Reduce Plastic Waste

Warehouses and depots can have a significant negative environmental impact due to the use of fossil-based virgin plastic, single-use plastic and the sheer number of goods moving in and out.

Single-use fossil-based virgin plastic is convenient but also can be bad for the environment. It takes centuries to decompose, and it often ends up in our oceans, where it causes significant harm to marine life, or in landfills, where it causes the emission of dangerous greenhouse gases.

Here we will discuss simple steps you can take to reduce your warehouse’s single-use plastic usage.

What is Fossil-Based Virgin Plastic?

When we talk about fossil-based virgin plastic, we are referring to the origin and composition of the plastic. Virgin plastic is made from fossil fuels, like natural gas and crude oil. It’s then turned into various products, including packaging and single-use items like straws and grocery bags.

The problem with fossil-based virgin plastic is that unless it enters a recycling stream, it’s a non-renewable resource. Once we use it, it’s gone forever. It also takes a lot of energy to produce and it’s harmful to the environment. It’s so important to reduce fossil-based virgin plastic by ensuring any new plastic made is from recycled material or to choose to use more sustainable alternatives.

Single-Use Plastic Alternatives

When we talk about reducing fossil-based single-use plastic, we’re talking about mitigating the long-term ramifications of using plastics. That is, helping to minimise the harmful effects of single-use plastic by using reusable alternatives to single-use plastic such as cutlery or bottles.

In New Zealand, we have historically used a lot of single-use plastics. These are items like straws, grocery bags, and drink bottles only used once before they’re thrown away. In 2020, a government study in New Zealand revealed that more than 60% of the country’s rivers were beyond acceptable standards. This was after banning single-use plastics in New Zealand in 2019.

This is why, in November 2021, The New Zealand government pledged $50 million to the Plastics Innovation Fund to help businesses find alternatives to single-use plastics.

There are a few things you can do to eliminate single-use plastics:

  • Stop using straws and plastic cutlery and opt for reusable metal options. Plastic straws are a significant contributor to ocean plastic pollution.
  • Bring a tote bag you already own when you go shopping so you don’t have to use any bags from the shops.
  • Ensure single-use plastic is thrown away correctly. Even though plastic bottles are usually now recyclable, some bottle caps aren’t.
single use plastic ban support

Embrace the Circular Economy

The circular economy is an economic model in which resources are kept for as long as possible. This means that products and materials are reused, repaired, recycled and composted instead of thrown away. In a circular economy, waste is seen as a resource to be managed, not something to be eliminated.

There are a few ways your business can embrace the circular economy:

  • Repair products and equipment: When something breaks, it doesn’t always mean you have to replace it. You could try repairing the product or equipment first. This is often cheaper and helps reduce waste.
  • Opt for reusable masks: Masks are now a common sight in New Zealand. While disposable masks are convenient, they create a lot of waste. Switching to reusable masks that can be washed and reused will significantly decrease mask waste. There is also research that shows that some disposable masks can be just as effective for use, even after washing.

So, how can you reduce your warehouse’s virgin plastic usage?

1. Update your Packaging

Use a more environmentally-friendly approach to protecting your goods and improve your order fulfilment process. Sustainable bubble wrap, shredded paper, corrugated cardboard, and biodegradable packing peanuts are often ideal forms of internal cushioning. When you choose alternatives for packaging, you can save the environment by lowering your depot’s virgin plastic consumption.

There are a variety of sustainable packaging options available, including:

  • Recycled paper
  • Reusable packaging
  • Corrugated cardboard

Choose the best shipping materials for your products – you never know, you may be able to avoid using plastic altogether!

Give your customers sustainable packaging options

Consider giving your customers sustainable packaging options. This way you give your customers control over how they receive their goods and in what packaging. You could also encourage customers to recycle their products when they’re done with them. Giving your customers environmentally-friendly options shows you recognise the importance of sustainability.

Research demonstrates that consumers are increasingly concerned with sustainability while making online purchases, with 72% of consumers wanting brands to use sustainable packaging. However, something to consider is that only 18% are willing to pay extra for it.

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How to combine reducing fossil-based virgin plastic with replacing your packaging?

In the past, our satchels were made from fossil-based virgin plastic, however, we are now introducing 80% or more recycled content in our manufacturing process – in other words, the material for our satchels would have otherwise gone to landfill disposal. Instead, we utilise this material to make ‘class 4 recyclable’ satchels. In the meantime, all other single-use bags that are in use by our network are being converted to 80% recycled plastic. By end-2022, our aim is to have reduced our annual fossil-based virgin plastic usage by more than 70%, or 100 tonnes.

Whether you want to integrate sustainability into your current packaging or offer it as an additional option, adding this choice will only help your brand stand out in the minds of consumers.

Change to more sustainable storage and operational freight bags 

If you are a business with small items, consider using sustainable storage and operational freight bags to hold and move multiple items around. Operational freight bags used to sort and transport smaller items are often made of class 4 clear plastic that easily tears and breaks after a few uses. From our experience, these plastic bags are only usable for up to 2 to 3 uses before they must be binned.

This is why we are in the process of switching our operational freight bags to reusable products that can be used hundreds of times. You can also switch to more sustainable options made from jute, cloth sacks or more robust forms of plastic that can be used over a hundred times.

Upcycle and Recycle your pallet wraps

Upcycling means taking something that would have been thrown away and turning it into something new.

Pallet wraps are often made of low-density polyethylene (LDPE) and can be recycled.

Our partnership with saveBoard™ allows us to upcycle our current plastic pallet wraps into low carbon building board, avoiding having to dispose of them in landfills.

pallet wraps for the depot

2. Optimise the transport of your goods

Transport of imports has been found in 2019 to make up the largest proportion of carbon footprint impact, at 37%. Freight transport has a significant environmental impact, from the production of vehicles and fuels to emissions from trucks on the road.

Choosing a high-volume logistics partner like New Zealand Couriers allows you to take advantage of pick-up and delivery density versus running your own vehicle fleet. The efficiencies of a ‘hub-and-spoke’ operation allows you to minimise your environmental footprint.

3. Partner with other sustainable businesses

Partnering with other sustainable businesses will help keep you accountable and help you learn new ways to reduce waste.

Sustainable businesses often have the same values as you and are more likely to work together to find solutions. Through partners, you can also learn about new products or services that can help your business become more sustainable.

As an example, New Zealand Couriers are Toitu carbonreduce-certified, members of the Soft Plastics Recycling Scheme and Climate Leaders Coalition. These are just a few of the positive collaboration agreements that have helped us reduce our environmental effects to this day.

Conclusion

Making small changes to your warehouse or depot can have a big impact on reducing plastic waste. By embracing the circular economy and opting for sustainable options, you can make a difference. You can also partner with other sustainable businesses to learn new ways to reduce waste. Together, we can all work towards a more sustainable future.