Net zero, the supply chain, and the future of packaging
In the last few months, the government has revealed its Net Zero Strategy (just in time for COP26 in November 2021) and launched the Plastic Packaging Tax (April 2022). You can bet there’s more to come!
As a 3PL business working at the leading edge of logistics, we’re acutely aware that our activities might have a negative impact on our environment. And that we have the power to use our experience, knowledge and partnerships to influence positive outcomes.
Here’s insight into where we’re up to and where we think the industry as a whole has to go in the next few months and years.
The practicalities of net zero
One of our workstreams is looking at packaging and contract packing in relation to net zero carbon.
These are some of the changes to our packaging processes that we’ve made in the last few months.
1. We source sustainable materials
- All the cardboard we use is now 100% FSC certified
- We use paper parcel tape – not plastic tape
- We source sustainable print techniques and materials
2. We’ve banished single use plastics
- We shred paper in-house to use instead of bubble wrap
- We monitor and advise on packing coming into the warehouse
All our clients have access to these materials and processes. This is how we can reduce our environmental impact and help our clients do the same.
How we improved the sustainability of our packaging
Case study – making the change to paper parcel tape
Just moving from plastic tape to paper was a huge job. We had to source it (and new tape guns) and test it to see if we could work with it. Was it robust enough? How differently does it behave to plastic? Can we absorb or share the cost? Will there always be a supply?
After months of researching and testing, we found a good quality tape that’s just what we need and we now use it 100% of the time.
“All our clients have access to these materials and processes. This is how we can reduce our environmental impact and help our clients do the same”
Case study – padded envelopes
We used to go through a lot of envelopes padded with bubble wrap. It’s sometimes possible for recipients to reuse them but they have to be ripped apart for the paper to be recycled, and bubble wrap is a single use plastic.
We researched ways to do this better – getting samples, testing different products and suppliers. As with the parcel tape, we had to ensure there would be no supply chain issues with this product – it would always be readily available – and that we were able to absorb or share the cost.
Finally, we’ve gone with an envelope that is strengthened by a cardboard fitment, with shredded recycled paper filling the void (we even bought a machine to do this!). It’s a choice that’s good for the product and there’s less impact on the environment.
“We’ve become more aware of single use plastics coming into the warehouse from clients’ suppliers”
Case study – reporting on 3rd party packaging
The entire supply chain simply has to be involved and get on board. While we’re making net zero improvements within our own practices, we’ve become more aware of single use plastics coming into the warehouse from clients’ suppliers.
For example, components coming in might be individually poly-wrapped or bubble wrap is present. We now know that the presence of these materials isn’t necessary and there’s usually no way to repurpose most of this plastic.
Many of our clients have ambitious and inspirational environmental and sustainable policies in place. They don’t have visibility of components coming into our warehouse, so it’s on us to feed back and suggest viable alternatives for them to explore.
Single use plastics & Plastic Packaging Tax
We believe this will be one of the main levers of change in our sector. It will help to speed up better environmental practices in 3PL, contract packing, retail and e-commerce. It will ‘encourage’ everyone to climb aboard.
- Practices will improve
- Packaging alternatives will improve
- The sector will collaborate more
- Improvements will speed up
Our net zero working group is gathering information across many sustainability topics. With packaging, it’s early days. We do know we’ll need new procedures for reporting. We’ll have to make further system changes. And we’ll all get a better sense of how this area will be policed.
Other net zero initiatives from our working party
Some of our clients are already conscious of how many miles a product might travel, including its components. We’re looking at ways to track this and ideate solutions of reducing it.
We already take a 3PL approach that maximises efficiency upon despatch and transportation – for example, we recommend packaging designs that avoid waste, weight and shipping fresh air.
And we hear from our carrier partners that toaster rack palleting might be an option, among other ways of putting stock onto a trailer that allow more product to be transported in one go. This approach will mean fewer vehicles on the roads. There are also discussions around using electric vehicles
Pallets remain a thorny issue. They are necessary but nobody we know has managed to find a great way to collect, redistribute or dispose of them en masse. It would be ideal if they could be reused – and we do encourage this. But, there are only so many ways you can repurpose them.
What’s next for packaging?
From 2022, 2050 seems quite distant. Maybe we think we’ve got time to pace ourselves. On the other hand, some scientists are saying that 2050 is too late and we need change now. To us, the rate of change started off slow. It took a LOT of time and resource to change our plastic parcel tape to paper, and to find a solution to padded envelopes. But it feels like we’re gaining ground.
“One of the things that business has going for it is the power of collaborative partnerships to make a vision a reality”
One of the things that business has going for it is the power of collaborative partnerships to make a vision a reality. We’re working with our entire supply chain and our clients to find solutions that meet our commitments to net zero.
We’re all still feeling our way through this change. We’re learning all the time and there are still so many lessons to be learned. Collaboration – between partners, with clients, across the industry – leads to open-hearted innovation and solutions that can help us thrive.
Recently, a client – a top shelf, very cool beverage brand – was asked by a retailer to scale down their packaging to meet sustainability goals on materials and transportation. It might indicate how packaging may well be forced to move towards minimalism. This poses interesting questions for marketing campaigns, branding, PR…
Work with us
Minimising the impact of our business on the environment is an ongoing workstream. We’ve got a strong environmental policy. We’ve got a Net Zero working group. We’ve got people helping us fulfil our responsibilities to the climate change theme in the government’s Social Value Framework.
We feel invested and professionally committed to building the best business we can, and helping our clients do the same, without destroying our ecosystem. If you’d think we can work together, get in touch.
Photo by Karina Tess on Unsplash