Packaging Issues- from a wholesale supplier’s perspective
Directors Richard & Lesley recently returned from the annual Packaging Innovations conference in London. This is an opportunity for many of the countries leading and up & coming manufacturers to showcase their packaging products to potential companies and clients. The big topic this year seemed to be eco-conscious packaging.
This inspired us to write an article informing our customers of some of the big issues we face as a wholesale supplier when it comes to packaging; how to meet the expectations of our customers as opposed to what is safe, affordable and practical in the current market.
What is the reality of dealing with large volumes of raw materials from your growers/suppliers?
A good example of this is how we receive our essential oils: they often arrive from suppliers in 25kg plastic jerry’s. A common misconception here is that the oil has then been ‘tainted’ in some way because it has already spent a considerable part of its lifetime stored in plastic. The fact about the storage and transportation of essential oils is that, when shipping them in bulk, it is common to package them in plastic, so the quality of the oil received & sent out to our customers, whether packed down into plastic, aluminium or glass, is the same.
It is true that some essential oils, often the more volatile such as tea tree and some citrus oils, can cause some mis-shaping of a thinner-walled plastic bottle (HDPE plastic commonly) and in those cases we’d simply suggest decanting the oil into a glass or aluminium bottle, but generally the reason we choose to default to plastic packaging for essential oils is because it is an acceptable material (proven by our own suppliers) and it is far more durable, so it avoids breakages in transit, which otherwise would be a major problem.
What plastic alternatives have been put in place when sending out customer orders?
As new and improved materials and machinery has become available, we have managed to remove almost all plastics from our void-fill and protective packaging.
Plastic pillows have been replaced by densely compacted and corrugated brown paper which can be formed into all kinds of shapes and effectively cushions package contents. Bubble wrap has been replaced by an innovative new paper lattice that self-clings to itself when wrapped around bottles and other fragile containers.
Our printed plastic packing tape has been replaced with paper self-adhesive packing tape and our practice of double-bagging some products to prevent them bursting if heavily handled has changed to having the outer bag now made of a heavy grade paper.
What are the packaging concerns relating to sending customer orders out?
Our concerns are always to ensure that goods arrive with our customers in fine condition. Shipping goods via parcel carriers present some challenges in that they can be very heavily handled, but once they leave our warehouse this is unfortunately out of our control, so our experienced staff ensure parcels are securely wrapped to the best of their ability.
As well as the environmental impact that has to concern us, any limitations in removing plastics from our protective packaging all together have to be balanced with the need to ensure damage-in-transit is minimised.
What limitations are there as a wholesale supplier when it comes to packaging?
Aside of ensuring that the goods get to the customer in fine condition, our limitations are mainly around the actual packaging of finished products that we sell wholesale or ingredients that we supply, as generally, many of these still have to be packed in plastic bottles and jars.
There is a growing demand for products to be packaged in plastic-free containers, but the technology around polymers used to make most plastic bottles and jars is still not sufficiently developed to provide viable alternatives to currently available PET and HDPE polymers. So, although widely recyclable, these are not otherwise environmentally friendly. There are a few sugar-cane derived polymers available, but we are waiting for more options to become available that are cost effective with smaller MOQ’s.
There definitely seems to be a desire to see products in biodegradable containers, although the practicalities behind this may prove difficult. Contents of a bottle or jar may sit on a shelf for many months if not years in some cases. As a finished product goes through its life cycle, most cosmetic products contain water and water is a catalyst for biodegradability, meaning the containers cannot viably be biodegradable themselves.
We try to keep up with the latest packaging developments and as technology allows, we will look to move towards more eco-friendly polymers as well as biodegradable packaging where appropriate. Glass is, of course, almost limitlessly recyclable, although the fragile nature of glass makes it a poor choice for many packaging requirements, so in most cases we cannot simply choose to move to glass bottles and jars, as the material is simply not suitable.
Where possible in our industry and with the ingredients we deal with on a daily basis, we are striving to evolve with technology advances that are available to us here in the UK.
We have received some fantastic comments from some of our customers saying how happy they were opening their orders to see little or no plastic within the box- this is great news to us and something we have worked very hard on achieving, so it’s lovely to see that this is being acknowledged.
For more information on our packaging options for order deliveries click here.