In the recent Budget announcement we learned a plastic packaging tax would be introduced from April 2020 and that manufacturers and importers - whose products have less than 30 per cent recyclable material - will be charged £200 per tonne.
If those operating warehouses and manufacturing factories in the UK weren’t talking about plastic, they certainly are now.
Two companies which have been talking about plastic for some time, are Unipart Logistics and Garçon Wines. We interviewed them for The Logistics Podcast late last year, on the removal of single use plastic and the responsible use of recycled plastic.
Sky’s Supply Chain
In 2017 Unipart Logistics was asked by its client Sky to remove 128 tonnes of single-use plastic from its supply chain. Claire Walters, chief commercial officer at the company, told SHD Logistics about the practical solutions they applied to their client’s warehouse to meet its request.
“Sky had an amazing initiative with Ocean Rescue, and as part of that, they were really determined to take single use plastic out of their supply chain,” explains Walters.
“They came to see us back in 2017, before plastic became such a big topic, and asked for our help, which we were delighted to provide.”
Walters tells us it wasn’t until they took a closer look at their Sky warehouse they realised the scale of the task.
“There’s a lot of obvious places where single use plastic is being used in warehousing. People use a lot of shrink wrap, products get wrapped in jiffy bags then put inside plastic bags for delivery for example - even Sellotape is used to seal packages for security purposes.
“When you take an even closer look, you see that things like remote control batteries are wrapped in plastic too, and that some products have 2-3 layers of plastic, just because that’s how it’s always been done. It’s only when you look at it through really open eyes you start to ask, why on earth are we using so much packaging, and why is so much of it plastic?”
Changing warehouse processes
Walters describes how they used to send boxed items out in plastic bags, but now, they simply place the delivery label onto the carton, which removes the plastic completely. It also made the operation more efficient because it took a step out of the process.
“We also started working with suppliers and companies which manufacture Sky products so we could solve the problem at source, therefore when they reached us there was less plastic involved.”
Removing packaging isn’t always an option. But it can be replaced with something which isn’t made of single-use plastic.
“Sky engineers would send products back to us in bags that were made of plastic. We now have some re-usable hessian bags that go around the loop a few times, which have been fantastic from an engineer’s perspective.
“One of our warehouse team,” she adds, “actually designed a new box for deliveries… an outbound delivery box for Sky, which can also be used as a returns box by turning it inside out.”
Walter thinks it’s important the warehouse team is involved in packaging design, from an engagement perspective, but also because they understand what’s needed end-to-end.
Engagement has proved to be important. It means staff are more likely to get behind epic tasks such as the removal of 128 tonnes of single use plastic per year for a client.
She has some advice and thoughts for operators in the throes of plastic removal. “It might feel a bit daunting to start with – 128 tonnes a year is a lot of plastic to take out. But every single person got completely behind the task. We had huge support from quite small suppliers who worked with us to invent new answers. One of the challenges from Sky was to make this cost neutral, and actually by being creative and intelligent about it, we’ve managed to change processes in our warehouse which have made us more efficient.”
“Sit down calmly, measure what you have and just develop a plan, and you’ll be really surprised by the passion and support from the people around you,” she concludes.
The reinvention of wine bottles
Garçon Wines is a packaging startup that’s made the world’s first flat wine bottle. It’s designed to fit through the average UK letter box and made from 100 per cent recycled plastic. Creative and intelligent it is.
A standard pallet can carry nearly 2.5 times more Garçon bottles than round, glass bottles of the same volume.
Co-founder Santiago Navarro describes wine commerce as: “a 21st century industry with a 19th century packaging format.”
His flat bottle design has been granted intellectual property across 35 countries, and as we interview him at his offices in London’s West End late last year, he tells us they’re about to launch in the United States.aboutSHD Logistics interviews co-founder Santiago Navarro in London's Garçon Wines HQ.
Navarro describes the Garçon Wines logistics model, his strong views around the climate crisis, and his concerns around primary packaging.
“The world of wine is using a 19th century vessel. When you start with inferior primary packaging, you end up with secondary packaging that doesn’t work. Cases are too big, there’s too much air space and padding.
“By having a bottle that’s flat, means it packs like books. We can pack ten full-size bottles into a case that would otherwise carry just four round glass bottles of the same volume. That means direct and immediate benefits across the supply chain. Everything from warehouse space to HGV space, container space and the number of people it requires to load a truck. Less pallets mean less warehouse operatives.
Being able to pack nearly 2.5 times the amount of product on a pallet means financial savings and carbon reduction.
“We’re a benchmark example of sustainability in packaging… It’s about redesigning the primary pack, which will then unlock advanced secondary packaging, and offer triple bottom line sustainability benefits to the world of wine.
“Consumers are changing. They want products in smaller volumes more frequently. What we do ̶ deliver single bottles of wine through a UK letterbox ̶ is a great example of a 21st century logistics model. You’re guaranteed first-time delivery success which saves money and missed deliveries.”
Navarro shares an example of how big that financial impact is when he tells us missed deliveries cost £1.6 billion per annum in the UK, according to the IMRG (UK’s online retail association).
Challenge the status quo
He advises logistics operators to challenge the status quo. “Play tetris! Work out how different shapes compact effectively to create better packing. Can you get more product on a pallet safely? Are you sending a lot of air around the globe, your country or even in your own town? What can you do to cut your carbon footprint? If done properly, it’s likely to cut financial costs.”
“We’ve talked about flat packing wine like books, but we haven’t mentioned the impact of glass, a much heavier product, which requires significantly more energy to blow and transport.” Navarro is very passionate about what he describes as the climate crisis, and thinks the war against plastic is short sighted.
He continues: “If you were to swap a glass bottle with a PET (recyclable plastic) bottle you’d save 77% of carbon emissions. You need to re-use a glass bottle 20 times before it has a comparable carbon footprint to a bottle made from PET with 60% recycled content.”
Packaging is a hot topic across industries right now. Navarro is convinced Greta Thunberg’s generation wouldn’t dream of drinking wine from a round glass bottle, which he describes as having a “grotesquely high carbon footprint.”
What’s clear from both Walters and Navarro, is that it’s time to rethink and transform packaging. If operators aren’t thinking of new ways to protect goods, then clients and customers will choose a business which is, whilst they're left with the tax bill.
Playing ‘tetris’ with stock or asking the warehouse team to participate in packaging design, sound like manageable first steps towards a more sustainable future, which we’ll all benefit from.For more from Garcon Wines and Unipart Logistics on the reinvention of packagng, listen to podcast 'Let's talk Plastic' below.