Focus sustainable! The packaging strategy of IMTRON
Packaging waste is also generated during the manufacture of private label products. Reducing these quantities and making the packaging itself more sustainable is the aim of IMTRON's packaging strategy. What exactly is behind this strategy? How sustainable is IMTRON's packaging management? Sustainability News spoke to Kamilla Schafmayer, an expert for sustainability, compliance and contract management at IMTRON.
Avoiding unnecessary packaging is one of the major sustainability challenges for manufacturers and retailers in the consumer electronics sector. After all, packaging generates waste. According to the Federal Environment Agency, the volume of packaging waste has continued to rise sharply in recent years - to 18.7 million tonnes in 2017 - and thus averages around 226.5 kilograms per German citizen. A new and unpleasant record for the environment and the consumption of raw materials.
There's another way. IMTRON GmbH, a wholly owned subsidiary of the MediaMarktSaturn Retail Group, which is responsible for the procurement of the ok., PEAQ, KOENIC, TechnoStar and ISY own brands, shows that the problem of packaging waste can be tackled consistently with the right strategy. Kamilla Schafmayer gives an insight into the IMTRON strategy and the first projects already implemented. The 34-year-old fully qualified lawyer has been working for IMTRON for two years as an expert for sustainability, compliance and contract management.
Mrs Schafmayer: Packaging waste is generated in the manufacture and sale of private label products. Can you briefly explain to us which packaging and types of packaging are involved in which stages of the value chain?
IMTRON basically deals with two types of packaging along the value chain, from the production of a product to its presentation on the market. On the one hand, we have the sales packaging: this is the carton in which the goods (especially smaller appliances such as electric kettles, hair dryers or irons) are actually on the shelves in the stores. This packaging is also used for product presentation, so it must be sales-optimised, i.e. look attractive. The other type of packaging is transport packaging or export cartons, which are intended to protect the product from damage during transport. As a rule, smaller products are not transported individually, but bundled into product units in a large transport carton.
The situation is different for large household appliances. It’s difficult packing four refrigerators in one carton, so each appliance has its own transport packaging to protect it from damage. You also do not need any presentable high-gloss sales packaging. Because the devices are exhibited in the market without packaging. For the way into the household of the customer the equipment needs only a transport packing.
Which packing materials are used by IMTRON?
As a rule, we use three types of materials: cardboard for cardboard boxes and inner packaging, plastic (plastic bags in cardboard boxes for small parts or special protection against moisture) and, if required, polystyrene. Styrofoam layers protect sensitive products such as screens or TV sets from pressure and shocks, thus taking special safety aspects into account. In the case of very large appliances such as freezer combinations, wood is sometimes also used in the packaging. Here, too, it is a question of safety: protecting the product during its journey.
And how are these recyclable materials returned to the cycle?
Disposal and recycling are extremely important to us in terms of sustainability. As a manufacturer of electronic products, however, disposal and recycling are naturally not among IMTRON's core competencies. We have therefore outsourced this task to certified service providers. They take over the professional disposal, coordinate the reuse and recycling of the contained raw materials. We work here with two competent and reliable partners, so that we are well positioned in this area.
Everything different? The new Packaging Ordinance and its effects on the IMTRON
On 1 January 2019, the old Packaging Ordinance (VerpackV) was replaced in Germany by the new Packaging Act 2019 (VerpackG). This entails new regulations on sales or secondary packaging, transport packaging and packaging materials.
Mrs Schafmayer, what changes will the new legislation bring to IMTRON?
IMTRON relate in particular to the manufacturer's obligations. However, we have already dealt with this topic before. With the new packaging regulations, there is now a central office where the registration of packaging quantities must be carried out. We take a positive view of this. The new obligation to register and the obligatory reporting of quantities increase transparency in the market, which we expressly welcome. IMTRON is in an excellent position here, because even before it came into effect we voluntarily implemented what has now become mandatory for all manufacturers. Once a year we have an audit carried out by an independent auditor and receive a certificate confirming that we have reported the correct quantities. We are audited by an independent auditor. We successfully passed the last audit again. Whether voluntary or mandatory: the external audit once again underlines that we are working transparently.
Sustainability initiative with effect: the IMTRON packaging guideline
IMTRON already adopted its own packaging guideline in 2013, which is based on the five values Remove, Reduce, Re-use, Renew and Recycle. The aim is to use less material in the long term, to reduce the overall volume of packaging and to promote the use of innovative - and more environmentally friendly - packaging materials. The topic of packaging is constantly being re-examined in the company.
What exactly is behind the five values and what are the specific objectives of the Directive?
Our packaging guideline is part of the communication with our suppliers. We provide them with a guideline according to which they must comply. This is also based on our five values - a graduated value system based on the laws of the circular economy: Avoid, reduce, reuse, renew and recycle.
However, we are in a field of tension here: on the one hand we want to reduce packaging waste, on the other hand our products must meet high quality and safety requirements. And to meet these requirements, we often need the appropriate packaging to protect the goods. We frequently receive enquiries about further reduction possibilities and are always open to new suggestions. Our motto: what is feasible is also done, but there are limits: Our products have a long journey to make before they reach the markets. And on this journey they must be protected. From moisture and dirt, from sensitive devices such as monitors or laptops, and from possible damage caused by pressure.
Basically, we are open to innovations and new packaging materials. Every suggestion is discussed open-ended. We accept and implement feasible changes. This is what happens with the packaging of LEDs. Not long ago, these goods were sold in full blister packs made entirely of plastic. Meanwhile, we are focusing here on pure paper packaging made from recycled paper, which is produced in Germany.
We have noticed that all stakeholders are rethinking and new ideas are constantly coming - a very positive development. When it comes to packaging, a lot is criticised. But we keep seeing fresh ideas that will be implemented. And that's really good.
Which materials should be saved or replaced?
Clearly plastic! As just said: LEDs are now packed in paper. Internally, we are also constantly checking to see whether more environmentally friendly packaging can be made from more innovative materials. This is a permanent process that we actively follow.
How does IMTRON approach material reduction and packaging optimization?
In a project as part of a support programme, we analysed the components of packaging together with young colleagues from MSD. We examined sample packaging from different product categories and examined their current status, existing packaging elements and exchange possibilities. This project continues, also because a packaging cannot be changed over from one day to the next.
Through the IMTRON value chain, we also keep track of what our suppliers can ensure. In our price segment, they have to deliver very high quality and functionality. And we then have to check again which packaging components can possibly be replaced by more compatible materials. We are currently in this constant process of small steps - a task that, given the broad product portfolio, of course cannot be mastered quickly overnight. We also shed light on packaging factors such as adhesives. As I said, there are many possibilities, but they must always be considered in terms of feasibility. In the case of adhesives made from more environmentally friendly materials, for example, it has to be checked whether they can withstand what they have to do for the packaging. Here we are in the feasibility analysis, so the results have not yet been integrated into the workflow.
In general, we also deal with new trends and packaging innovations, which we then examine for a comprehensive implementation potential for our product portfolio.
Are there already initial successes or concrete showcase projects?
The successful packaging change for LED luminaires shows that we are on the right track. Another large-scale project concerns our ISY ink: since 1.10.2019 IMTRON has been offering remanufactured and refillable ink cartridges for a wide range of printers from Brother to HP - cheaper and more environmentally friendly than the original manufacturer. This means that no cartridge has to go into the trash anymore.
In addition, it was decided in the past financial year to implement new specifications on the subject of plastic avoidance: From now on, unnecessary plastic packaging parts are to be omitted as far as possible. This was immediately communicated to our IMTRON suppliers. The clear message: as soon as not necessary plastic bags are worked up, they must be avoided.
When it comes to the environment and sustainability, we stay tuned with IMTRON. This is promised!
Thank you very much for the interview!