, companies should evaluate a variety of scenarios, including outsourcing packaging, partnering with a third party/co-packer and build an in-house packaging and fulfillment center.

To understand the e-commerce channel, companies need to establish a solid packaging strategy. Adept Packaging has channel audit and market research expertise, internal innovation panels and an established relationship with an Amazon approved testing facility. With a team of over 70 packaging engineers, Adept has the capability and expertise to help companies create an e-commerce roadmap and implementation plan.

At Adept Group, we have engineers that specialize in the design, engineering and qualification of new or redesigned packaging. If you’re looking for assistance developing e-commerce packaging that will withstand its distribution environment and delight consumers, contact us.

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Cost Savings Through Packaging Damage Remediation

Packaging that doesn’t withstand its distribution environment can lead to staggering costs for a brand. The good news is that you can not only eliminate those sources of cost, but also improve quality and achieve bottom-line cost savings through packaging damage remediation.

Costs incurred because of packaging damage can add up quickly. There are the up-front costs, including the cost of the damaged product and the cost of return shipping, but also a handful of costs that are less obvious. These include items like reworking salvageable product, production schedule disruptions to replace non-salvageable product, re-shipping the order and difficult-to-calculate costs like lost business and damage to brand reputation.

Thoughtfully completing the remediation process can lead to a number of desirable outcomes. A primary goal of this process is to reduce or eliminate warranty and replacement product expenses. The process may also reveal opportunities to optimize wasted space within the packaging and wasted space when the product is stored or shipped in bulk (e.g. on a pallet). It may provide an opportunity to reduce the impact of inefficient choices in packaging design or packaging materials. New packaging design also provides an opportunity to distribute the new designs for competitive bidding by packaging suppliers, which frequently allows a brand reduce costs.

Once you understand the costs of insufficient packaging and the benefits of thoughtfully redesigning packaging to fit a product’s needs, you’re ready to understand the steps required to address these packaging challenges.

Step 1: Identify the Problem

Determining the root cause of the problem can be challenging, but the rest of the process depends on an accurate understanding of when and how product damage occurs. In rare situations, this root cause may be easy to identify. For the majority of situations, it takes some work to pinpoint the causes that lead to packaging failure. It begins with conducting a forensic analysis of the product, its packaging and its distribution environment to gain a better understanding of the product’s packaging needs and the problems you’ll need to solve to make sure the packaging meets those needs. This step involves careful examination of how the product fits in the current packaging, how the current packaging performs during storage and shipping and why it fails to adequately protect the product.

Determining the cause of the damage will require analysis of each stage of the product’s distribution cycle, from the moment it leaves the production line to the moment it reaches the consumer or end user. You need to understand how densely the product is packed when stored in distribution centers and during shipping. For e-commerce products, you must also consider the conditions the package faces during last-mile delivery.

Step 2: Design Engineering

Once you understand your root cause and the conditions a package faces throughout it’s distribution cycle, you can begin redesigning the packaging. Reviewing the 2D and 3D files used in the design of the original packaging provides a head start for the designer. This baseline packaging data provides a starting point from which they can improve upon previous packaging to eliminate its issues. Otherwise, the designer may need to reverse engineer specifications from the current design by breaking down sample packaging.

With this baseline in place, new designs can be compared against the previous packaging specs to confirm the new packaging will solve the issue. Design is an iterative process, and it may take several cycles through designing and the ensuing prototyping and testing steps before a design passes and the necessary stakeholders approve.

Step 3: Develop Prototypes

Once an approved design is in place, it’s time to create prototypes that can be used for testing. Generally, it is a best practice to have the current packaging provider create the new prototype design. When that is not an option, the best qualified supplier should be able to produce the prototype.

The prototype state is also a good opportunity to solicit proposals from several qualified vendors to compare prototype designs and material costs. This is an important time to consider different options and identify opportunities for cost savings.

Step 4: Fit/Check/Approve

With prototypes in hand, it is important to compare their physical characteristics against the design specifications for accuracy. After reviewing the fit, it’s time to check that the product fits within the packaging and evaluate protection characteristics to ensure they match the intent of the new packaging design.

Remember, this is an iterative process, and it may require a few passes through these design and testing cycles until a prototype passes and can be approved for lab testing.

Step 5: Package Design Testing

Package design testing can begin once an approved prototype emerges from the previous steps. Before the product and prototype packaging can undergo testing, it is important to reach a consensus on the testing criteria the lab will use. Discoveries made during root cause analysis can help guide pass fail criteria, as you will know when and how the previous packaging typically failed. 

In addition to establishing pass/fail criteria, you must use your understanding of the product’s distribution environment to determine which testing specifications are appropriate. Different tests may be appropriate for packaging that will travel less than load (LTL) – meaning less than a full truckload, via rail, via air, as a single parcel, etc. Once you know exactly what kind of testing the packaging requires and what the pass-fail criteria will be, the product and package should be sent to an accredited packaging lab.

Keep in mind, this step is part of the iterative portion of this process. The packaging may fail its testing and require modifications before going back to the lab for additional testing.

Step 6: Test Result Analysis

After the packaging design passes its tests, the key stakeholders need to review the package design, cost elements and the testing results before agreeing on a final design. This step is critical because several departments within your organization, often with different priorities, need to buy into changes from the previous packaging. A cost benefit analysis is an important part of this stage because it is important to demonstrate not only that the new packaging addresses the damage issues of the previous packaging, but also to show the cost advantages and disadvantages of the new package design.

In many cases, experienced packaging professionals will be able to find opportunities for bottom-line cost savings on packaging materials and you will be able to demonstrate cost benefits that extend beyond eliminating the costs of damaged product.

Step 7: Design Approval

Armed with successful test results and a cost benefit analysis, your organization’s decision makers will be well positioned to approve the new packaging design. It is important to document all approvals as proof that various groups within the organization reviewed and signed off. If future problems arise with the new packaging, this documentation not only creates a record of who signed off on the design, but also helps determine who should be involved if the packaging needs to undergo additional revisions.

Step 8: Documentation

Because the process can be iterative, it is important to revisit design documents to confirm they include all modifications made to the packaging since the original design drawings were approved. It is also important to document process steps so that the product will be packaged correctly every time, even across different packaging locations and personnel groups. These specifications are a great way to keep a record of all packaging components, their relationship to the overall packaging schematic and any labor required to successfully package the product.

While the individual steps of the packaging damage remediation process are fairly straightforward, all the small, individual decisions made along the way can make this a complicated task. An experienced packaging professional can ensure all those small decisions remain organized and add up positive changes that not only improve quality, but also take advantage of opportunities for cost savings.

Done well, this process can virtually eliminate the costs of damaged product, return logistics, product rework and potential damage to brand reputation, and careful review can also reveal opportunities to produce better packaging at lower costs.

If you’re experiencing quality issues with your packaging and would like to identify a solution that remediates those problem and lowers costs, get in touch. We have experts in packaging damage remediation and cost savings that help you identify and implement long-term solutions to your packaging challenges.

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Cost Savings Through Packaging SKU Rationalization

Many brands are already familiar with SKU rationalization as a business tool, but may not know they can use a similar process to find cost savings in the packaging operation. The familiar process generally involves a merchant evaluating a product’s profitability to determine if they should keep it on shelves. Generating cost savings through Packaging SKU rationalization is a bit different. It’s a process of reducing the number of packaging SKUs by evaluating the dimensions and other characteristics of a finished package.

Packaging SKU rationalization can drive cost savings opportunities in a few different ways.

  • It may allow a brand to consolidate its packaging material suppliers and purchase fewer structures and sizes.
  • It may provide an opportunity to reduce the amount of packaging material inventory it needs to keep on hand. Reducing the number of packaging SKUs helps a brand to better utilize its warehouse space.
  • It also enables a brand to optimize asset utilization across manufacturing and packaging facilities.

Read the Packaging Digest article here to learn about the steps of conducting a successful SKU rationalization.