Time to pack up your troubles

Graham Margetson, director of Foresite Systems responds to concerns that Packaging Waste Regulations will cause financial strife for industry.

As the final responses arrive at DEFRA following a consultation period for proposed changes to the Packaging Waste Regulations, 12,000 businesses across the UK are likely to be affected by the outcome of the amendments. Foresite Systems (developer and supplier of PackTrak, a software solution that enables companies from all industry sectors to comply with the requirements of both the UK, European and worldwide packaging regulations) believes the changes - considered by many in the industrial sector as a potential financial threat - should be seen as a commercial opportunity.

In order to meet the expected targets for 2008, approximately 1.3M tonnes of extra material will have to be collected and recycled in the UK in the next four years. These changes should highlight to business that they can not simply react to packaging waste regulations just because of heavy fines imposed on those who do not meet the targets. Managing waste is a necessity but the priority is to look at ways in which the amount of packaging to be 'managed' can be reduced.

When looking at the whole question of packaging, 'obligated' companies that will benefit most are those who consider the entire supply chain. Businesses must look at what is the annually recurring cost of over-packaging within the supply chain and identify changes that deliver the greatest margin improvement. There are many companies who understand the benefits of implementing environmental best practice and general process improvements but are not so confident about what to do and how to do it.

The key to a successful recycling and recovery operation will be efficiencies throughout the supply chain that can be implemented by manufacturer, supplier and logistics partner pooling their knowledge and resources to develop the most suitable solutions. Indeed, companies that do and look at the overall wider improvements to supply chain processes are likely to benefit from a superior corporate image and stakeholder goodwill too.

Using the example of electrical and electronic equipment, the WEEE Directive will have a large influence on how a company's waste stream is managed. The directive sets out measures that aim, firstly, at the prevention of waste electrical and electronic equipment, secondly at the re-use, recycling and other forms of recovery such as energy from waste and thirdly at minimising the risks and impacts to the environment associated with the treatment and disposal of WEEE. Current and proposed legislation on WEEE, as well as end-of-life vehicles, are just two examples of opportunities where supply chain co-operation will benefit business.

While the responsibility for the collection of end-of-life products is not clear, what is unmistakable is that managing waste is the producer's responsibility - as is spelt out in the recent agreement. With a considerable cost implication, it is anticipated the knock-on effect will be that manufacturers re-think or adapt the design of their products to assist the future waste management process. Introducing more eco-friendly and hopefully more durable and repairable products will reduce their environmental impact both in terms of relationship with customers and indeed end customers, i.e. the consumer.

Looking at manufacturer and customer relationships, considering the example of larger high value products, such as for instance motorcycles, demonstrates how manufacturers might reduce the 'burden'. In this particular case, manufacturers, logistics providers and dealers are faced with a product that requires significant packaging. Traditionally, dealers have been delivered an abundance of waste packaging, as well as the end product, as motorbikes need to be supported with stillages and require protective packaging.

From product transportation to customer presentation, all areas need to be explored. The way the product packaging and indeed the product itself is designed, to the materials used to package products, will all assist companies to reach the European targets set and in turn achieve cost savings due to better use of resources and process improvements.

This more proactive approach, with companies taking time to consider the bigger, more positive picture, may not only reduce the impact on the environment but more importantly, from a commercial perspective, help to cut costs and improve margins. Therefore, investing in the short-term by evaluating packaging being utilised will bring long-term benefits, both environmentally and financially.



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