Bioplastic shipping containers used for consumer electronics repair may cost more per unit, but they can be cheaper overall because they're reusable and can be recycled back into the supply chain in a closed-loop/reverse logistics setup. (Source: Ecospan)
Nice article, Ann. There is such a large shift away from paper these days (especially with books), I would think it would begin to affect the paper industry. We joke about saving trees by reading electronic books, but at some point, that becomes a reality.
Nadine, the customer is truly huge and does not want to be identified. This is pretty typical in many industries. especially with public companies always worrying about their stock price. Regarding degradation, with plastics it all depends on the recycling process. This is mechanical not chemical so there will be degradation over time. But since bioplastics are essentially all custom formulations, that doesn't have to affect quality. The point here is reclamation instead of none, and not letting the end-of-life material go to landfill.
Mydesign, answering that question would require a detailed lifecycle analysis comparison, which Ecospan did not discuss. Not turning trees into cardboard shipping containers and retaining their C02 sequestration function is more ecological than the reverse; beyond that we don't have data. Ecospan's website might have some answers.
I can easily see why so much money is saved. Consider how people tear open boxes containing electronics. It's usually pretty careless. The flaps get torn and the main part of box itself gets damaged. I would be surprised if the cardboard boxes were getting more than one reuse. Great story, Ann.
Cradle to cradle design has been around for a few years now. It's always good to see more examples.
How does Ecospan address the degradation of materials in the recycling process? Generally, products made from post-consumer recycled material isn't as strong/durable as the original without using some new material.
Why is the customer un-named? Wouldn't a company want to brag about this? But, if getting box use for six full repair instances per item is needed, maybe they shouldn't be named.
Good point Beth. By applying some smarts to the whole process, and the technology of the packaging, they have been able to come up with a great savings. These savings go beyond the basic use of the container, since these are more environmentally friendly materials. This is a great engineering design story.
Thanks, Beth. Several bioplastics companies I've spoken with, including this one, have mentioned the need for a complete closed-loop system. That idea has been around for awhile, but is probably more likely to become a possibility with bioplastics than with petro-based ones. It's an opportunity to build a whole new infrastructure.
Great story, Ann. Shows there is a lot more to sustainability that simple materials replacement and new technology. Re-engineering key business processes is central to any initiative and this closed-loop, reverse logistics setup is a perfect example. Hope it inspires others to rethink their processes and look at the bigger picture.
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