Maximising minimisation: taking the waste out of the packaging supply chain

As recent European directives have instructed, the UK must reduce the actual amount of packaging that is used, both in the end product and for transit purposes. Graham Margetson, director of Foresite Systems, one of the country’s experts on compliance with the Packaging Waste Regulations, here considers the wider question of packaging minimisation.

Packaging sells goods in any sector – one only has to look at the shelves of any outlet dealing in fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) products. Value for money and the quality of the product will always be vital but these key differentiators have to be backed up by eye-catching, marketing-driven packaging. However, excessive packaging has serious environmental consequences.

Following acknowledgment of the need to address the issue of packaging excess, the first step that companies need to take is to develop a complete waste minimisation programme able to look at all waste management internal processes. Process change, aimed at taking waste out of the packaging supply chain, plays a vital role in minimising packaging – and sits alongside actual packaging change and product modification in the drive for greater efficiency. Indeed, each of these areas needs to be studied in greater detail when investigating the opportunities for packaging minimisation.

Historically, there has been a degree of apathy in the UK when it comes to waste minimisation programmes. This is starting to change, particularly as UK plc starts to pay more than just lip service to the ethos of corporate social responsibility. Indeed, the traditional approach of merely measuring waste has got to change to that of a proactive strategy of actually reducing waste within an organisation.

The questions that need to be asked with regard to packaging reduction must be addressed to the complete packaging supply chain to have a significant impact. Business 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.

From there, it is possible to see the savings that can be made. However, progress will often require support form local authorities, through helping with educational workshops and acting as a source of information for ‘obligated’ companies, in order for the full advantages of waste reduction to be made clear.

Moving on from the process, it is also important that more efficient ways of packaging products are pursued, both in terms of their transportation and in final presentation to the consumer. Ideas such as the use of plastic, reusable totes within the major grocery retailers supply chains show that packaging minimisation is not only environmentally responsible, it can also aid the flow and presentation of the products – and save money. We can also see this in the use of plastic pallets and thinner gauge shrink film for the wrapping of boxes together during shipment.

It is vital for the packaging of the consumer product to be scrutinised closely, both in terms of the packaging components used and the design of the packaging. Packaging engineers should be looking at software that enable them to project different packaging possibilities, allowing them to evaluate scenario’s to see which will be the most efficient – and cost-effective.

Finally, it is often necessary for actual product modification to take place in order for packaging reduction to result. For this to happen, the need to find the most efficient packaging solutions needs to be a priority for an organisation from a strategic perspective.

So, how far can industry take packaging minimisation and from a long-term perspective, where should we be aiming to be in five years time? Changes in packaging and a greater commitment to sustainable packaging will have a fundamental impact on every industry’s supply chain – and most importantly the FMCG sector. However, it is only those companies who are investing now in proactive solutions to the challenge of reducing the dependency on packaging, who will seize profit improvements and thrive into the future.

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