Packing for the Future
Have you seen the video of an innovative way to pack a suit in a rolled-up cardboard tube (https:// rollor.com/) that’s been circling among the logistics crowd on LinkedIn? I must admit, new ideas on how to package anything more efficiently (and better yet, sustainably) is like catnip to me, a self-proclaimed tree-hugging logistics nerd. In this particular video, the company offers a seemingly simple but sturdy method to ship a suit jacket wrinkle-free! Unfortunately, while I am impressed with the rolled-up cardboard tube and it is more environmentally friendly than plastic and Styrofoam packages, it likely will still end up in a landfill or incinerator somewhere.
The pandemic expanded the e-commerce and food delivery markets in unprecedented ways. Many consumers will likely continue to be loyal e-commerce shoppers even after the pandemic. This may be good news to e-marketplaces and logistics companies that support e-commerce, but mountains of packaging materials that go with every shipment are wreaking havoc on our planet.
The Singapore National Environment Agency calculated that in 2020, 1.14 million tons of paper and cardboard waste was generated (Singapore population of 5.45 million). This represented a 13% increase over 2019, as a result of home deliveries. Unfortunately, only 38% of this paper and cardboard waste is recycled. For plastic waste, the level of recycling is even worse at only 4%!
In a fully functioning circular economy, all packaging wastes should be recycled or re-used. To achieve this, more investments in recycling processing systems are needed, a fact the Singapore government is aware of and has made plans for this. But in the meantime, there is a pressing need to make and use packaging that can be recycled to begin with.
I recently watched a panel discussion on “Circular Economy” featuring speakers representing the private and public sectors in Singapore, as well as experts from high-recycling countries. A concept really hit home for me: the mandate that companies have “extended producer responsibility” for the products they manufacture and the packaging they use. By making manufacturers responsible for the full life cycle of their products, they might be motivated to consider more sustainable material options in their manufacturing.
Another big takeaway from the discussion was that, the most successful way to increase the recovery of packaging and products is by incentivizing consumers to do some of the work – example, a deposit return principle. This encourages consumers to return packaging to designated collection points, in return of their deposits. It been proven as the best means for companies to retrieve their packaging in one place so they can more systematically collect and process them for reuse.
This will make for opportunities in our sector. Not only will there be the initial delivery, but services to retrieve the products and the packaging will be a value-added offer. I see two ways logistics service providers (LSP) could capitalize on a circular economy:
1. LSPs can partner with packaging vendors that use sustainable materials and offer both packaging and logistics services to their clients.
2. LSPs can design and propose a “package recovery” product for their clients. This could be done by the LSP itself or outsourced to a trusted vendor whose service can then be folded into the package recovery program.
Beyond trucks, ships and all other hardware, logistics can be seen as a solutions services industry. As cities and communities move toward the circular economic model – it is critical for our industry to consider how we can be part of it to contribute and to benefit from it.