Monday, 22 October 2007

Corn is Pop

When rethinking our parcels, Jill, one of our Mail Order gurus, had this idea of using popcorn to fill the boxes and make sure our products would arrive safely in the hands of our customers.
After some research, we had a bespoke popcorn machine made for us that could produce 32 kg of popcorn per hour or 2,127 kg per week! And would we need all of that when we decided to use it to fill our gift boxes, as well!
Popcorn goes into our parcels and most of our gifts as a replacement for the shredded paper we used. The paper used (and still present in some gifts) was end-of-the-reel and fairly local, so not much environmental damage there; however, popcorn is 60% lighter than the shreddie, it protects the products a lot better and it much more fun than just boring shredded paper.
The other clear advantage of popcorn is that we are transporting unpopped kernels, which are concentrated and compact. Popcorn vendors make their money by buying per weight and selling by volume. My guesstimate is that about 1 litres of kernels will be transformed into 35 litres (0.035 cubic metres) of packing material (I later googled it and found that popcorn have an expansion rate of 36-44 to 1). To make these numbers more practical, I’ll use my lorry metaphor again. If we were transporting say polystyrene packing material (those puffy things), we would need 35 lorries on road carrying the same volume as would potentially be in 1 lorry of kernels, after being popped. Still following?
What’s more, last year we bought roughly 70 tonnes of shredded paper to fill of our gifts and parcels. To get the same volume in popcorn, we would need only half that tonnage in kernels. That also means our parcels are about 10% lighter.
Putting our products in popcorn also meant that we could reduce the number of plastic bags used to wrap individual items. Products like ballistics and bubble bars are happy to sit naked in the popcorn. Sticky products like massage bars and some of the soaps still have to go in bag, but we are working on changing that, as well. We felt we could reduce the number of bags used by half, which should mean at least 2 million plastic bags saved, possibly more.
Popping the corn is an energy-intensive business, but so is making polystyrene puffs or the now commonly found biodegradable starch version. The latter goes through an extrusion process using very high temperatures and high pressure. Turning a tree into paper is also energy intensive, but that is done far from our eyes, so it’s not as immediately obvious as the popcorn. The good thing about popping it in our factory is that we have control over our electricity supplier, which is something difficult to have over up and down our supply chain. As of January 08, when our current contract finishes, we will move that building to a green supplier and should then have wind-powered popcorn.
After you’ve used you box contents, popcorn makes a lovely addition to anyone’s compost. I personally wouldn’t recommend eating it, unless you like eating soap, as it absorbs some of the Lush scents and you get slightly fragrant popcorn.
If you don’t have a compost heap, it’s time to start one. Go to Compost Now for some advice or if you don’t have a garden, friendly microorganisms can help turn your food into lovely liquid fertilizer. Try these websites and get some kitchen digesters this Christmas: Living Soil, The Green Shop. Oh, don’t forget nagging your council for them to set up a food waste collection scheme! If you’ve got kids or need some relaxing time, use your imagination and make some pop(corn) art.

6 comments:

admin said...

When my friend told me this idea that you were going to do a few months ago I was like you clever cookies. Its so original and inventive, yet so simplistic. Your post covers the issues of why and how this simple idea has such a huge environmental impact.

For example according to uk government figures each tonne of paper uses or emits;

17 trees,
31 000 litres of water,
4 000KWh of electricity,
1 600 litres of oil,
2.6t of airbourne pollutants
2.3m3 in landfills (assuming its not recycled or composted)

Its a shame to hear that your potential LED suppliers / installers are letting you down. I know if I had LUSH asking me to install eco things, I would be making sure you got preferential treatment, not least the potential referrals that such a job would create.

Keep up the innovation.

Anonymous said...

This is so revolting. I am just sick. I just placed a (group) UK order for over 150.00 US and from the US forum have heard how awful this packaging is. You are putting bare unwrapped products in boxes of popcorn? There are far better, more environmentally sound ways to package. What a sickening mess. You can't gift anyone the LUSH prepackaged gifts as they are arriving so very nasty. You can't feed birds the popcorn covered as it is with the broken bits and the dust of the bombs, and bubble bars. No more Lush for me. And trust me, - if people are giving these as gifts they will be so humiliated you will be losing more customers.

Linda said...

I have to say that this is a wonderful idea. I ordered a lot of pressies for christmas which arrived a few days ago and they were all in perfect condition.
Best of all I didn't have to feel guilty about waste packaging, keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

I love the popcorn idea. Despite the soapiness / fragrance, it actually tastes really good too... I can't help munching it :-s

Plus, our local recycling scheme will no longer take shredded paper in case it contains staples (although they'll still take stapled papers and magazines) but the popcorn can go in the food waste bin.

STASHSIREN said...

Noooooo!!!!! It doesn't work!!! I have emailed the Customer Service Dept. as I bought 2 Christmas Star boxes as gifts, the contents of which were almost completely obliterated. There was hardly any popcorn used as packing in the boxes, and the stuff that was there just kind of rolled around pathetically and left nasty greasy stains on the inside of the box. Yuck! This the a bad idea!! I know you are trying to be 'green' and I support that APART from when it turns into a waste of hard earned cash for the customer!

Parky said...

I actually love the Popcorn and reading the blog makes me appreciate more as to why it is chosen over the paper. I prefer the natural smell of the popcorn in the parcel instead of the horrible smell of the ink on the old shredded paper. As for protecting the goods, well, I had a huge box of Lush delivered from Poole to Spain last year (when I say huge, I mean huge) and it had ballistics, glass, all sorts of things in it. It all arrived perfectly and the couriers had not been too delicate with the box either. In fact, I was so impressed by the popcorn, I took some pictures of the box! anyway, just wanted to say, I think the popcorn rocks.