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Minimizing waste and striving toward zero waste to landfill has been a priority for the U.S. automotive industry for decades. As we look to the next generation of industry sustainability ambitions, we have seen that many of the leading automotive manufacturers and suppliers are working to build on that history of success and are swiftly amplifying commitments to the use of sustainable practices and materials in the production and content of their products, and packaging.
Within the industry association Suppliers Partnership for the Environment (SP), automakers and their suppliers are coming together to collaborate on such automotive industry sustainability goals and to work to advance action on the path towards the industry’s carbon neutral, circular, and sustainable ambitions. In recent months the SP organization has developed new industry guidelines on key topics such as tracking and reducing carbon within the automotive supply chain, measuring the use of recycled and renewable materials in automotive products, and handling EV batteries for recycling or reuse.
Under the SP umbrella, we are leading a team of sustainability and packaging experts from across automakers, their tiered suppliers and packaging vendors, and recyclers, working to tackle another important issue – minimizing the environmental impact of the packaging materials required to ship automotive parts damage free along the supply chain. Companies, big and small, from each segment of the value chain have joined us to share their knowledge and lessons learned, and to co-develop new ideas and solutions to improve packaging sustainability.
In the past, succinct packaging guidelines were developed by SP to provide straightforward guidance regarding sourcing sustainable packaging designs for use in automotive manufacturing operations. Considering the changes in the sustainability and recycling landscape, the team determined there was an opportunity to update and expand on the guidelines to provide more detailed information and promote further alignment on sustainable packaging specifications along the supply chain.
As we worked through the process to update the existing packaging guidelines, the team focused in on actionable opportunities to minimize automotive packaging waste by addressing potential barriers to recyclability in the design phase and identifying more readily recyclable alternatives.
When choosing materials to create a packaging design it is important to think about the recycling stream. We did some investigation and developed a list of materials and attachment methods that are detrimental to recycling to avoid and the ones that are usually able to be viably recycled.
Starting with attachment methods, we have discovered that handheld containers made of HDPE are often sent to the landfill because the dunnage that is inside the container is secured using rivets, screws, staples and continuous glue or hook/loop material. The money that the recycler would get from the HDPE container does not outweigh the labor it takes to remove it so the container and the dunnage are often sent to the landfill. To avoid this situation, it is best to secure the dunnage inside the container with tension, dabs of glue or small pieces of hook/loop.
Another aspect of the guidelines is multi-material dunnage that goes to the landfill because it can’t be separated. This includes double sided non-woven material and non-HDPE or PP foams on HDPE or PP plastic corrugate, laminates, multi-material bags, and paper corrugated board with anything attached including the pallet. All of these types of dunnage are unfortunately destined for the landfill because separating the material is too labor intensive. Alternatives to these types of material are one-sided non-woven material and HDPE or PP foams on like material plastic corrugate i.e. PP foam on PP plastic corrugated board.
To increase the volume of the most commonly used materials the guidelines are focusing on using PP and HDPE foamed, molded and extruded materials. These materials are viably recyclable and the stream to get them to the recycler has the least amount of financial and logistical hurdles. Materials like cross-link foam XLPE are not used in sufficient quantity to get past the financial barrier of getting the material into the recycling stream so they can often end up in the landfill.
Single use material, expendables, should rely on corrugated board as the best choice to avoid additions to the landfill. Using the same attachment methods and material guidance as above will ensure this material stays in a viably recyclable state for the existing recovery process.
We are relying on the packaging engineers to design packaging that will be zero waste to landfill, following these guidelines is a strong step to make our environment more sustainable. More details can be found at http://supplierspartnership.org/sustainablepackaging