From our Manufacturing.Support session 11 November 2021 

As ever, the diversity of thought across the Headspace Workshop panel, continues to amaze, if not confuse a little. 
 
Our range of queries and comments starts simply enough on the impact of the recent Environment Bill, but this raises questions about how exactly manufacturing businesses might be able to meet the requirements. 
 

The Environment Bill and Energy 

Starting with the Environment Bill which has finally passed into UK law after over 2 years of preparation and deliberation, the Panel discussed what impact this might have on businesses of all sizes, particularly those in manufacturing. One of the key areas thought to be particularly affected would be businesses with a high energy consumption, which of course will include many in manufacturing. The understanding is that Companies are likely to have targets enforced upon them, which will understandably affect their manufacturing processes and costs. How this will be policed is yet to be seen, but it will require businesses to look closely at their energy efficiencies and consider upgrades to their processes. 
 
In some ways having a regulatory requirement could give many industries the nudge (or kick) that they need to take action. 
 
See the full text of the bill here

Packaging Everywhere 

In conjunction with the Environmental Bill is the concern about single-use plastics and the harm delivered to the environment. Our panel looked at how packaging is used to protect goods during shipment, both long haul and short haul. Domestic users are used to not using single-use plastic carrier bags for grocery shopping without incurring a financial penalty, but there is still plenty of disposable, but non-recyclable, packaging that is used for protection, security, display, improved shelf life and ease of handling. 
 
Some examples debated of how to reduce this, included: 
More use of delicatessen, butchery and fishmonger counters in supermarkets so packaging is limited to single material (and maybe recyclable) 
Reduced use of outer packaging for multiple components when the handling is under control. 
More use of pre-kitting so components are grouped ready for assembly in a single package. 
The driver of much of our current-day behaviour is convenience. Users expect to be able to use something by opening the packaging without needing to take any further action themselves (such as portion sizes or information labels), they will expect products to be available on demand at a location to suit themselves. 
 
Protecting packaging in different circumstances – whether it’s in transit or in use – is another point of concern. Aluminium drinks cans have thin walls, but these are fairly robust when pressurised, but a sharp object could cause a catastrophic failure. Placing angular items into a thin-walled bag (paper or plastic) also runs the risk of damage, so secondary packaging is often needed to protect the primary one. Outer wrappers, inner sleeves or padding and even bonded layers (such as a coating to prevent shattered glass from spreading from a bottle) all contribute to mixed materials and make recycling or reusing the packaging a headache. 

Better Bottles or Better Taste? 

We discussed how drinks are shipped in glass and plastic containers, with the associated secondary packaging with that. Glass is recyclable, but in the UK it’s usually grouped by colour, rather than original usage, so the glass needs to be reprocessed before being reformed – which still uses energy. In other parts of Europe there are schemes to return containers so they can be more selectively reused, and these quite often offer cash or voucher incentives – remember the days when the Corona man came round to deliver the fizzy drinks to your house, and took away the empties 
 
Glass is a heavy container, so there have been efforts made to reduce the weight, but this can be limited by how strong it needs to be (carbonated drinks). We discussed alternative materials such as aluminium, and while these are acceptable for some products, we concluded that the taste can be affected with leaching of materials, so probably wouldn’t be that popular. 

Making Convenience….More Convenient 

Whilst the vast majority of packaging is to improve the convenience of operations to the supply chain, there are some things that we can tackle to help reduce its impact: 
Reduce the amount of handling stages in the supply chain, and/or control the methods so that less protection is necessary. 
Single-sourcing rather than shopping around continuously. This may look as if it would increase costs, but having a single point of contact, a good relationship, and a strong negotiating position can offset much of that. 
Use of single-material packaging. Does the packing note actually need to be in a plastic envelope on the outside? Or can it be inside? 
Use attractively reusable packaging. 
Reduce unnecessary dead space. Receiving a USB stick which has its own A5 card-and-plastic blister pack, which is then strapped to a clever film-backed piece of corrugated card, which is then enclosed inside a box large enough to hold 5 reams of A4 paper, is not a clever use of packaging, even if it does provide enough advertising surface area for a complete Shakespeare work! You know who you are! 

Pre-packaged Goats? 

This came from an observation from one of the panel. According to a documentary, the Saharan scrub has receded so much that the goats are being fed strips of cardboard for sustenance. According to the report, the goats are initially picky, but with little else to eat they soon take to it. 
 
Cardboard is a source of fibre, so as part of a diet, this may be OK, if there’s nothing else. 
 
We think this is a questionable observation – whoever heard of a goat being picky about what it eats? 
However, as a possible environmentally-acceptable means to recycle packaging, maybe this is an option for the office goat. 
 
..And those large Amazon boxes may yet come in handy! 
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