September 18, 2019

Cost efficient and sustainable alternatives to polystyrene packaging


Finding the intersection between sustainability and economic advantages.

Cost efficient and sustainable alternatives to polystyrene packaging – The sustainability movement has, in recent years, dramatically affected the landscape of the packaging world, leaving the industry at a crossroads. The environmental revolution has already laid to waste plastic grocery bags and single-use straws. EPS foam is trending as the next material to be left in the dust, replaced by new technologies and more sustainable solutions.

More and more industry leaders, including IKEA, Target, HP and McDonald’s are switching to sustainable alternatives and reinventing their packaging solutions. Companies are positioning themselves for the future by replacing polystyrene (EPS) foam, commonly known as Styrofoam™, with improved materials both in their products and in their product packaging.

Sustainability efforts are a driving force for change and they have led to the emergence of better, more sustainable, and more cost efficient alternatives. These new solutions achieve cost advantages over polystyrene through support from consumers looking for eco-friendly solutions, reductions in material usage through optimized designs, and less damage during shipping due to better product protection.


Consumer support for sustainable changes

Consumers are more ideologically charged and opinionated about their preferred brands than ever before. Armed with a competitive market and a wealth of information, customers commonly select businesses based on their environmental impact, including the sustainability of their packaging.

According to the Green Business Bureau, “78% of customers between 18-72 felt more positive about a product whose packaging was made up of recycled items.” Further, Business News Daily reports that 83% of consumers believe it is “important or extremely important” for businesses to improve the sustainability of their products.

This creates a significant opportunity for companies to capture valuable consumer loyalty. Paul Magel, President, Business Operations of Computer Generated Solutions (CGS) explains, “To create a loyal customer base, brands must be transparent about the materials and development behind their products.”

It’s nothing new, in fact many companies already reap the rewards from their eco-friendly campaigns. These forward-thinking businesses are planning for the future, leaving behind unsustainable materials like polystyrene and improving the environmental impact of their packaging designs.


Switching to a sustainable package design is worth it

For ecommerce retailers selling fragile items like printers, TV’s, and computers, traditional packaging methodologies using polystyrene fail to withstand today’s transit requirements. Material choice and amount used has significant cost benefits that mean a difference of millions of dollars to one retailer. Here’s why:

Less is always more. This applies to packaging as well. When distributors need to over pack products, utilizing an additional corrugated carton and more packaging to fill voids — you are at risk for two things.

  1. The cost of your packaging just increased, in addition to the volumetric carton, meaning it’s going to cost more when shipping your package out to your consumers.
  2. Consumer experience. Your consumers are now left with all of this packaging waste, forced to find a way to discard it. One of our methodologies at EPE is to reduce costs by utilizing the exact amount of cushioning material required to protect your products in transit with 100% recyclable and sustainable materials. No additional over packing or packaging waste.

Material selection and how it relates to freight savings. Freight shipping and the transit process represent a significant percentage of overall packaging costs. We are now talking about the costs of shipping the actual packaging material to your manufacturing locations. One of the negative impacts of EPS is the volumetric size of the material.

In contrast, our EP3 packaging solution is designed to collapse and lay flat during shipping. Optimizing your container or truck with packaging that can lay flat during shipping represents the difference between 300 parts per transit vs 1,000 parts per transit. And with freight costs, every efficiency gained along the transit process corresponds to space saved on pallets and in warehouses.


Improved product protection with sustainable solutions

It’s obvious that shipping damage hurts a company’s bottom line. In the ecommerce industry, product breakage during transit accounts for $6 billion a year in the United States alone. And the cost of a damaged product adds up to 17 times more than the original cost to ship, according to the American Institute for Packaging and the Environment.

Current packaging methods, using EPS material, is a significant factor behind these numbers. Polystyrene can only absorb one impact before it’s rendered useless, due to its natural properties. So as packages navigate long transit shipments, involving between 5 and 20 different touch points, single-impact cushioning greatly increase the risk of products obtaining damage.

Eco-friendly packaging, like our EP3 solution, achieve much higher performance through our design process and material choices. EP3 uses 100% recyclable materials in all our design solutions. By utilizing either corrugated or film as the connective tissue and with an adhesive-free manufacturing process, EP3 designs are able to achieve 100% curbside recyclability. By locating the exact bearing area on a product, we can provide the exact cushioning materials for maximum product protection.  We have helped businesses reduce ecommerce damage rates from 20% down to 1%.


Don’t overlook reusability

The benefits of switching from polystyrene include the opportunity for environmentally sound processes as well. EPS foam is one of the most difficult materials to recover and is not curbside recyclable, which makes it extremely arduous to recover once packages reach their end users. As a result, an alarmingly high percentage of EPS finds its way into our landfills and oceans.

In contrast, polyethylene and polypropylene are alternative material choices that not only provide for better product protection, but enable the development of a closed loop ecosystems, where companies collect and reuse packaging materials. By understanding different material characteristics, our engineers can design for reuse ultimately lowering your carbon footprint for every package.


The choice is easy

Cost efficient and sustainable alternatives to polystyrene packaging is the easy choice. Some businesses still view eco-friendly packaging as being too expensive and unrealistic alternatives to the status quo. But as more and more companies make the switch to sustainable solutions, they learn that there is no need to compromise on packaging costs or performance standards. EPE offers innovative solutions at the lowest possible cost and least environmental impact.

Don’t get left behind. Prepare for the future. Make the switch today.

Talk to one of our packaging experts about how EPE can help you improve cost efficiencies and lower the environmental impact of your packaging.