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Use the right quantity of materials to protect the product while avoiding over-packaging

Strategy 2: Optimize design

This strategy consists in designing packaging that uses optimized materials in its manufacturing in consideration of the entire packaging system: primary, secondary and tertiary. To design optimally is to use the correct quantity of materials to ensure product protection while avoiding over-packaging and reduce the total costs of the packaging + product pair throughout its life cycle.

Action 3 - Rethink packaging

Action 4 - Reduce energy consumption impacts

Action 5: Design packaging for logistics and transportation

Action 6: Enhance consumer experience

Action 3 - Rethink packaging

This action identifies the optimal point, i.e. the point of balance between sufficient and effective packaging of a given product. The ratio depends not only on the type of product to be packaged, but also on the consumer, the market and a multitude of other factors.

Some of the ideas to consider when reviewing product conditioning include rethinking the entire packaging system, reevaluating the relevance of each packaging component and reducing service space.

Avoid under-packaging

A product is under-packaged when a lack of protection results in losses or breakage before it reaches the consumer or end-user.

As the environmental impacts of products are often more severe than those of its protective packaging, using too little packaging may not be a good strategy from an environmental, economic or social standpoint.

  • Improve the product/packaging ratio by reducing packaging weight, volume or service space while maintaining good protection.
  • Optimize by considering the entire packaging system, including secondary and tertiary packaging.

Reduce over-packaging

It is not always easy to draw the line between necessary packaging and over-packaging. Over-packaging is defined as packaging that only increases visibility and sales attractiveness, rather than protecting or conditioning the product.

Over-packaging can also result from a design that guards against exposure conditions that were over-estimated compared to real risk. In that case, the product is “over-protected” and the extra packaging serves no real purpose.

Over-packaging includes oversized packaging components as compared to the product and the presence of useless or overly complex assembly components. Here are some suggestions to reduce over-packaging:

  • Adopt packaging design criteria that reduce product loss during use or that improve product lifespan, therefore increasing packaging performance.
  • Reassess the components in the packaging system and keep only those that are essential for protection and marketing.
  • Consider designing multifunctional packaging with a view to eliminating secondary or tertiary packaging (for example, packaging that may also be used for in-store display).

Action 4 - Reduce energy consumption impacts

Energy consumption at the packaging manufacturing or shaping stage can be improved by:

  1. 1
  2. Reducing energy consumption per unit of packaging produced (ratio) at the time of manufacturing
  3. 2
  4. Improving
    energy efficiency during the shaping process
  5. 3
  6. Selecting materials with “low intrinsic energy content,” i.e. those requiring less energy to produce relative to the entire life cycle

These suggestions help to reduce environmental impacts (i.e. greenhouse gases) while reducing costs and other impacts at the manufacturing and shaping stages.

All sources of energy do not generate the same environmental impacts. Here are three tips to reduce and better manage energy consumption on production sites:

  • Put in place energy-efficient measures appropriate for manufacturing and shaping.
  • Select energy sources that have a low environmental impact.
  • Select materials with low intrinsic energy content.

The following table presents greenhouse gas emissions from the main sources of electricity and heat available in North America.

Energy production streams

* Averages are calculated for the North American context

Electricity productiong CO2-eq./kWhReferences
Coal 956 United Nations, National Inventory Submissions 2013
Oil 762 Energy Information Administration (EIA)
Natural gas 527 United Nations, National Inventory Submissions 2013
Geothermal 32,7 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Nuclear 6,05 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Hydro-electricity 0,057 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Solar 176 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Wind 0,0001 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Heat productiong CO2-eq./MJReferences
Coal 93 Ressources naturelles Canada (RNCan)
Oil 78 Ressources naturelles Canada (RNCan)
Natural gas 69 Ressources naturelles Canada (RNCan)

Action 5: Design packaging for logistics and transportation

Designing packaging for transportation involves foreseeing maximum use of transportation vehicle space and reducing the weight or volume of materials and packaged products to be transported and distributed.

For example, packaging or containers that are partially shaped (e.g. pre-formed bottles rather than those entirely blown) or packaging distributed in rolls or sheets (e.g. aseptic containers) could be used.

  • Reduce secondary and tertiary packaging without compromising product protection.
  • Optimize palletization (increase cubic capacity) in order to increase the number of products transported. This action may require reassessing the shape and volume of primary packaging.

From a logistical point of view, optimizing itineraries, intermodal transportation (using two or more modes of transportation between the initial point and destination) and principles of eco-driving can be promoted.

  • Re-evaluate procurement and distribution networks (location, proximity, social responsibility measures applied by suppliers) are all effective ways to reduce costs and environmental impacts while keeping in mind the packaging items' entire life cycle.
  • Using intermodal transport as part of logistics optimization will help reduce the environmental impact of product transportation.
  • Choose transport modes with the lowest environmental impact per tonne-kilometre transported (see table below).

These actions can reduce fuel costs and greenhouse gas emissions while improving performance and efficiency (time and resources) required for transporting merchandise.

The following table presents average greenhouse gas emissions per tonne/kilometre according to transportation mode.

Mode of transport kg CO2-eq/tonne.kmReferences
Plane 1,060 GHG Protocol - Emission Factors from Cross-Sector Tools - Sheet Transport
Truck 0,206 EGHG Protocol - Emission Factors from Cross-Sector Tools - Sheet Transport
Boat 0,033 GHG Protocol - Emission Factors from Cross-Sector Tools - Sheet Transport
Train 0,016 GHG Protocol - Emission Factors from Cross-Sector Tools - Sheet Transport

Action 6: Enhance consumer experience

People don't buy packaging; they buy packaged products. Consumers are increasingly discerning when they select the products they buy. Packaging plays a determining role both when a product is purchased and when it is used and consumed.

That consumer experience is tied to the protective and functional role played by packaging

Here are a few courses of action to improve consumer experience:

  • Design packaging that extends the lifespan of the product (particularly in such sectors as food, hygiene and pharmaceuticals, where products are perishable).
  • Design packaging that minimizes product losses during use and reduces waste.
  • Simplify handling and eliminate risks to health (e.g. injury and breakage) and the environment (e.g. leaks and contamination).
  • Packaging must provide the consumer with adequate information regarding:
    • Product contents (e.g. list of ingredients, nutritional chart, dosage, warnings, directions for use, etc.)
    • The nature of packaging materials
    • End-of-life management tips (identification of recyclable components)


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