Back in 2004, long before most manufacturers were even thinking about ISO 14001, we started building a new product — a small electronics assembly in a plastic enclosure — for one of our customers.

It occurred to us that this project provides the perfect blueprint for lots of new packaging reduction initiatives that we can pursue in partnership with our customers.

From the beginning, we have delivered finished, tested products to our customers in reusable plastic tote boxes — which use collapsible dividers for protection. As our customers use the products at their factories, the empty boxes are stacked inside each other and eventually returned to us when our next delivery arrives.

We initially split the cost of these reusable boxes with our customer and we are still using the same boxes today, 16 years later, for the latest generation of products. During that time, we have delivered 170,000 pieces!

We thought it would be useful to illustrate how much packaging this process has saved over the last 16 years.

At today’s prices, the tote boxes in circulation would cost around £600. To package 170,000 units in standard cardboard boxes would need around 4,500 boxes. Add to that bubble wrap or similar protective wrapping, and you would be looking at a massive cost of £6,000.

The environmental arguments for plastic over cardboard are interesting, with plastic clearly coming out on top when considered as the long-term option.

We are now working with our key customers to establish new packaging reduction initiatives that will take us through the next 16 years. Over the next 12 months, we hope to have implemented reusable packaging wherever possible across our entire customer base.

Plastic tote boxes are only one form of reusable packaging and the products we manufacture are wide and varied. We will be developing multiple bespoke packaging solutions to ensure that all products reach our customers safely.

We are convinced that a partnership approach with customers will yield some innovative solutions and long-term environmental benefits — and, of course, help to save money! Win-win.