February 6, 2017

EPE is reversing the trend of one way packaging flow into the US


Around the world with EPE…China.


Many of our EPE colleagues are still celebrating CNY and we wanted to talk about the seemingly one- way flow of Chinese products and thus Chinese packaging into the United States and how EPE has started to reverse this trend, at least as far as the packaging is concerned.


China packages and ships millions of products into the US every day. The products we keep and use, but the packaging primarily ends up in landfills. Yes, we are aware that a small percentage of China packaging consists of recyclable materials such as corrugated cartons and plastic trays. And yes, we are aware that the US corrugated recycling stream is fairly efficient due to the business model that shows collecting and recycling corrugated makes financial sense. But what most people are not aware of is that the majority of the interior packaging that we get from China, such as EPS end caps and plastic trays, end up in our landfills. Again, I know a small percentage of plastics do find their way into the US-based recycle stream, but we are talking sub 1% here, so we know where the other 99% ends up right?


To boil it down, we end up with a lot of China’s packaging waste, and most of it stays in the US forever, and in our US soil…great.


Ok, we are done presenting the grim environmental picture and facts, and we are done just being angry about it – we want change. To that point, what is EPE doing to address the issue? Plenty.


We are collecting the plastic trays ourselves and sending them back to China for reuse. Seems like a monumental task? It is, but we have proven that this business model works, and that alone is the biggest hurdle. I’ve noticed that everyone is concerned about environmental packaging until it costs one penny more than non-recyclable material, and unless we can make the business case work, environmental awareness and compliance is always going to lose that argument. So how do we make the business case work?


Reuse. Reuse. Reuse.


EPE is collecting used packaging material in terms of trays and molded PE and PP foams from our customers and cost effectively transiting the used packaging back to China to be reused again with new products. Wow, that’s a first! How does that make financial sense? In simple terms, designing packaging that allows for multiple use transit cycles, that is nestable, and cost-efficient to transit is the key to being able to capitalize on the opportunity. Favorable ocean transit costs from the US to China (a lot of empty containers go back to China with our trade imbalance, it’s about time we fill them up with something) is the other key to being able to make the reuse economics work. When you start thinking about packaging eco systems, nothing beats being able to reuse packaging all the way back to the original source – nothing.


EPE has solved this challenge at albeit a small scale compared to the daily deluge of China imported products and packaging. It’s a start, and we plan on continuing to find cost effective solutions that stops burying China packaging in our landfills.   Instead, we send it back to China for another use, and in doing so, saving our planet one package at a time.