Michelle Tijssen was only meant to work at Vetipak for two months, over the summer of 2014. In the end, she was there for more than four years...
Navigating the ‘jungle of sustainability’- Part 5: Rens van de Rakt, Packaging Technologist at Vetipak
Manufacturers, packaging companies, retailers, governments and consumers... we all struggle to meet the challenges of sustainability. Things need to improve – that much is clear. But how? In the fifth part of this series, we talk to Rens van de Rakt, our in-house packaging technologist. He believes it’s essential for customers to involve their packaging manufacturers at the earliest possible stage in order to make a sustainable difference at all levels of the supply chain.
In the first blog of this series, we spoke to Chris Bruijnes, director of the Kennisinstituut Duurzaam Verpakken/KIDV (Research Institute for Sustainable Packaging). He introduced us to the Five Perspectives Model and the battle of the materials.
In the second blog, Mark van der Burgt, Vetipak’s Chief Commercial Officer, acknowledged the Five Perspectives Model, but also introduced a term that many in our market will recognize: the jungle of sustainability.
In the third part, Erik Bunge, CEO of Smurfit Kappa Benelux, stressed that we shouldn’t make this a battle between paper and plastic, but rather one of being at the right side of history together.
And in the fourth part of the series, we interviewed Fabrizio Gerosa, sales director of the Italian-based company Gerosa Cellografica Spa (corporate headquarters of Gerosa Group), one of Europe’s leading flexible converters. He feels the market should always combine a drive for innovation with a pragmatic approach.
“It's pointless starting
a war between two materials”
Rens van de Rakt, Packaging Technologist at Vetipak
Entire Supply Chain
If there’s anyone who knows all about a pragmatic approach, it’s Rens van de Rakt. As a packaging technologist at Vetipak, he witnesses every day that such an approach can make all the difference. He also reminds us of the pointlessness of starting a war between two materials, but advises us rather to look at the supply chain as a whole, as sustainability improvements can be made at all levels of the supply chain – often involving highly practical solutions.
The packaging technologist does state the importance of making up your mind at the start of the product development process, as that’s where it will have the biggest impact. By way of illustration, he cites five examples from the supply chain that he encounters on a regular basis in his job at Vetipak.
“Make up your mind at the start
of the product development process”
1. Where in the store is the product sold?
“I know that some of the snack bags that we supply with euro holes are sold lying flat in supermarket aisles – at least, that’s the case for 90 percent of those bags. So that means we really only add those euro holes for 10 percent of all bags. We tend to think that’s more efficient from a handling perspective. But from a sustainability point of view, we could have saved a whopping 15 millimeters of material, per product, multiplied by millions. Although I understand there are multiple factors at play here, I do think it’s a missed opportunity as far as sustainability is concerned. So you should always find out where in the store the product is going to be sold, and adapt your packaging as needed.”
2. How will the packaged product be transported?
“If we’re involved in developing the packaging at an early stage, we prefer to use reverse engineering. You see, it’s all too common for the outer carton to be the wrong size to fit onto a pallet, which means you need more pallets and more transport activity, and therefore increase carbon emissions. For a premium brand in the confectionery industry, we reduced the case count from 20 to 16, which meant we increased the number of boxes we could fit onto a pallet by 20 percent. That also means: 20 percent less transport and 20 percent lower carbon emissions. I would recommend that we solve the issue through reverse engineering. That way, you can spot these types of sustainability opportunities in time, and you can at least consider adjusting the size of the packaging. I would also advise them to use recyclable boxes, of course.”
3. In how many different colors do you need to print?
“We’re often asked to print items in eight colors, when in fact I can demonstrate that CMYK – that is, four colors – produces the same result. It’s usually the marketing department that makes that decision, and they tend to go for the best result, which I understand perfectly. But a lot of the time, we can achieve that same result using just four colors. It requires fewer switches, which increases productivity, while also being more sustainable because you don’t need as many detergents and solvents. In other words: there’s less waste.”
4. What size should the packaging be?
“This may seem obvious, but we’re pleased to see a growing number of manufacturers reducing the size of their packaging units, strictly for environmental reasons. For example, we recently produced new packaging for an existing product for one of Europe’s largest chocolate producers. By analyzing the fill rate, we were able to reduce the material required for this standing pouch by no less than 30 percent.”
5. Short term or long term?
“Sometimes you think a certain material is the most sustainable option, only to find out, after looking at the long-term picture, that there’s a better alternative available. For a large order we received some time ago, we investigated the use of paper foam versus RPET with just a hint of virgin material. As my colleague Mark stated in a previous part of this series: on the face of it, paper foam seems like the most sustainable of the two options, as it’s fully biodegradable. But when we did a lifecycle analysis, we learned that whether you use paper foam or RPET makes very little difference in the long term. The client then decided to go for the material that was the most sustainable in appearance, which, of course, is also a key factor when it comes to building a more sustainable society.”
"Be sure to involve us at
an early stage of the process"
Rens states that, even though these are just five examples, they do show that there are many difference aspects to the sustainability challenge and that it often requires combined knowledge – the expertise of several different professionals – to come up with the most sustainable comprehensive solution. “And that kind of multidisciplinary expertise is something we can definitely offer, especially when working in partnership with our specialized suppliers. However, be sure to involve us at an early stage of the process, as that’s when we can make the biggest difference.”
This blog is part of our Navigating the ‘jungle of sustainability’-series. Please read the other blogs:
Part 1 with Chris Bruijnes, managing director of the Kennisinstituut Duurzaam Verpakken (Research Institute for Sustainable Packaging)
Part 2 with Mark van der Burgt, CCO of Vetipak
Part 3 with Erik Bunge, CEO of Smurfit Kappa Benelux
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