How the packaging industry is waking up to the transformative role of data

The silver lining around the world’s packaging waste problem is that everyone broadly agrees a solution is needed.  

In fact, issues that have such a broad consensus among all stakeholders, from consumers to businesses to governments, are almost unheard of. You might think that there is no need for data in that case. If we broadly know that a problem exists, and all parties have a genuine desire to find a solution, isn’t that all we need to start solving it? 

The truth is that data can provide so much more than simple verification. For the packaging industry, and the many other industries that rely on it, analysing supply chain data can provide knowledge and insights that can be the catalyst of lasting change – change that, ultimately, means a healthier future for our planet and the businesses that operate on it.s 

To capitalise on this moment – a moment of global unity, focused on a single issue – we first have to collect the data required to guide our actions. 


Turning sentiment into action 

Supportive sentiment is nice to have, but it doesn’t get things done on its own. When combined with data, however, sentiment can be turned into a powerful driver of action that targets specific areas to create real, measurable short- and long-term impacts. So, while most stakeholders do agree that we produce too much packaging waste and that this waste is contributing to climate change, there are many well-publicised disagreements about what the solutions could be. 

Collecting better quality data about packaging – at all levels of the supply chain – is how we can guide ourselves to those solutions, turning that sentiment into action. 

Finding these solutions isn’t just good for the planet, either – it can be good for the bottom line, especially in times of economic uncertainty. It can, for example, tell you the weight of a shipment of packaging material that you’ve imported. You can take this data point – the weight of each shipment – and use it to compare against similar packaging materials that might be lighter, which could reduce transport costs. If it’s plastic packaging, this may have implications for your plastic packaging tax burden, too.  


The packaging balancing act 

This is just a relatively simple application of a single data point. That one piece of information can be weighed up against many others – the distance that shipment has to travel, the proportion of defective products it creates when run on your production line, the carbon footprint of the raw materials used to make it, and so on – and used to make a decision about whether it suits your needs. That’s not to say this decision will be easy, as different materials often have a mix of strengths and weaknesses that must be weighed up against one another – but it will at least be informed. 

This is vital, as modern packaging must consider and balance a vast array of attributes. It has to be tough enough to cope with today’s complex supply chains. Lightweight – but not so lightweight that it fails to protect its contents. Produced as sustainably as possible, with minimal impact on the environment. Automation-friendly, so it’s compatible with fast packing lines. In the case of retail packaging, it needs to tick all of these boxes while still retaining an eye-catching aesthetic. And this is before you delve into the minutiae of application-specific requirements like breathability for soft fruit packaging, for example. 

All of these attributes can be measured by data. Only by using that data to make well-informed, carefully considered decisions can businesses ensure they are optimising their packaging to maximise value and minimise waste. 

And, with legislation around this packaging getting more complex, particularly in terms of reporting, more businesses are waking up the knowledge gaps that exist in their supply chain. And, if you don’t know about the many inefficiencies that can occur throughout the packaging supply chain, how can you act to resolve them? Many have been leaving money on the table for decades without ever realising it, and in the current economic climate, that money could be the difference between success and failure. 


Packaging data and the circular economy 

While identifying waste in the earlier stages of the supply chain is important, it’s also important to use data to close the loop at the end of the chain, once a pack has fulfilled its purpose.  

This is the focus of legislation like extended producer responsibility (EPR). While legislation is generally painted as the enemy of free enterprise, and the rollout of EPR in particular remains plagued by confusion and delays, in the long term it represents a positive step that ensures every business can enjoy the efficiencies outlined above.  

Collecting the more extensive packaging data mandated by EPR should not be seen as a pointless extra administrative burden. Instead, it should be viewed as an important step on the road to a circular economy – a road that the vast majority of businesses and consumers want us to take. 

With granular packaging data, we can determine the exact material makeup of each packaging component, which makes it easier to determine which elements are recyclable, which are compostable, and which are not. As you might imagine, this is important when trying to keep different waste streams free from contamination. 

This can also provide a much-needed boost to a recycling sector starved of investment, providing machine learning systems with the information they need to power advanced automation and AI-driven recycling. All of this could make the whole recycling chain quicker, safer, and much more cost-effective than it currently is. 

EPR could be a rude awakening for businesses not yet alive to proper data collection – but businesses that are already aware could enjoy new opportunities to streamline their operations and innovate. 

At Ecoveritas, we’re here to help you seize those opportunities. Get in touch with us today to learn more about how we can help you meet your compliance obligations while optimising your supply chains for the circular economy of the future.  

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