• Kyodo

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Cardboard box makers in Japan are coming up with innovative designs to ameliorate corporate labor shortages and to improve delivery efficiency.

Market leader Rengo Co. is displaying such products at its showroom in Saitama Prefecture, including boxes that are easily opened and double as actual displays for the merchandise inside.

“Supermarkets and other big retailers want to avoid spending lots of time on opening cardboard boxes and displaying merchandise from them on store shelves,” said Tetsuo Muroya, Rengo’s chief spokesman. “Cardboard boxes here are designed to meet the need.”

Cardboard boxes should be strong enough to protect the merchandise inside and to be stacked on top of one another.

“Workers at big retailers used to damage merchandize inside and even injure themselves when they cut boxes open. But the trouble can now be avoided because boxes have perforations for easy opening,” Muroya said.

About 13 billion sq. meters of cardboard boxes — equivalent to the combined area of Tokyo and its surrounding prefectures of Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba — are produced every year in Japan.

Of the total production, 41 percent are used for transport of processed food products and beverages, 11 percent for fruit and vegetables and 5 percent for other foodstuffs.

Cardboard boxes for e-commerce and door-to-door delivery service companies account for about 5 percent of the total output, double from a decade ago. The percentage is likely to keep rising.

Rengo has developed a new packaging system that automatically measures the height of merchandise and custom-makes a package of the right size. When, for example, a worker puts three books on a corrugated sheet and places a wrapping film on them, the automatic packaging system, called Gemini, processes the sheet into a cardboard box suited for the books.

The system performs work that otherwise requires 20 workers, Muroya said. It also reduces package sizes and greatly enhances transportation efficiency, he added.

Gemini even makes a thin package for one compact disc that can be put into a mailbox, which would save the truck driver making a redelivery when the recipient is away.

Gemini makes cardboard boxes with perforations about 2 cm wide, allowing for easy opening and flattening for disposal.

Recycled corrugated boards, newspapers, magazines and other paper products account for 98 percent of material Rengo uses to produce cardboard boxes. But the use of recycled paper has drawn attention recently because of some of the cardboard may have an unpleasant odor.

Cardboard used to package detergents, incense sticks and other products tends to retain the merchandise smell, according to Muroya.

Rengo has introduced dogs to detect smelly cardboard. At its plant in Yashio, Saitama Prefecture, which is one of the largest paperboard production factories in Japan, a 5-year-old German shepherd named Silk detects odors among recycled paper products brought there by 10-ton trucks.

The cardboard business in Japan was launched by Teijiro Inoue, founder of Rengo, in 1909. Cardboard was initially used to pack electric bulbs and then found its way into packages of canned food products, beer, china, clothes and other merchandise.

Other uses for cardboard have emerged recently, such as creating partitions in emergency evacuation centers in times of disaster.

Now that the workload on delivery truck drivers has become a serious issue, there are “a considerable number of problems cardboard can solve,” said Mitsuyuki Goto, a director at Rengo.

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