Automotive and Industrial Packaging Waste Reduction Ideas


GM recently revealed some of its best practices for minimizing solid waste associated with expendable packaging. Packaging solid waste reduction is, as GM notes, a major concern. Better than 75 million tons of packaging waste are generated annually by the aggregate of commercial, residential and institutional users, according to the U.S. EPA, while only roughly half of that amount is recycled. The end result is that about 37 million tons per year end up in the landfill, accounting for at least 30 percent of all municipal solid waste.

GM has been a leader in seeking solid waste reduction, as well as in sharing best practices with other manufacturers. In this same vein, Jeffrey Lazarz, a packaging engineer and GM’s expendable packaging subject matter expert, provided the following ideas towards reducing your solid waste generation.

1. Reduce Packaging Weight

Light weighting has become a very popular strategy towards reducing the amount of packaging used, resulting in reduced packaging expenditure, and less packaging waste generation. Lazarz notes that in the case of manufacturing operations, heavier shipping materials such as wood pallets can translate into more fuel consumption and greater carbon emissions, while resulting in extra shipping expense. "In some cases we’ve swapped out wood pallets for reusable recycled-content plastic containers and have cut waste, weight and cost as a result," Lazarz comments. "When they arrive, they can be reused throughout our network."

2. Get More Bang Per Box

The automotive industry has been a leader in designing packaging to increase part density in containers, in other words, optimizing space utilization by getting more parts in a container Lazarz sites the example of GM's team in Brazil,which increased an extra layer of parts per container,thus eliminating the necessity for 23 extra boxes.

In another pack they rearranged the packaging design compartment design from a linear grid to a geometric pattern, thereby reducing the shipping requirement by 38 boxes. 

3. Design Packaging for Ease of Recycling

Larzarz emphasizes that If packaging materials are mixed, like a cardboard liner with a wood frame, stapling the two pieces together makes recycling inconvenient; this requires firstly that materials are pulled apart. Stapled materials should allow for “breakaway," the easy separation of the two parts. On the other hand, the stapling a cardboard post to a cardboard box, is not an issue as the staple will removed in the recycling process. Design for recycling is important.

4. Getting the Packaging Right at Source

By getting the packaging right at the part producer, this prevents extra handling. Case in point, GM works with a supplier overseas which provides the wheels for GM vehicles. Upon arrival in the U.S., the wheels are routed through a warehouse where they are repackaged in recyclable before being sent to the assembly plant. "We’re working with this supplier to use recyclable material to ship the products directly to the plants," Lazarz states. "By eliminating the middle warehouse step, you also slash cost and waste."

5. Coordinate with Suppliers and Optimize

Jeff collaborates closely with GM's suppliers to develop uniform shipping specifications before a new production program begins. This permits a better alignment of processes and greater efficiency.   has the opportunity to work closely with our suppliers to develop uniform shipping specifications. This allows both ends of the supply chain to align their processes and operate more efficiently.

Additionally, GM provides guidelines with respect to maximizing the freight on delivery vehicles, with an eye to saving overall fuel and reducing the cost of part shipment. Reviewing packaging plans up front helps avoid such potential inefficiencies. 

6. Packaging Design to Prioritize Safety

One way that GM helps create a safer workplace is through requiring materials to be shipped in boxes with lids.

This idea, similar to a shoe box, eliminates the need for box tape. The use of tape dictates that employees will have to use knives, which creates a safety risk. By designing out the need for tape, risk is reduced. 

7. Collaborating Upon Best Packaging Reduction Practices

"We are committed to creating a system that works for all suppliers and collaborate often on what works and what doesn’t," Lazarz notes.. "After all, it benefits everyone to make recyclable shipping materials standard practice and share lessons learned." He encourages the development of packaging standards, which he believes saves times and cost in logistics, while reducing waste.