US materials company says its packaging alternative cuts waste by 50%

3M debuts new material that could reduce the time, materials, and space required to ship products by 50%
Material handling, Packaging, E-commerce, 3M

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Most e-commerce goods are shipped in a too-big box, stuffed with lots of wasteful packaging filler, which is why US-based materials company 3M has developed a new type of packaging that requires no tape and no filler, and can be customised to fit any object under 1.5 kgs.

3M claims that the material, called the Flex & Seal Shipping Roll, can reduce time spent packing, the amount of packaging materials, and the space needed to ship packages, according to Fast Company.

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The roll is made out of three layers of different plastics that 3M developed, including a gray, internal adhesive layer that sticks to itself so that packages can be wrapped up without the need for additional tape.

There’s also a middle cushioning layer similar to bubble wrap to protect items during shipping, and a tougher outside layer that is tear- and water-resistant.

It comes in rolls of assorted sizes and a 200-foot bulk role will be available in August.

To use the Flex & Seal, place the item on the sticky gray side of the material, fold over enough material to encapsulate the item, and press the adhesive sides together to seal it up like a calzone.

The gray side of the packaging will stick to itself, and not the object being shipped, and 3M says the seal is robust enough to stay in place during shipping—no tape required.

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After about 30 seconds the adhesive gets so strong that you have to tear the plastic a bit if you want to pull it apart. That protects the package from tampering, while making sure it’s easy enough to tear open or cut with scissors for the end-user.

The Flex & Seal is one way that 3M is trying to get in on the gold rush of the on-demand economy.

When 3M started doing research to understand the packaging problems e-commerce merchants had, the team found that people were so accustomed to thinking shipping had to be done using boxes, filler, and tape that they didn’t even see it as a problem—just a necessary evil.

“It was the bane of their existence,” says Remi Kent, who oversees business globally for 3M’s Post-it Notes and Scotch Brands. “But they didn’t know of any other alternative. They’d have up to 10 steps for preparing, packing, and shipping.”

The Flex & Seal is recyclable as it’s made of the same material as disposable plastic bags, but similar to plastic bags, the only way to recycle it is to take it to certain retail stores and recyclers, which might be able to include it in their plastic bag recycling program.

Kent recognizes this is a problem, and says the team is working on making it easier to recycle. “We’re looking at how we could change the construction of the material choices so it becomes easier to recycle at home,” she says.

But Flex & Seal does have an environmental benefit, compared with cardboard, 3M says: Shipping companies would be able to fit more of this type of package in a single truck, making the supply chain more efficient and potentially reducing emissions.

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