The consumer demand for less packaging seems to be accelerating faster than the continued growth within the e-commerce market. Receiving oversized packages for smaller items is creating customer frustration, resulting in reduced customer satisfaction scores and industry-wide recognition that this is a problem to solve. It’s now an expectation that packaging should be the right size for its content and easily recyclable, whilst the products enclosed must remain in ‘as new’ condition and all this with minimum impact on the environment.

Alongside this increased sensitivity coming from consumers, the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme came into force, further elevating industry-wide packaging requirement pressures. The EPR scheme is designed to encourage packaging producers to reduce the amount of packaging they place into the market and improve the recyclability of their packaging. In return, contributing towards less waste in the natural environment. Through the scheme, all obligated producers of packaging are required to collect and report data on the amount and type of packaging that they place into the market in England, with the first reports submitted on 1 October 2023. Producers will be required to pay for the collection and disposal of household packaging they supply when it becomes waste.

Despite the recent deadline for submission, a survey earlier this year, revealed that over half of UK businesses had yet to make plans. And a further three out of five UK businesses do not collect data on packaging waste – let alone report on it . So, how can producers make a change to reduce the use of packaging?

Luckily there are lots of ways to increase recyclability and minimise waste through packaging processes, and a great place to start is void fill. ‘Less is more’ has always been the key when it comes to void fill. If consumers are frustrated by disproportionate outer packaging, they tend to get really upset about filling the remaining surplus interior space with void fill products. Especially so since the introduction of the EPR. Whilst organisations should focus on using the correct size box in the first place and, therefore less void fill, there are many void fill options that will help with this whilst still ensuring damage-free delivery.

Traditional forms of cushioning, wrapping, and filling packaging have been around for a long time, but have normally used products like polystyrene foam peanuts and plastic bubble wrap, both of which are incredibly hard to recycle. Because of these issues (and with the further impetus of the EPR) producers are aware of the need to move from these options wherever possible, no matter what protection they offer to the product. After all, the product’s final destination is landfill and these materials take centuries to degrade.

So what are the other options?

One of the most popular is air pillows, which use less plastic material and cover a large surface area, making this product one of the most sustainable void fill alternatives. Consisting of 99% air and only 1% film, paired with the use of biodegradable plastic and paper-based material, air pillows are a popular choice for those looking to reduce waste and lower carbon emissions caused by freight transport. Less weight means less carbon fuel consumption. Air pillows provide great protection for the product too. Then, because the air pillows are only inflated on use, the storage required for the raw material is much less than other options.

Another option to be considered is shredded cardboard. By using a cardboard shredder, cardboard waste can be reused as void fill, not only eradicating the expense of purchasing void fill materials but also the expense of waste disposal.

One of the world’s largest e-commerce companies recently made the move away from single-use air pillows to recyclable paper material for product protection, in an attempt to eliminate unnecessary packaging and reduce waste.

A great option is Kraft Paper, which is distinguished by its superior strength compared to other paper alternatives, while also being fully recyclable. The consumer can also easily dispose of this packaging, avoiding the issue of increased household waste.

Driving sustainable solutions is at the heart of our work at Southgate, and we’ll be on hand to support our customers in understanding how the changing legislation can impact them, and what they can do to meet their obligations, whilst harnessing the important benefits of packaging product changes in the context of the whole sustainability landscape.

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