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Reduce Packaging Use

Strategies to help you reduce environmental impact (and cost) through packaging reduction

Whilst most people tend to focus on the fact that if you reduce packaging use (particularly in industrial and manufacturing sectors) you are helping the environment, another pertinent point often gets overlooked.


Using less packaging and materials reduces your business’ costs.


When framed like this, it is actually surprising that consumer pressure was required for some of the largest packaging users to begin exploring their options for packaging reduction.

Reduce packaging use

And whilst there are obviously factors that may have inhibited this drive towards reducing materials – such as consumer convenience, transit protection, marketing considerations and so on – it can actually provide your business with a significant competitive advantage.


Please continue reading below for the ways in which you can reduce packaging use (and therefore waste), how to implement this into your business, and the tangible benefits you can expect to realise.

Quick Reference / Table of Contents

12 tips to reduce packaging waste

So without further ado, here are 12 options and ideas that you can use to reduce packaging – and therefore waste – at your business.


  • Invest in custom size packaging to reduce material use
  • Use tailored packaging to improve space efficiency in transit (reducing C02)
  • Minimise void fill and secondary packaging materials
  • Utilise packaging design that eliminates or reduces use of tapes / wraps etc.
  • Consider integrated fittings to minimise material use
  • Increase part density in transit (e.g. totes with dividers) to further minimise material use
  • Substitute materials to reduce volume / weight (light-weighting)
  • Eliminate unnecessary packaging such as outer sleeves
  • Buy in bulk yourself to reduce the packaging coming in to your business
  • Analyse your packaging to use optimum amount of protective cushioning (e.g. foam)
  • Find a dual use for your packaging (e.g. ecommerce returns)
  • Train staff to be aware of packaging costs (economic / environmental)

What actually counts as packaging?

Whist it is obviously wise to reduce material usage and waste throughout your business, the focus of this article is specifically on packaging.


However, there are many common misconceptions about what counts as packaging.


For most industrial, manufacturing and even retail companies, packaging will come in the form of corrugated boxes, plastic bags and wraps, films, protective foams and void fill.


However, it can also refer to items such as plastic handling totes, dividers, warehouse picking bins or any item that contains and / or consolidates products or parts at any stage of the manufacturing or distribution supply chain.

What counts as packaging?

What is often overlooked is that any item integrated into the packaging that is intended to be used and thrown away with it, is still considered packaging (a mascara brush being an oft cited example).


Conversely, an item is not considered packaging if it is part of a product and necessary to preserve, contain or support the product throughout its lifespan.


A teabag, or plant pot, therefore are not strictly deemed to be packaging. Nor are disposable items (that don’t fulfil a packaging function) such as plastic cutlery or drinks stirrers sold at the point of sale.


The original point still stands however – consumers are likely to be annoyed by wasteful and excessive packaging, and believe they are paying for it.


Regardless of whether you are passing the cost on, it will also be having an impact on your bottom line, and potentially contributing to unnecessary material usage.

What areas should you focus on?

So how do you go about reducing your packaging? What can you do to minimise material usage? How can you do this whilst ensuring that your packaging is fit for purpose?


Well, there are 3 main areas that you can give attention to.


First of these is the design of your packaging. By working alongside an experienced packaging designer (such as GWP Group), who possess knowledge of materials, structure and – crucially – your industry, you will likely discover a number of ways to reduce that amount of packaging / materials you use.

Packaging reduction

If you are simply using stock boxes sourced from a packaging merchant (as opposed to a designer / manufacturer) then the opportunity is even bigger.


Secondly, you can look at the materials themselves. This is again where an experienced design engineer is crucial, as they will be able to advise strategies and guidance on reducing material use whilst maintaining acceptable levels of performance during transit / handling.


Finally, you can look at the overall performance of your packaging. How efficient is it in transit. What is the part density in your supply chain packaging? Are your staff trained to select the most suitable carton when sending out orders?


All of this can add up to significant environmental and cost savings.

Packaging reduction through design

Working with an experienced, knowledgeable designer is the easiest and quickest way to achieve packaging reduction.


And something as simple as moving from a range of stock boxes to packaging that is tailored to your specific products can realise surprisingly large benefits.


Perhaps most obviously, a custom size box will always reduce material usage. This is because, using off the shelf sizes, you will always need to select the option that is just large enough to accommodate the product. This “next size up” approach means the box is always too big, and uses excess material.


This isn’t the only issue this causes however.

Packaging design

By shipping products in oversized boxes, you are also effectively paying to ship fresh air. This means it takes more vehicles to transport your items, adding to costs as well C02 pollution.


Another way that using custom designed boxes reduces material use is through reducing void fill packaging (such as foam pellets, air sacks etc.). These space fillers are another cost to your business and more packaging / material that can be easily removed.


Going beyond this, a good packaging designer can also create fittings and fixtures that are integrated into the outer transit carton.

Packaging inserts

This not only minimises the overall footprint and material usage of the packaging, but also does the job that void fill would have previously done (i.e. holding the product in place and cushioning from damage).


It is even possible to create boxes, such as those with crash lock bases that help to reduce the use of tapes and other closure material too.


And, finally, if you are using supply chain packaging such as totes, it is possible to analyse the density of parts in the container and re-engineer the outer and / or dunnage (e.g. dividers) to ensure efficiency of handling and transit.

Summary of ways to reduce packaging through design

  • Custom size packaging reduces material
  • Custom size packaging improves transit / storage efficiency
  • Custom size packaging reduces / eliminates void fill requirement
  • Packaging can be designed to minimises eradicate the requirement for tapes etc.
  • Integrated fittings and cradles can reduce overall footprint and therefore material
  • Packs can be created to improve part density during transit

Packaging reduction through material analysis

As detailed above, the actual design of your packaging can have a huge bearing on the amount of material used. This has knock on implications for your costs, transit efficiency and even storage requirements.


But there are other ways to reduce packaging use.


One of these which is becoming particularly popular is “light-weighting”. This is as the name suggests, using thinner, lighter or different grades of material to reduce overall weight and material use.


There is one major problem with this however. Transit damage.


If not carried out by a knowledgeable engineer or designer (and tested – theoretically or physically) it can lead to a sharp increase in transit damage as the pack no longer performs as well as it did previously.

Packaging material reduction

This is counterproductive in terms of your costs (as you need to ship replacements, and have unsellable stock returned to you) and in terms of the environment due to the additional delivery transit, the damaged items being sent to landfill etc.


The skill lies in selecting materials that are lighter, but still provide the levels of performance required.


Of course, it may also be possible to explore completely different materials. Moving from moulded plastic totes to Correx equivalents for example, or replacing polystyrene with recyclable foam inserts such as Stratocell.


A separate idea for reducing material use is to analyse your packaging and reduce any unnecessary elements. This could be a printed sleeve for example – is it possible to print directly onto the main carton? Are all of the dividers and inserts really required, or could they be simplified? Do you send multiple boxes in larger boxes that could be shrink wrapped on a pallet instead?

Packaging material analysis

In this scenario, a full packaging audit can often prove very insightful, revealing a wide range of cost and material inefficiencies.


A final point to consider is the packaging generated by your suppliers or others in the supply chain. Although you may feel you have little control over this, it may be possible to order in larger volumes. Bulk orders tend to have less packaging, as well as lower overall delivery costs.


Ultimately, reducing your material usage can have significant cost and environmental benefits for your business.

Summary of strategies to reduce packaging materials

  • Custom size / design packaging reduces material
  • Custom size packaging reduces / eliminates void fill requirement
  • Substitute materials (light weighting) without affecting performance
  • Eliminate unnecessary packaging (sleeves, boxes within boxes etc.)
  • Buy in bulk from suppliers where possible

Analysing performance to reduce packaging

The final area that you can focus on if looking to reduce packaging, is that of how well your existing packaging performs. Making your packaging work harder can actually reduce the amount that you use overall.


For example, in many applications the use of foam inserts in unavoidable (particularly for very high value or very fragile products). Effectively, foam is used where transit damage simply cannot occur.


However, what many foam converters mistakenly believe that adding more and foam to the case or packaging increases the levels of protection. This couldn’t be more untrue – with excess foam actually offering less protection and adding to costs as well.

Engineered packaging reduction

GWP Protective are one of the few companies that use little know analytical software that will calculate the exact level of foam required for specific drop heights and handling conditions. This means that not only do you have the best protection levels for your parts or products, but also will generally use the minimum material required and see cost benefits too.


A similar principal can also apply to dunnage used in line-side and supply chain containers. Saying that, the real challenge here is what is referred to as “part density”.


This means optimising handling containers and totes so that can carry the maximum amount of parts or components possible. Again, this can reduce material usage, prevents the shipping of fresh air (and the economic / environmental costs of doing so) and even makes production lines and handling more efficient.


On a more basic level, it may also be worth considering if your packaging can be used for more than one purpose.


This could be something as simple as enabling your ecommerce shippers to double up as the return packaging should the customer not be happy with their purchase (this is great for customer satisfaction too).

Staff training on packaging usage

Finally, staff training can also see a reduction in packaging use. Everyone laughs when Amazon or another ecommerce retailer sends a tiny product in a huge box, but this occurs because unengaged picking and packing staff simply send out the product in whatever packaging they have to hand.


Train your staff on the costs – both environmental and monetary – to your business of this approach, and this can at the very least ensure the correct packaging is used for the specific application.

Summary of Performance factors on packaging reduction

  • Use optimum amounts of material to achieve performance required (e.g. foam)
  • Aim for maximum parts density of totes / containers to minimise material and shipping costs
  • Consider dual use for packaging (e.g. ecommerce returns)
  • Train staff to select and use packaging inventory correctly

Advantages to your business of packaging reduction

So although the above sounds great, what does it actually mean for your business and operations?

Benefits of reducing packaging use

Here are a number of ways that packaging reduction can make a tangible impact on your business:


  • Reduces the cost of your packaging
  • Reduces storage requirement (less packaging / material volume)
  • Reduces transit costs (being more space efficient) and CO2 levels
  • Can aid productivity (e.g. reducing void fill / taping processes)
  • Can improve the perception and brand positioning of your company
  • Offers a key benefit (environmental responsibility) to specific markets / demographics
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Where do you start?

When undertaking a packaging reduction project, it can seem incredibly daunting.


How do you get the figures you need on your existing usage? Will your new packaging perform as expected? Will it still be compatible with your existing systems, warehousing and so on?


Where do you start?


This is where GWP come in. With over 25 years’ experience in successful packaging design, a team of dedicated, expert designers and support staff will be able to guide you through every step of the process.

Packaging manufacturer

This may entail a specific focus on the environmental drivers behind your decision, or could even take the form of a holistic overview of your entire packaging processes to drive cost and productivity efficiencies too. A full packaging audit is free and completely no obligation.


And if you do decide that your packaging isn’t up to scratch, GWP can not only design your new packaging but manufacture it ourselves to the highest standards at a modern conversion facility.


If you think that reducing packaging could improve your businesses environmental credentials, your ongoing costs, or indeed both, please get in touch with a member of our team today.

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