A design for life

Shelley Harris
29 August, 22
Waste is an ‘unnecessary design and imagination flaw’ across packaging and supply chain industries, says Shelley Harris, commercial director of IPP.

Waste is an ‘unnecessary design and imagination flaw’ across packaging and supply chain industries, says Shelley Harris, commercial director of IPP.

What goes around, comes around – except when it comes to single-use packaging. According to experts, its wasteful disposal is contributing to climate change and the over-heating of our planet.

It’s why we need a discussion about how packaging should work in what should be a circular economy, predicated on the notion of return and reuse rather than recycle.  Too much of so-called recyclable material ends up in landfill because of the lack of resources and capacity for local authorities to give it a second chance, rendering labels such as ‘widely recycled’ as nothing more than greenwashing.

We need joined-up thinking on the kind of single-use linear packaging that simply goes from A to B and cannot be reused or even recycled.

Despite David Attenborough’s best efforts in bringing the climate emergency to our attention, we cling to the notion that ‘plastic is still fantastic’. Covid-19 is partly to blame for this. We had started to steer away from single-use plastic packaged fruit and veg in supermarkets, but the legacy of the pandemic has meant that wrapped tomatoes are somehow more hygienic to handle. People have become confused by the idea that because it is cheap to produce and easy to dispose of, it continues to be the best option. This is a spurious argument and, I’m afraid, comes from an industry suffering from a collective failure of imagination.

The notion that it is cheaper is also in question when you look at the supply chain as a whole – not to mention the cost to clear up after ourselves and the associated brand damage to companies that continue to spew out single-use packaging.

Following the unprecedented heatwaves of recent weeks, consumers could once again vote with their feet, even if it means paying a little more. We have already seen households returning to glass milk bottles delivered on electric floats, something that almost disappeared in the 1970s.

The increased use of reusable packaging through the supply chain and the growing use of technology to track it, including RFID tagging, would bring a zero-waste proposition within the reach of aspirational companies driven by angry consumers fed up of the throw-away society we have all contributed to.

This is not the impossible task the industry might fear. In fact, one of our long-term suppliers goes ‘beyond sustainability’ on a daily basis.

James Jones is a sawmill in Lockerbie which annually processes more than a million tonnes of roundwood for everything from building materials to wooden pallets. By using hot water generated from biomass energy to heat its own kilns, it has reduced its CO2 emissions by 8,000 metric tonnes a year.

Not only that, the locally-sourced water for the wood treatment process goes back into the River Annan cleaner than when it came out!

Saw milling may be one of oldest industries in the world, but the technology is 21st century, with artificial intelligence (AI) replacing the human hand. From a control centre where software optimises the cutting of every log in line with daily demand and the maximisation of yield, the business ensures zero waste and the best value for money at a time when the commodity of timber is at an all-time high.

This is sustainable and circular thinking at its best – and it’s at work today. There is no reason why we cannot re-imagine the same technologies when it comes to other forms of packaging – for example, when we have established the long-awaited government deposit return schemes (DRS) to allow and incentivise consumers to bring their plastic bottles back to where they bought them from.

Nobody wants orphan packaging – the waste that has no home or purpose once it has been used once. The industry needs bottle to do this – but let’s all make sure it is the right kind of bottle in the first instance.

For more information on IPP, visit www.ipp-pooling.com or search for IPP Pooling on LinkedIn.

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