Thursday, September 12, 2013

Recycled & Environmentally Friendly Packaging Materials Used at RACS

I know most of you will find this incredibly boring, but I wanted to post a little about something we think about everyday - the recycled packaging materials we use for your orders here at RACS.

Shipping Cartons

We source shipping cartons and mailers from 3 different vendors out here on the East coast, and we always make sure we buy cartons that are made of at least 20% post consumer recycled materials - higher if possible. Something that might surprise you is that the more 'recycled' cartons are, the more costly they usually become (strange how that is), but we always source the cartons with the most recycled content available that still meets our budget at the time of the purchase. As a side note, a factor that directly impacts how much we can spent a quarter on packaging materials is directly related to how much shipping revenue we capture during the previous quarter (in other words: how  many of our customers choose our free vs. paid shipping methods), so in that respect our customers (you) have a say in how much 'recycled' content your shipping cartons contain.

Loose Fill

Last fall we switched our primary packaging material away from the white cornstarch loose-fill to FP's new, environmentally friendly, green Flow-Pac Super 8 loose fill. This is the green stuff that a lot of you now get in your larger Anime parcels. The cornstarch stuff, while very nice and also environmentally friendly, was just a little too dusty and had a tendency to settle more in transit than we would like. Mostly though, it's just too heavy and with shipping rates skyrocketing, we had to make a change. We tested the new Milex grain protein loose fill, but ran into the same problems of settlement, weight, and cost. The FP Super 8 costs about the same, but saves us several hundred dollars in shipping costs over the course of a year due to the lighter weight. Plus, it's 100% biodegradable - something that standard Styrofoam loose fill isn't.

Now I know the 'weight' of loose fill seems irrelevant, but what happens is that most of the major carriers charge us as a formula of per pound (or dimensional pounds for larger packages) rounded up to the nearest pound. So where the extra cost savings comes in is the percentage of parcels that don't get rounded up to the next pound because of an extra once of loose fill weight, like from 2.95 ( = 3.0 lbs shipping weight) to 3.05 ( = 4.0 lbs shipping weight).

And before anyone starts firing off an e-mail about the merit of airbags or craft paper  - after shipping over 400,000 packages I can tell you that loose fill / flow-pak is the absolute best type of packaging material for Anime type shipments - especially manga, figurines, and mixed item shipments. I hate airbags for a number of reasons (key words - plastic and expensive and suck) and if you ever get a parcel from us with airbags in it it's only because we are recycling bags someone else sent us. Craft (or butcher) paper is just a cheap alternative to real packaging material for companies that don't want to allocate the storage space in their warehouse to loose fill or don't want to invest in professional dispensing equipment. As far as a packing material, craft paper is just a terrible option. Anytime I get a parcel from someone that just wraps the product in crinkled up craft or butcher paper, I know they really don't care what condition it gets to me in.

Padding Materials

We added an HSM Cardboard Shredder to our shipping operation back in February and it's been put into good use. One thing we have always had a problem with is that our receiving operation creates several hundred pounds of scrap cardboard every month, mostly from incoming vendor shipments, and for years we have had (and paid extra for) a separate dumpster to recycle our cardboard waste. Not a great option but better than nothing. With the ever raising cost of shipping supplies, we decided to look for an alternative to pre-packaged packing materials that we have to truck in, preferring a product that we can make right here in our own warehouse. Shredded cardboard has long been in use as a packaging material in Europe, but has not really caught on widely here in the US - yet.

The new machine (which is made in Germany and built like a tank) allows us to make our piles of scrap cardboard into excellent quality flexible, reusable, biodegradable packaging material which reduces our recycling costs and also allows us to reduce our usage of prepackaged packing material - especially things like plastic bubble wrapping and airbags. We already had a big HSM industrial paper shredder in our office (which we use for all customer and order related paperwork that doesn't get filed), so the cardboard shredder was a perfect choice. The new machine is currently saving us on the order of four to five thousand dollars per year, and reduces our plastic packaging material usage and cardboard waste we send to recycle by around 25-30%.

So when you see some of this packaging material in your next RACS parcel, you'll know our commitment to the environment is not just a dog and pony show. :-)


Harold said...

Very cool! Stuff isn't going anywhere packed in this. Remember the old-fashioned excelsior, Robert? Dust got all over the place.

Robert said...

Heck yeah I do. Messy, but hardwood excelsior is still the best darned packaging material in the world for something like Wine Bottles packaged in wood crates. You can still buy it for around $3 per lb uncolored or $5 per lb dyed - very expensive.