7th Jul 2021
Manufacturers are in a great position to make a difference to sustainability and through innovation make the changes required to deliver the sustainability agenda. In the Circle Northwest, a one-day sustainability conference, brought together business leaders, policy makers and academics to set out how a sustainable approach can improve businesses.
Author Gareth Kane chaired a session examining how innovation can deliver changes required to deliver the sustainability agenda. Taking part in the panel discussion was Brand Director at Duo UK Zoe Brimelow, Geogg Mackey group corporate affairs and Sustainability Director at BASF, Chris Harrop Group Sustainability Director at Marshalls.
When asked what challenges businesses face that may impact on delivering change Zoe explained “one of the biggest sustainability challenges facing UK businesses is the Plastic Packaging Tax.
From April next year, if your company is not using plastic made from at least 30% recycled content, you’re going to be taxed £200 per tonne.
The ambition to use more recycled content is absolutely right, but it’s questionable whether a tax is the right way forward.
As well as the challenge of making sure you’ve got plastic that’s tax compliant, companies need audit trails for tax purposes and systems for declaring what is and isn’t exempt. There is a lot involved for already stretched companies.
Companies should be encouraged to be sustainable, rather than being costed into making changes.
We’ve spent the past 24 months helping customers get ahead by re-designing packaging to design out waste, streamline their size range and develop their range using at least 30% recycled content. I’m proud to say that over 60% of our products already contain greater than 30% recycle content, without effecting the performance of the packaging.
Businesses really need to be addressing this tax now, head on. There’s so much more to consider beyond changes to plastic material content such as how to segregate their scrap waste and ensure it’s recycled.
We’ve brought more clients on board with our closed loop recycling system. This means that we’re supplying their products, collecting waste, recycling it and re-using it into new products.
As with any change, we approach it as an opportunity to innovate.
Our team have been working on new innovative solutions to reduce contamination, such as paper labels on mailing bags. For our client Thrift+, we combined a sequential printing technique with the bag conversion stage to eradicate the need for a paper label that can be recycled as part of our recycling system. This works for a reverse logistics process, and we believe there is scope to use this technology for other applications.”
One of the challenges that manufacturers experience with product innovation is that ambition and progress can sometimes outpace commitment and action.
Zoe shared “around 5-6 years ago we secured exclusivity of GreenPE. This is polyethylene derived from sugarcane. It’s completely renewable and carbon negative, and a mailing bag made from GreenPE performs the same as an oil-based plastic one.
We thought we struck gold and our customers would go crazy for it as we were offering a solution that the market was crying out for. It ticked all the boxes; it required no additional equipment set-up or major production changes. We believed it was the perfect solution but we struggled to sell it.
The customer feedback was that they didn’t have the budget to spend more on a greener solution, it wasn’t on the agenda, or it was just too ‘new’ for them and there was a nervousness about being the first. And then the David Attenborough documentary on BBC Blue Planet 2 aired. It was the programme of the moment – everyone was talking about it. For us, it was The Attenborough Effect. We were inundated by companies asking us to resend the GreenPE proposals. The impact of the Blue Planet kick started to change the market, and sustainable actions were catching up with the ambitions.
The volume of GreenPE we used in 2018 was just 1% of our total raw material consumption, 2019 4%, 2020 6% and so far this year it is already 8% of the total volume of polyethylene we use. We have seen a huge shift change especially in online retail brands and now decisions about their packaging are being made in collaboration with Marketing, CSR and even the board.”
When asked what is the driver for sustainability within your business, Zoe explained;
“We’re proud that we’re now in a position where sustainability sits at the heart of our decision making and actively informs and shapes the development of how the company grows and evolves.
To do this we’ve had to be brave, be open to learning and have the confidence to try new things. Plastics are constantly being persecuted. They are the supposed enemy of sustainability. But we’re proud that we have a culture and attitude that doesn’t take such scaremongering at face value.
I feel in our industry and manufacturers in general have an engineering mindset – this is an advantage as individuals are wired up to problem solve and engineer new solutions.
When companies look to make a change, the focus is often on material type, in isolation, it can create unintentional negative consequences to the supply chain. To avoid this, we have developed a tool to enable us to present the products carbon footprint alongside the cost. This way, they have the fact to make the best decision for their business and find a solution that truly helps them to improve sustainability.
Watch the full discussion here: In The Circle North West – Using Innovation to Drive Sustainability in Manufacturing
In The Circle North West was a one day sustainability conference that brought together business leaders, policy makers and academics to set out hoe a sustainable approach can help improve a business. The event took place on 30th June 2021.