Transport Packaging and COMPASS LCA

We are all familiar with packaging because it passes through our lives in various forms. Yet, not everyone is aware of the types of packaging that work in the background to bring the huge assortment of products including fresh and packaged food, cosmetics, detergent, medicine, car parts, clothing, shoes, sporting goods, lawn mowers and more. These are secondary and tertiary packages which don’t have fancy fonts, colors, imagery or shape to catch you eye.

In fact, many of them are plain brown corrugated boxes that make up the bulk for secondary packages and they are recovered at about 91%. This recovered fiber is reused to make many types of paper products including new corrugated boxes. On the tertiary packaging front, wood plays a prominent role in the form of pallets and crates. Pallets are the workhorses of industrial packaging and come in a large variety of configurations to accommodate the various industrial specifications.

Optimizing the Packaging System

E-commerce has made the brown corrugated box ubiquitous in developed countries, and hence people understand their role in product delivery. Tertiary packages, sometimes called transport packaging, play a relatively low public profile role in comparison to the flashier on the shelf primary packages. Secondary and tertiary packages play the supporting role to the charismatic primary packages, yet without the supporting cast, the lead role would scarcely be very effective. 

Companies compete on the shelf using their primary packages as the front line of attention getting in the shop. They use messaging, colors, and design to grab the consumer’s attention. Today, environmentally informed consumers want information about recyclability and the responsible use of materials in their favorite brands. Companies try very hard to meet these demands and attempt to optimize the shelf ready packages. But, they also need to focus on the system that delivers the product to the shelf. This means designers have to look at every packaging component that is needed to safely deliver the product. How does one evaluate the environmental performance of the whole system?

The packaging design process, as with other design exercises, starts with a need and moves to ideation. Life cycle assessment (LCA) is an ideal tool to allow exploration of different concepts to fulfill the identified need, and select the choice that best fits the sustainability priorities of the company and the brand. Through the process, one can quantify environmental impacts for impact categories such as greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, fossil fuel consumption, water consumption, human health, aquatic toxicity and others. Having this kind of information during the early design steps expands the ability of design professionals to include environmental impacts of a package design into the decision-making process along with the more traditional considerations like cost, performance, aesthetic and regulatory parameters. The result is a whole-system perspective that can produce packages that are optimized for a specific set of criteria to be more sustainable.

Trayak’s COMPASS is a streamlined LCA software specifically tailored for packaging design evaluation. It is an effective tool to help make informed design decisions that are aligned with the company’s greater sustainability goals. Leading brands, logistics companies, consultancies, and academic institutions all use COMPASS to build better packaging for today’s marketplace, and position their packaging portfolios for their sustainability priorities.

With an increased emphasis on environmental performance and reporting sustainability metrics with supply chain partners and public disclosure companies need a means to document design changes in terms of life cycle impacts. On this path, companies will need a simple way to calculate the impacts associated with their packages for value chain disclosure, and COMPASS can help.

With this expanded model, one can compare primary packaging alternatives starting at the concept stage, include the secondary containment options, factor in tertiary packaging components such as pallets, slip sheets, edge cushion, wraps and straps, and account for all intermediate transportation legs needed to move the finished product to a retail chain. Detailed information such as this can enhance the ability of businesses to incorporate sustainability parameters effectively into operations and incrementally move the overall SOP towards a new norm—one that can lead to an enhanced materials management and long term brand equity.

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