WestRock’s fibre-based mailer solution, KD-fold™, is a curbside recyclable replacement for single-use plastic mailer bags. Find out more about the solution in this interview with WestRock, which is a finalist in the E-Commerce category of the Sustainability Awards 2022. 

You’re a finalist in the Sustainability Awards 2022. Congratulations! To start off, could you summarise your entry, the WestRock KD FoldTM, in less than 50 words?

WestRock’s KD-fold™ is a fibre-based mailer solution for the e-commerce channel that is made of recycled materials, is curbside recyclable and replaces single-use plastic mailers and polyurethane bags

Why do you think the judges were impressed with your entry? Tell us about what is innovative about your project and/or about its impact on packaging sustainability.

Our KD-fold™ solution directly targets one of the largest problems within the e-commerce channel, which is single-use plastics and how to dispose of them responsibly. Due to the nature of the different plastic compounds used in packaging, it is not possible to design a recycling system for properly breaking down and reusing plastic/polyurethane packaging.

Our fibre-based, recyclable KD-fold™ mailer can effectively replace non-recyclable or hard-to-recycle shipping materials used in the e-commerce fulfilment channel without drastically increasing operational or material costs and reducing the amount of non-biodegradable, single-use plastics ending up in our landfills or oceans.

How has your innovation/initiative been received?

Since its release into the market, KD-fold™ has quickly attracted the attention of Fortune 500, global brands. There is a growing customer list for Pak on Demand™ machinery installations, which is the automated machinery using the KD-fold™ substrate. As such, we are currently expanding KD-fold™ manufacturing capacity and setting up infrastructure to be able to deliver to our customers.

In general, WestRock knows from conducting our own proprietary research* that sustainable packaging positively impacts consumer purchasing behaviour, product satisfaction, and brand trust. KD-fold™ delivers on many of the specific sustainability attributes that performed well in the study, including being easily recycled/composted and made from recycled materials. Our study also shows that consumers perceive fibre-based packaging options as more environmentally friendly than plastic. We are hopeful that as more and more consumers are exposed to the KD-fold™ through our early adopters, we will continue to expand and directly impact the use of plastics in e-commerce applications.

*Source: WestRock Pulse Packaging Survey, September 2020.

You’re shortlisted for the E-Commerce category. What do you see as the key demands, challenges and opportunities in relation to e-commerce in packaging?

From discussions with current and prospective e-commerce customers, the two most important issues at the moment are Sustainability and Labor Challenges. Firstly, sustainability will continue to be an environmental and cultural issue moving forward as people strive to protect the resources around them. Whether it is overflowing landfills or floating islands of trash in our oceans, the imagery we are exposed to has an emotional effect on our decision-making. If we can continue to make strides towards more sustainable solutions in packaging, we too can make a positive change to our collective planet.

Labour challenges/shortages have been thrust to the forefront as e-commerce growth has outpaced the ability to use manual labour for order fulfilment. Distribution centres are experiencing low retention rates and rising wages to entice workers to stay. Automation within the order fulfilment process is a key driver to success in getting orders out the door on time. For that reason, we have paired the KD-fold™ material with our Pak on Demand™ automated solution. Pak on Demand™ is an automated fulfilment station similar to an “auto-bag” system currently using plastic. The machine removes roughly 90% of the manual order fulfilment process and can even print and apply a shipping label directly to the KD-fold™ material for reduced material handling downstream. Customers can easily replace their existing “auto-bag” type machinery with a 1-to-1 Pak on Demand™ solution that requires little change to their operational processes.

For these reasons, we believe that the KD-fold™ with Pak on Demand™ machinery is a very effective e-commerce solution aimed at tackling our customers’ biggest challenges. The development of this product has been many years in the making and is perfectly timed to help our partners achieve their sustainability and operational goals.

The winners of this Sustainability Awards category will be announced at a dinner taking place at the Sustainable Packaging Summit in Lisbon on 13th-14th September 2022. To attend the ceremony, register here.