Sustainable business

Packaging of furniture: Cleanly packed

Environmentally friendly packaging is also becoming an issue for the furniture industry. Resourceful companies have long since found ways to do without plastic and polystyrene.

Sep 29 2020

The beautiful piece of furniture is unpacked and stands at its destination. But now the first thing to do is to dispose of the packaging - which consists of plastic film and polystyrene, among other things. This is a minus point for the customer, because he had paid special attention to climate-neutral production when making his choice. How annoying that the massive use of plastic ruins the ecological balance of the order.  

The fact is that the furniture industry lags behind other sectors when it comes to packaging. In many cases, materials that do not score well in terms of environmental protection dominate, and their disposal is usually not a big issue for retailers and manufacturers either.

However, it is clear that the type of packaging is becoming more important for consumers. According to a survey by packaging specialist Smurfit Kappa, around a third of consumers are already paying attention to this. The furniture industry cannot resist the trend either.

A lot of packaging, little content: the amount of material used for deliveries is enormous. © unsplash / Markus Spiske

Example from Berlin 

One example of how it can work is the Berlin-based company Ekomia - it sells eco-furniture from its own production. Managing Director Rolf Piechura sees not only production but also packaging as the central point of the strategy: "Basically, we use paper and cardboard to package our solid wood furniture - after all, there are very good recycling possibilities for this in Germany.

Initially, this caused problems with damage, but these were quickly solved. "For our customers, who attach great importance to sustainability, price and design must be right," Piechura reports. But also an environmentally friendly packaging is well received - provided that the furniture really arrives undamaged.

The young Berlin company ekomia uses only recyclable materials for its packaging. © Ekomia, provided

The Berlin-based company, founded in 2013, is certainly not lacking in ideas: buyers are encouraged to continue using the packaging after all. "We show our customers with enclosed DIY instructions how they can make a bedside table or pencil holder, for example, from cardboard packaging," Piechura explains.

He is sure that a lot can still be done in terms of packaging. "You just have to want it. There is certainly still a lot of potential in the furniture industry, and materials such as polystyrene are often used at present.

Rolf Piechura from Ekomia is sure that the furniture industry can do more in terms of packaging. © Ekomia, provided

15 years in use 

But Rolf Piechura also knows that improvement does not only depend on the deliveries that ultimately end up with the consumer: "Packaging materials at suppliers would also have to be addressed, a large proportion of packaging waste is already generated at the beginning of the production chain.

One company that is already implementing this demand is Blum: The Vorarlberg manufacturer of furniture fittings has been using its own solution called Eco-Pack for several years now, in addition to reusable cardboard packaging, to meet both customer requirements and internal specifications. The self-developed system improves the use of space in the truck and multiple use, reports Pascal Fitz, the company's environmental and energy officer.

The Austrian furniture fittings manufacturer Blum relies on its own Eco-Pack solution. ©  Blum, provided

The packaging can be used for up to 15 years before it is returned to the cycle as raw material. Blum is generally committed to sustainability, with efforts being made in logistics and energy use. By 2025 the company wants to be climate-neutral with its activities.   

Pascal Fitz, environmental officer of the Vorarlberg manufacturer Blum. © Blum, providedSuch examples are setting a precedent. At the same time, the range of environmentally friendly packaging is growing, as manufacturers see a growing demand for this. In addition, new, innovative approaches to environmentally friendly packaging are being developed, for example, bio-based plastics that consist entirely or partially of biomass. Such materials should not be confused with biodegradable plastics - these decompose without leaving any residue and therefore do not pollute the environment.

Interesting approaches are also provided by the "Dendromass4Europe" research project, in which the TU Dresden is also involved. The aim is to use poplar wood and bark not only to produce new types of lightweight material panels for furniture, but also fungus-inhibiting fibre cast components which can replace plastic as a packaging material and are easy to recycle. The avoidance of empty packaging also plays an important role in the ecological balance of the packaging.

Author: Robert Prazak

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