These days, environmentally-conscious, long-term thinking and action is a decisive criterion for many investments, not only in social environments, but in companies as well. In this interview, Dr. Armin Vogel, EVP Plastics at SSI SCHAEFER, explains how sustainable plastic containers are produced and used in logistics over the long term.
To answer this question, we must start by defining what kind of plastic we are talking about. Basically, there are two different kinds that could not be more different in terms of sustainability. On the one hand, there is consumer plastic that rampantly lands in oceans and seas, causing significant ecological damage. That is a long-term problem.
On the other hand, other plastic products, such as plastic containers, can be re-used multiple times and also recycled. Use of such products helps to reduce or even avoid packaging waste while conserving resources. Above all, the longevity of plastic constitutes a major advantage of returnable containers. Here, in fact, we truly are talking about sustainable solutions.
Yet, it is not simply the material we should be focusing on when thinking in terms of longevity and environmental protection. Sustainable solutions are also critical for our customers when it comes to aspects such as ergonomic handling and protecting goods during transport.
Sustainability for us means finding the perfect solution for the customer. With customized packaging and dunnage, we use the available resources efficiently to protect the products to be transported or stored. This ensures a reduction in transport and handling damage.
So, with our individual and durable returnable containers we are effectively able to contribute to a long-term and sustainable solution for the customer. This is a true alternative to cost-intensive disposable packaging that damages the environment.
What’s more, we focus on space-saving solutions with our space-saving containers. This is because it is critical to use space efficiently not only during active utilization within the material flow, but also with respect to the return and storage of empty containers to conserve resources and save costs. Nestable or collapsible containers require less space and can be transported and stored in larger quantities for the production and logistics cycle.
Almost all containers can have a percentage of regranulate. In our production, we try to implement this to the maximum extent possible by using recycled resources. The exception here are tenders from companies that explicitly request new material. Here, too, we apply our high-quality standards, focusing on environmental compatibility and conserving resources when selecting raw materials and the colors we use.
In addition to producing durable products, we support the customers in their ability to return used or damaged containers that we can then recycle for regranulate. We melt this material down and shape it again – to create a new container out of recycled products.
In terms of quality, the containers with a percentage of recycled material are by no means inferior to a new product. To ensure this, we of course subject the returned material to a quality check, so that we only process high-quality resources.
We always mix a percentage of new material with recycled material in production. The percentage varies depending on the condition of the recycled material. So we can recycle as often as we like. Generally, containers are in use for around ten to twelve years. Our customer dm has been successfully using our returnable containers continuously since the nineties, so they are confident in our durable products. You cannot compare them to packaging such as cartons, which are often damaged after first-time use and then disposed of. Using strong boxes is the best option for long-term use in any storage environment – whether in manual or fully automated storage and conveying systems.
Also, when it comes to new products or replacing components for our customers, we take care of the return, recycling and the creation of new dunnage and customized packaging. This way, we can ensure a resource-saving and sustainable cycle in our production.
That’s an unavoidable consequence. When the materials are produced and melted, the plastic automatically takes on a slightly darker color. So, it is simply not possible to produce all colors from the regranulate. Yellow, for example, must always be created from virgin material. Containers in darker colors, though, can easily be produced from regranulate.