Our mission to reduce plastic in production
Reducing plastic is a global project involving RPI facilities and prInternet partners aimed to minimize the use of plastic in our supply chains, production processes, and packaging.
RPI drives the global initiative, but each RPI and prInternet team designs and implements local solutions tailored to their supply chains, shipping conditions, and climate.
In November 2021, RPI Europe removed the plastic from the packaging of personalized photo books produced in Eindhoven. The change reduced the use of crystal bags by 43% compared to 2020.
In 2022, the expected reduction is an exciting 92%. Hanneke Boon, the project lead RPI Europe, talks about the process, the results, and the next steps for RPI Europe.
Subtle change, powerful impact
We wanted to kick off the project with a meaningful reduction in plastic use, so we looked for a viable solution, substantial impact, and instant results. Removing crystal bags from photo books packaging was a logical first step. In total, it adds up to 2.5K kg of single-use plastic a year, which will not end up in landfills or the environment.
Hanneke Boon, Reducing Plastic Project Lead at RPI Europe
Doesn’t plastic packaging play a crucial protective function?
Quality bespoke cardboard packaging plays a crucial protective function. Plastic packaging protects the book only from certain types of damage, mainly moisture and water damage in transit. In some geographical areas, plastic packaging is necessary because the local climate or shipping conditions are more likely to cause water or moisture damage. For this reason, some of our prInternet partners are keeping crystal bags until we find a sustainable alternative.
However, in general, the potential risk of water damage does not justify plastic packaging. Before removing crystal bags for photo books in Eindhoven, we had shipped test packages. They all arrived in prime condition. We also monitor our complaints, but no spikes in water damage have occurred. Additionally, plastic-free packaging is becoming a new standard in the printing industry, so the benefits outweigh the risks.
What about the unwrapping experience?
Some time ago, the rustle and the sparkle of a crystal bag were considered part of the unwrapping experience. I am happy to say that it is a thing of the past. Plastic has become a turn-off for a conscious consumer, and our clients recognize the importance of this change.
How easy is it to remove crystal bags from the workflow?
From the outside, it seems a pretty straightforward move. But before we removed crystal bags, we had to make sure the change would not affect the quality of the product or the efficiency of the workflow.
Crystal bags protected our books against scratches on the cover laminate. To prevent the damage, we needed a more durable laminate. My colleague, Martijn Verhallen, reached out to his network of suppliers, purchased several samples, and we started testing. It was the most time-consuming stage in the process because we had to make sure the new laminate is scratch-proof and fits into every step of our workflow. We had to repeat the process for both matte and gloss laminate.
Crystal bags were also a functional solution for the marketing pieces we added to every product. To remove it, we had to move and update our process to make sure every product leaves our facility with the correct discount coupon, sticker, or thank-you card.
We also had to introduce a new barcode into our workflow. The IT team designed it to contain complete information about the product, and we implemented it into the workflow as a removable sticker placed directly on the book cover. The barcode upgrade allowed us to remove crystal bags and barcodes printed directly on book covers. Currently, the end consumers receive their books in neat sustainable packaging, and after they remove the barcode sticker, the end product bears no traces of the production process.
Crystal bags are no longer used for photo books. What about other products made at RPI?
Photo books constitute the bulk of the production at RPI Europe. Our second-biggest output consists of personalized cards and photo products, for which we use brown paper banderol and dedicated cardboard packaging. For medium-size prints, we use paper bags, and for large format prints, we use cardboard tubes.
What about the remaining plastic? Where is it, and what are you going to do about it?
We still use plastic for a fraction of our products, for example, personalized magazines. A more affordable and less durable product, magazines are not laminated but covered by a UV coating. We found out that the barcode sticker we use for books damages the UV coating, so the protection of a crystal bag is necessary for now.
As a default, we do not use shrink-wrap foil, but there is a handful of products for which a client specifically requested plastic packaging.
Additionally, we use plastic tape to bind packages for shipping, and the tubes for posters are cardboard, but the caps are still plastic. These are small details, but the amount of plastic adds up, so finding sustainable alternatives is our next step. We are also looking at the packaging of raw materials delivered to our facility and working with our suppliers to minimize plastic in our supply chain.
Minimizing plastic is not the only sustainability project we are working on at RPI Europe. We are currently working on obtaining certification, expanding our prInternet network to print close to the consumer, and connecting our facility to renewable energy sources, to name just a few initiatives. Sustainability has become a part of the RPI mindset and is here to stay.