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2020 Protective Packaging Challenge FAQ

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What is protective packaging?

Protective packaging is any packaging unit that provides protection to goods during handling, storage, and transportation. The term includes all business-to-business packaging and consumer-facing packaging in both traditional retail and e-commerce channels. In general, protective packaging refers to secondary or tertiary packaging used to transport products, as opposed to primary packaging that more often serves for containment versus protection. However, there may be exceptions. 

Some key terms: 

  • Primary Packaging contains the product unit. In traditional retail, this type of packaging is what the customer selects from the store shelf and takes home with them and serves more as containment rather than protection. 
  • Secondary Packaging contains one or more primary packages for use during transport and storage. Conventional examples include bags, envelopes, and boxes. 
  • Tertiary Packaging is used to group secondary packaging together to aid handling, unitization, and transportation to distribution and retail outlets, often providing the function of flat unit load support in transport. Conventional examples include pallets and skids, slip sheets or trays. 
  • Dunnage – Interior dunnage in secondary packaging can reduce friction and contact between the primary packs during transport, providing additional protection.  Conventional examples include airbags, foams, paper systems, or product separators.  Tertiary packaging can also use exterior dunnage to reduce friction between units and support load stabilization during transport. Conventional examples include stretch wrap, strapping, protective covers, or other cushions placed in between secondary units.

What are the main challenges with protective packaging sustainability?

Damage prevention: In transport, every “touchpoint” increases risks of product damage and so packaging plays a central role in protecting the product on its journey through the supply chain. 

Replacing damaged products tends to account for a much higher greenhouse gas emissions and resource usage than does packaging itself. Damage prevention also reduces unnecessary extra shipments due to returns and replacements. Working across the value chain to ensure damage prevention at these different levels helps bring products safely to market. 

Material efficiency: The emphasis placed on product protection can lead to overpacking products, such as using unnecessary amounts of dunnage materials. More and more, consumers are perceiving excessive packaging firsthand through e-commerce packaging deliveries to their home. This can negatively impact companies’ reputations, particularly when the material is not recyclable or reusable. Sustainable protective packages should aim to find that ‘sweet spot’ between protection and material reduction. To this end, companies must understand their damage rates and invest in continuous improvement and material optimization for their packaging.

Volumetric efficiency:  Lack of customizable boxing options can also lead to over boxing and inefficient use of space where excess air is being transported. Efficient box and container space allow for more product to be shipped in a single load while reducing greenhouse gas emissions from unnecessary extra shipping and weight. Open communication between brands, suppliers, manufacturers and distributors helps to facilitate this system-wide optimization which also reduces costs of shipping.

Responsible material sourcing and end of life: While volume and weight optimization are central sustainability considerations for transport packaging, it is also important to consider sourcing and end of life. Materials with favorable characteristics from the sourcing perspective include responsibly sourced renewable resources and recycled materials. From an end of life perspective, favorable packaging is those that are reusable, recyclable (with access to collection and an end market), or compostable (where access to composting exists).

Who will see the information I submit?

All information provided will be reviewed by SPC and Ubuntoo. Shortlisted submissions will be reviewed by Challenge judges and advisors. Participants should exercise judgment when submitting confidential and/or sensitive intellectual property in their submission. No submitted information will be made publicly visible or shared with other Challenge participants.

Can I request an NDA?

We ask that participants only submit information needed to evaluate their innovation. If confidential information is necessary to evaluate the innovation, either during the initial submission or after submission during the evaluation period, then participants may request to enter non-disclosure agreements (NDA). 

Are my intellectual property rights safe? 

All information participants choose to submit to the Challenge remains their own IP and there are no requirements or conditions to transfer this knowledge to the SPC, Partners, or other third parties. As stated in the Terms and Conditions, ‘each participant will retain intellectual property ownership—including rights, trademarks, service marks and/or logos—of all of his, her, or its Challenge submission ideas, including, but not limited to, methods, materials, technologies, and other know-how related to the Challenge criteria and technical overview.’ Any further steps between the participating entrepreneurs and companies involved would require a separate agreement between the companies individually.”

How will finalists be selected?

Finalists will be selected by Challenge Judges, with input from Challenge Advisors, and Partners. Submissions will be assessed against: 

  • Responsible sourcing, such as the use of recycled materials or responsibly sourced, renewable materials
  • Optimized and efficient use of materials
  • Recoverability: e.g. Recyclability, reusability or compostability.  Note –  Compostable packaging is best suited for specific, targeted applications. Applications using compostable packaging should be explained and justified
  • Overall life cycle environmental impacts of the package or package system
  • Market feasibility, including cost and performance in product protection across different product types (e.g. electronics, liquids, hard goods)

Maximum points will be awarded to innovations that perform well across multiple assessment categories. For more information, please see the Challenge scoring criteria on the main page of the website.

Who is the Sustainable Packaging Coalition?

The Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) is a membership-based collaborative led by an independent non-profit that believes in the power of industry to make packaging more sustainable. Using an objective, life-cycle based approach, the SPC works in a constructive atmosphere to provide thought leadership and bring SPC members together to strengthen and advance the business case for more sustainable packaging.

Who is Ubuntoo?

Ubuntoo is an Environmental Solutions Platform to address the UN SDGs, starting with solutions to plastic waste. It is like an Airbnb for sustainability innovation. You can very easily search, follow and connect with solutions and their founders. Or you can use our forum section to tap into the crowd expertise of members. The Ubuntoo platform hosts more than 600 solutions to plastic pollution and boasts a community of 1,500 professionals: innovators, academicians, experts at corporations and research institutions.

Who is Closed Loop Partners?

Closed Loop Partners is an investment firm focused on building the circular economy. They are reimagining the current linear system, in which billions of dollars are spent annually to landfill valuable commodities, to create circular supply chains that reduce costs, generate revenue, and protect our environment. Investors include many of the world’s largest consumer goods companies and family offices interested in investments that provide strong financial returns and tangible social impact.

Who can I contact to learn more?

Email inquiries can be directed to spcinfo@greenblue.org. Please note that the Sustainable Packaging Coalition will not respond to participant phone inquiries or requests for phone calls due to the high volume of requests. Please thoroughly review the Challenge FAQ, Terms and Conditions, and other Challenge communications before submitting an inquiry.

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