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Life Lessons

Beyond numeracy and language skills, my young children are exposed to a great number of subjects during their school day. One area they particularly enjoy learning about is the planet and how they can look after it.

As encouraging parents, my wife and I have made many of the green changes suggested by our four- and five-year-olds, not only as a means to encourage them to learn, but because being eco-friendly is important to us too.

However, there are times when a green idea just cannot fit into the environment you are in. At home, this can often lead to tears from our young daughter, who will be enraged that I will not be wearing a recycled yogurt pot rain hat to my next meeting, or more recently that she cannot keep her plaster cast, to reuse the next time she base jumps off something without a parachute.

In the packaging world, ‘green’ can often seem a very simple prospect. There are already a number of packaging options that are made from recycled materials, and there are also systems available that can be reused numerous times.

But fitting these solutions into a supply chain sustainability model should also be considered. What I mean is this: not only should we understand how the packaging works, we need to be very clear about how it will be used, which includes its life beyond the safe delivery of its payload.

I am often asked if the packaging I develop can be recycled or reused and the answer is yes to both. This answer is, however, followed by a very large BUT. What we then try to understand are the environmental capabilities of the client’s supply chain.

This is often not an area fully understood by a single person; the responsibility of ensuring supply chain sustainability is shared both internally and externally, and its success often revolves around strong collaboration.

When I consider my own area of thermal packaging design, this means that not only should we be careful which materials we use, we should also assess the system’s construction, usability and afterlife. This is true for all packages, whether they are designed for single or multi-use. Shape, size, weight and sheer number of parts can all make critical differences.

If packaging can be reused, can it be dismantled and reduced in size for return shipment? Is there an infrastructure in place to clean, inspect and repair what is returned? If packaging is single use, can the component parts be separated out to ensure it can be correctly recycled? Is there support for collection or sites at which it can be disposed once it reaches its final destination? Questions like these are key to ensuring the end package complements a sustainable strategy.

What I have found when starting packaging projects with clients is that environmental impact is a key consideration. But there are a vast variety of options available to ensure we are working in a sustainable way. Only by working in a partnership, with strong collaboration, can we ensure total supply chain sustainability. I am sure you will all agree that once that is achieved, we can all throw our yogurt pot rain hats into the air with a celebratory cheer.

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Richard Harrop is a qualified structural packaging design engineer, coming previously from the FMCG sector. He has been involved in the temperature-controlled packaging industry for over 10 years. During this time he has developed and implemented several successful temperature-controlled solutions for many of the world’s leading pharmaceutical and biotech corporations.
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Richard Harrop
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