Shipping the green way

Today, almost all businesses are taking a serious look at environmental conservation, and the crating and shipping industry is no different. Some firms in the logistics industry are making an impact on the environment through corporate policies, buying behavior, major operational changes and new materials and technologies.

The packaging and transportation industry has traditionally not been a leader in eco-friendly operations, so there is opportunity for radical improvement. Reusable packaging and crating materials are a growing trend. New crates can be engineered for reuse in multiple transits, and crating companies can repair packing crates rather than throwing damaged materials that take years to decompose into landfills. These practices extend the lifecycle of crates and reduce the demand for new lumber.

Recycling and Re-use

Crating companies are recycling wood, corrugated cardboard and other packaging materials that might otherwise be discarded. Crates can be engineered specifically to withstand the rigors of multiple trips thereby minimizing the need for new wood. Specs for such crates include those with hinges and link locks that allow multiple entries into the crate without tearing it apart with a crowbar.

Another solution applies to trade show booth crates which can be built to be more rigid and contain an interior structural design that is specific to the products they will contain. The process makes the crates more expensive at the outset, but it ultimately saves the cost of having to buy multiple crates. In addition, crates can be refurbished and repaired at little or no cost.

Craters & Freighters, based in Golden, is heavily involved in research and development of eco-friendly packaging and shipping methods. An estimated 25 percent of Craters & Freighters’ customers are requesting eco-friendly packaging and/or shipping, especially those in the technology field, and this number is increasing steadily.

Materials Matter

Some of the biggest changes to make packing materials more eco-friendly include the replacement of petroleum-based products such as polyethylene, Styrofoam, and foam-in-place packaging that are extremely slow to degrade with materials that are more biodegradable.

Specialty logistics companies are accustomed to finding creative, custom solutions to their customers’ shipping challenges and are applying this creativity to their eco-friendly operations. Craters & Freighters has implemented a number of solutions, including using recycled air bags in place of petroleum-based packaging materials if the goods are not weight sensitive.

 Packing peanuts made from potato starch serve as a replacement for Styrofoam packing peanuts in many situations, and interpack materials made from recycled corrugated or crumpled kraft paper are other biodegradable options that are used in place of bubble wrap or Expanded Polystyrene foam. Not only is kraft paper, crimped paper, recycled shredded cardboard and plastic pallets more biodegradable, each can be recycled a number of times depending on their usage. Plastic pallets are not so biodegradable but they can be reused more often than wood pallets.

Corru-fill is another example of a recycled packaging material. It’s made from recycled corrugated boxes. Corru-fill doesn’t settle to the bottom of the shipping container like traditional foam peanuts and thus the product offers extra protection during shipping. The drawback to using Corru-fill is that it is heavier and about 50 percent more expensive than foam peanuts. But these are the types of tradeoffs that companies are considering in an effort to support a greener supply chain.

The need for packaging materials can also be reduced by the efficiencies of crate and container designs. Containers need to be designed so that as much product can be shipped within the container as possible without compromising the structure, and, in turn jeopardizing the protection of the goods. If this type of consolidated packing is done correctly, it reduces the need for more wood and excessive cushioning materials.

Trains, Planes and Cargo Vessels

Ground and ocean cargo is less expensive than air cargo. Bulk shipping is cheaper than individual parcel delivery. By strategically bulk-shipping large-quantity inventories to warehouse facilities close to the end-buyer, companies can significantly reduce many overhead expenses. Eliminating a large centralized warehousing facility and outsourcing many of the warehouse functions can also save the expenses such as rent, staffing, insurance, and utilities as well as drastically reduce the carbon footprint.

Intermodal transportation solutions can drastically reduce the carbon footprint currently produced by long-haul trucking. A train car can transport a ton of freight over 400 miles on one gallon of gas and is more efficient than a hybrid car. Consideration should be given to transportation companies that utilize alternative fuels such as bio diesels, flex fuels and ethanol.

Companies must continuously seek efficiencies regarding waste management, recycling and energy consumption. The benefits include cost savings, process efficiency and “greening” up the industry. Industry leaders must make it a priority to look at new, green products and services to keep up with customer expectations – and because it’s the right thing to do.

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