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Planet Friendly Packaging

Josh Pitman of Priory Direct Discusses Planet Friendly Packaging

Planet-friendly packaging offers numerous benefits, including reducing environmental impact, minimising waste, conserving resources, meeting consumer preferences, complying with regulations, and enhancing brand reputation.

Planet Friendly Packaging


So welcome, everybody, to today's podcast, our Rethink What Matters podcast. And today, we are going to be talking about planet friendly packaging. And so this is a really important subject, as I'm sure you know, everybody is going to be aware of and I'm joined today by Josh Pittman of Priory Direct.

Josh

Hi there! Thanks very much for having me, Paul.

Paul

Brilliant! Thanks again for joining us, Josh. So, whether it's natural resource depletion, environmental conservation, waste reduction, pollution and litter, greenhouse gas emissions, microplastic contamination, energy consumption or climate change mitigation, planet friendly packaging can really help our cause. So I'm really excited and really pleased to have this conversation with Josh today. So perhaps Josh, you can introduce us please, to yourself and Priory Direct.

Josh

Yeah, cool. I'm Josh. I’m Managing Director over here at Priory Direct and we're a sustainable packaging retailer.

Essentially, we’re on a mission to minimise the impact of e-commerce, with the view of making it a really sustainable industry. And we feel that packaging has a huge part to play there. It’s one of the big causes of waste and impact from e-commerce. But it's also, because of that, one of the huge enablers in which we can reduce the impact of e-commerce operations.

It can make goods handling, goods transport more efficient and it can reduce a lot of wasted material. And downstream waste and pollution that you alluded to there as well.

Packaging is a necessary evil that actually can be a great enabler for good, and I think all of us are seeing how much packaging is being consumed with distance retail. Even if you just take a walk down your local street on recycling day, hopefully, you'll see the quite a lot of recycling bins ready for collection for the packaging materials and actually if you look in your normal bin the vast majority of what's going in there is packaging material.

I think that's why it's been the elephant in the room at the minute. There's a huge amount of discussions being had around it and there’s also a lot of good that can be done in that space.


"We’re on a mission to minimise the impact of e-commerce, with the view of making it a really sustainable industry. Packaging is a necessary evil that can actually be a great enabler for good."

Paul

Brilliant! Absolutely, I think it’s something businesses and users can think about equally. Businesses obviously coming to you as your customers. What packaging is the best packaging to use and then the users as well. I’m just curious, Priory Direct, is any story behind the name?

Josh

Well, actually, yeah. My dad started the business in 1989 in a small priory in Orpington. And that's where the Priory Business Group was created. Essentially, I started the e-commerce operation for Priory, selling labels that match with eBay and Amazon.

So with the address still in, we sell them and they're really convenient for frequent sellers. So essentially, we supply 21,000 businesses in the UK with their packaging and they range from Sally and Hership with an e-bay shop who’ll be a sole trader typically from a residential address. They will be running an e-commerce operation.

And you’ll be very surprised as to how big some ecommerce operations get from those sorts of situations. We have some customers that turn well over a million pounds from residential address by selling things online and their packaging choices in some ways are no less important than those of the bigger retailers.

And that ranges up to Tier 1, Tier 2 retailers like Vivo, Barefoot, like H&M and we have integrated supply chain solutions. We help them minimise the impact of their supply chain from end to end and we manage the inbound supply chain for their packaging and the choices they make around packaging materials. We try and help them form their operations as to where they make reductions in waste - wasted time and material and also reductions of carbon footprint through more efficient choices.


“We help them minimise the impact of their supply chain from end to end and we manage the inbound supply chain for their packaging and the choices they make around packaging materials. We try and help them form their operations as to where they make reductions in waste - wasted time and material and also reductions of carbon footprint through more efficient choices.”


Paul

Okay. Excellent, excellent. Let’s get into some of the challenges that you and your customers will you need to face. Sustainable packaging then, the materials that you’re using there - bio-plastics, compostable materials, I guess they’re more challenging to use as packaging material.

Josh

Yeah, I guess, inadvertently, you’ve touched on a minefield there which is bioplastics. For me, we’ve got a real, kind of a strong view on that. And plastic has a negative sentiment swing in the consumer's eyes and there is no doubt about it that we have material problem with plastic consumption, plastic waste in particular.

So the key the key issue when it comes to plastic is its recyclability and its downstream handling. For instance, we consume around 600 million, sorry, 600,000 tonnes of soft plastic LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene) packaging a year in the UK. Now, all that 50% is for consumers and 50% is commercial. But the total recycling capacity in UK for LDPE is around 210,000 tonnes. So at very best, a third of that packaging will get recycled, but only 10,000 tonnes of that capacity is dedicated to municipal market, to consumers and households and the rest of that is industrial.

So soft plastics, when they end up in consumer hands, don't get recycled. It's a fact. Not only because there isn’t enough capacity for it, but also because there isn’t curb side collection, there isn't an infrastructure available.

So in terms of environmental issues, choosing plastic as an e-commerce retailer just is very, very hard to justify because that material will be single use. It’s very, very unlikely to end up back into the circular economy to be reused. And so it's an issue. And the reason bioplastics, a lot of people say, “Oh, it's OK because using a bioplastic.” Well, the truth is that bioplastics are made by growing a monocrop and then converting from ethanol into polyethanol into sugars. There's an awful lot of upstream processing.

There's an awful lot of land and water dedicated to making that product. And essentially, without the infrastructure to recapture and repurpose it, it's no better than using a fossil fuel based plastic derivative. In fact, the carbon footprint associated with making it is higher than that of a carbon fossil fuel oriented plastic. So it's a real challenge that one.

From my point of view, in terms of sustainable packaging, there are environment versus sustainability confusions and you know, if you actually monitor just carbon footprint then in some cases there are perfect legitimate applications for plastic. But environmentally, it's very, very poorly handled by our infrastructure and isn’t recycled.


"For instance, we consume around 600,000 tonnes of soft plastic LDPE packaging a year in the UK. So soft plastics, when they end up in consumer hands, don’t get recycled. It’s a fact. Not only because there isn’t enough capacity for it, but also there isn’t curbside collection, there isn’t an infrastructure available."

Paul

I think sometimes people don't probably just have to do what they know is right, you know. Maybe the green solution isn't as green as everybody thinks and people just got to go with what they know is best, the best thing to do and that might be, on the face of it, the thing which is less eco-friendly and what not.

Josh

Yeah, we’re big advocates actually, for paper based products, paper based packaging. More than 95% of paper and pulp-based packaging in the UK gets recycled. We have some of the highest recovery rates for paper based packaging products in Europe.

We've got great infrastructure there, so the choice is quite simple. There are easy solutions available and then they know that they're going to be recycled, recovered and reused. And it's curbside available. So it's an easy choice.

Paul

Suppose sometimes paper isn't an alternative to plastic?

Josh

Well, I mean, the big challenge paper has is it's heavy and bulky, you know. And so there are some big commercial applications where high volume consumption justifies plastic and based upon a carbon footprint point of view.

The big elephant in the room from an e-commerce perspective is that the material choice of packaging pales into insignificance into the footprint in which it is applicated. So what I mean by that is if you pack a very small item in a very large piece of packaging, it means you need more vans on the road, more journeys, there's more material to recycle, more collected weight, more shifted weight.

Actually by focusing on how packaging interfaces with the courier network, that's what you can have the biggest reduction in carbon footprint emissions. And really, things like final mile drop density, consolidation of shipping journeys and right sizing packaging, you know they're hugely more impactful than choosing one paper versus another or plastic over paper. The plastic debate is really an environmental one and it's clear cut.

If you want those materials to not do harm, choose ones that biodegrade naturally and/or are readily recycled.

Paul

Part of working with you, obviously, you'd be discussing that with them. So the functionality then of the sustainable materials, is that also an issue? I mean do they bend? And do they cut? Do they fold? And do they, as you mentioned, they're bulkier, so I suppose that's a consideration as well, isn't?

Josh

Yeah, from an e-commerce perspective, actually there are great solutions and there aren't many drawbacks to using paper mailing bags. You know, we've got 2000 stock products that your average customer and end user could easily make sustainable choices. And they would fit and apply to the majority of business use cases.

We've even done some weird and wacky ones like we supply a tungsten carbide drill bit manufacturer with a trapezoid hard board solution with paper strapping on it. Now that's carrying up to like 55, 75 kilos, per dispatch. And you know these things are drill bits they’re seriously tough bits of care.

Yeah, and that was one that they were originally using – hard, plastic casing to send. And actually there was a paper based solution. It just took a little bit more engineering to get it right.


“From an e-commerce perspective, actually there are great solutions and there aren't many draw backs to using paper mailing bags. You know, we've got 2000 stock products that your average customer and end user could easily make sustainable choices. And they would fit and apply to the majority of business use cases.”

Paul

Where are the trends at the moment regarding people just wanting to use sustainable packaging, its cost or its functionality because they know their customers want sustainable packaging?

Josh

In the past, say, being more sustainable, arrow is pointing this way. Making more money arrow is pointing this way. And you know it was very tough to try and find a journey between the two. Now in some applications in packaging, you can drive for more efficiency and that reduces cost. And so hey, we're going in the same direction that works.

But nowadays, because consumers are following more conscious brands, because that e-commerce experience is the modern storefront, if I buy from a brand that I aspire to be aligned with, that I really like and that item arrives in poorly presented piece of single use plastic, it can ruin the brand perceived value. And so I think people and businesses in particular are waking up to the fact that consumers will not accept that and that it looks negative on the brand and it damages their brand perception.

And so finally that commerciality and sustainability team to align, which is very exciting from our perspective. Actually businesses are having to make ethical decisions that are being driven by the consumer and that's really exciting.

Paul

Yeah, I was going to ask about that actually, touched on a point that you mentioned earlier, that what are the policymakers doing? What the government is doing to encourage the use of sustainable packaging?

Josh

Yeah, I mean, I'm a big advocate for legislation, because I think, if you look at businesses, ultimately they often exist to deliver shareholder value. You know you are kind of dreaming if you believe that a lot of big things is going to take that step. We are great at triple bottom line business, but we're a family owned and run business. We have much tighter attachment to the impact we're having in the world, and I think we're conscious about it. But a lot of businesses aren't going to make that step.

And that’s their legislation or consumer opportunity. So what's actually being done now? There are two things that I think are sort of fairly relevant. One is the plastic packaging tax and essentially that is a £220 a tonne levy for any plastic packaging product that is under 30% post-consumer waste. Now the majority of plastic packaging can be made-up to 80% post-consumer waste so it's a very small step in the right direction.

But essentially what it does is it starts creating more demand for recycled plastic, which hopefully creates an opportunity for recyclers, creates money into that market and helps us build a recycling infrastructure. So that's kind of cool.

The second one is a scheme called packaging recovery notes, PRN's. And that is for every tonne of a material a large business uses, they have to buy a recovery note as an extended responsibility for creating that material.


“One is the plastic packaging tax and essentially that is a £220 a tonne levy for any plastic packaging product that is under 30% post-consumer waste. But essentially what it does is it starts creating more demand for recycled plastic, which hopefully creates an opportunity for recyclers, creates money into that market and helps us build a recycling infrastructure.”


And the money they spend on those recovery notes is invested in recycling, and the notes are only produced every tonne of a material that's recycled. So it's a bit hard to wrap the head around, but essentially you think of supply and demand. The less recycling that's going on relative to the amount of material being consumed.

The less recovery notes there are for the number of tonnes being used and therefore the price of these goes up really high and that suddenly means that a lot of money is being generated for recycling businesses for them to invest in infrastructure. In principle, the idea is great it means that the more recycling you do with the material, the lower cost it is to use that material because there's less friction associated with the with the PRN's.

The big knock on effect of this is essentially, the businesses that are playing for their PRNs, plastic is much, much more expensive, in the region of £300 a tonne, versus paper which is about £10 a tonne because paper is readily recyclable. So for every tonne of the material that big business is using, they're actually, if you look at the extended responsibility, the cost of paper is no longer hugely prohibitive over plastic, which it used to be.

Paul

It just brings me on to really thinking about certifications and testing. Are there any certifications or testing associated with sustainable packaging?

Josh

Yeah. I mean really more to do with sustainable business practise. So like ISO 14001 is a great one and it's a waste management system and it helps people audit and manage their materials and FSC and PEFC are really reliable markers. So if you're looking for whether that paper has been sourced from a sustainable forest.

And what I mean by that is that it's grown as a crop. There's no natural habitat being destroyed and it's harvesting and it's essentially a properly stewarded and managed forest space, so those are great markers.

And climate neutral. So the climate neutral marker is a great one and that's an accredited market that has an application that you have to go through in order to use it on your packaging. One thing that's of interest is that a lot of people think that having printing on packaging, et cetera, is less recyclable.

But from a paper based product, it makes no difference whatsoever. Unless it has a laminate. So we've got a very shiny surface or it's got plastic laminate applied. Those are the things to look out for.

Paul

I did want to ask about that actually. I've recently heard that you know receipts. You know, they've got an ink on there, which is quite toxic.

Josh

Yeah. So I mean, that's one of our innovations as well, that we're really proud of is we've created BPA (Bisphenol A) free thermal labels part of our Priory Elements range. And it's a big story. I'm really glad you asked.

So we will have seen BPA free on drinks boxes. You guys probably have seen that. And the reason we're using BPA free plastics in our drinks boxes is because biphenyl is a carcinogenic plastic that emulates oestrogen, so it accumulates in the body and it can disrupt our oestrogen levels.

And essentially all receipts and all traditional thermal labels, which are the address labels you receive your e-commerce goods on, have a BPA coating. And that's why you shouldn't really touch or interact with receipts, because of that bit of BPA can be absorbed through your skin.

But the wider problem with e-commerce is that those thermal labels are being recycled with the box they're stuck on, so they get water poles and then the pulp is filtered out the water and the water is flushed into our waterways containing microplastics and BPA.

And essentially that accumulates in our environment we then start imbibing the BPA from the foods we eat and the water we drink, and all of a sudden, cancer rates are going up, we're all having problems with our oestrogen levels, so we've created a label that's got a vitamin C coating, which naturally biodegrades, oxidises naturally in nature and doesn't create single use microplastics.

Paul

Just speaking about end users then let's go with end users. To start off with it, are there 1, 2 or 3 things, perhaps they should be looking for when they receive a package in the post, from Amazon or from wherever it might be to see if the packaging that they've received is planet friendly?

Josh

OK. So I mean from my perspective, the first pillar is right size. OK, if you've got lots of padding and void filling there, it's not the right item to be sending that in and that's a fact. It involves wasted material, but more importantly, wasted space in this project.

So is it right sized? Does it wrap around or form or not where there’s a padding? Is it recyclable? Is it made of a single material that you can easily recycle yourself and is it clear for you how to recycle it? If it isn't, then that's not part of the circular economy.

The next time that material is going to be needed, we're going to need to make some more of it. So is it recyclable? OK.

And then finally, is it single use? Is it single material? Forgive me. Is it single material? So we really try and avoid dual material. So plastic combined with paper is not so good. So really you want to have a mono material item so that it is fully recyclable and easy to handle downstream.

Josh

And I would say, I would like to say Paul about the triple bottom line nature of our direct account.

So I know that a lot of your subscribers are businesses and there's a couple of things that I think I feel really, really strong about is about making sustainable choices as a business, but also using your platform as a business as a vehicle for good. And we've launched our charity rewards and our partnership with 1% for the Planet. And our partnership with Rainforest Trust and all of the back of those ideas, the Rainforest Trust Partnership has now protected over 6,000,000 square metres of rainforest.

The Priory Elements range are sold in partnership with 1% for the Planet. So 1% of all turnover, not profit of those items goes to planet saving charities. And our charity rewards because our customers the ability to give 1% back over everything they spend to one of our four charity partners.

And in the last 12 months, that's raised over £44,000 for charity. What I would like to impart to your viewers, your subscribers, your customers, is that the loyalty that you can drive through customers that buy into that messaging and fully join you on your journey is worth the investment. And we're just very lucky that our customers and demographic are very aligned with that and go for it.

The Rainforest Trust Protection that has replaced the free gift of the checkout. It costs the same to the business, but it's been immensely positive and the 1% for the Planet partnership. They're one of the best organisations we've interfaced with.

It makes that product more compelling. You know, for all of the smaller businesses that can't afford to brand their own packaging when they choose Priory Elements, it talks about it being planet friendly. It's got the 1% for the planet marker on there. It shows their customers they've made a sustainable choice.


“(It is about) making sustainable choices as a business, but also using your platform as a business as a vehicle for good. The loyalty that you can drive through customers that buy into that messaging and fully join you on your journey is worth the investment. And we're just very lucky that our customers and demographic are very aligned with that and go for it.”

Paul

OK. All right. Well, that's, you know, been such a great insight into planet-friendly packaging, Josh and how Priory Direct works.

Josh

Pleasure, Paul. Thanks very much.

Paul

Cheers, then. Thank you. Bye-bye.

Josh

Bye

Contact Details

Website: https://www.priorydirect.co.uk/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/priory.direct/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/priory-direct/

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/priorydirect

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PrioryDirect

Twitter: https://twitter.com/priorydirect

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