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The logistics industry can have a significant effect in reducing our plastic pollution problem; how and when will they act?

40% of plastic produced is packaging; used just once and then discarded (National Geographic 2018), and only approx. 9% of all plastic ever made has been recycled (Royal Statistical Society 2018).

These statistics refer to a material that once produced is here forever; plastic will not decompose or biodegrade and get absorbed by nature, it will ‘photodegrade’ (TheWorldCounts.com 2018), and the plastic fragments absorb toxic chemicals that cannot dissolve in water, meaning that when plankton and fish ingest the particles of plastic, they are ingesting chemicals and passing them up the food chain (New York Times 2009).

We are all aware of the damage of plastic waste in the oceans, and that reducing, recycling and reusing plastic is the only way forward.

This begs the question as to why stretch wrap and banding (plastic that is used just once and then discarded) is still widely used by businesses to distribute their products? These methods of packaging are not only contributing towards plastic pollution, but they are time consuming to apply, often do not secure the load properly, and provide no protection to the cargo. As a result of this, these methods are not only damaging the environment, but they are not cost effective for businesses either.

Companies with a culture for ethical trading and a strong sense of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) will look for alternative and reusable packaging methods, which often provide better labour efficiencies and increased handling safety for staff. Reusable packaging provides a financial benefit as well as environmental, and is purchased as an asset that will offer a return on investment for years to come.

Unfortunately, many companies that want to adopt a reusable packaging solution for their shipping methods, find that they come up against barriers in getting their equipment back, and therefore cannot justify adopting a reusable packaging model.

The reason for this appears to lie within logistics, as hauliers do not widely offer return transport services, often pricing it out of the equation for companies wanting to become more eco-friendly. This consequently makes it more cost-effective for companies to use single trip delivery or collection services, which means that one-trip packaging, often single-use plastic, becomes the only choice.

“Transport is the lifeblood of the European economy” (FTA 2018). Haulage companies and pallet networks are vitally important in keeping the wheels of industry turning, but perhaps they are not reflecting strongly enough on how much influence they hold in keeping plastic waste out of our landfill sites and oceans.

“The logistics industry suffers from negative perceptions in terms of image and career opportunities, which has led to skills gaps and a lack of diversity” (FTA 2018). Does this gap in skill sets mean there is a lack of innovation and forward thinking within logistics? Surely the industry needs a new phase of transportation provision, with specifically designed and cost effective return loop services, to allow companies to choose to be greener and purchase fully reusable equipment for their distribution requirements, without having to own their own fleet of vehicles.

There are countless applications for reusable packaging, with many large corporates willing and ready to adopt a more eco-friendly approach; between retail distribution centres and their stores, manufacturers and their customers, suppliers and their OEMs, to name a few, which all represent large business opportunities for logistics companies.

“With Brexit, technology and other disruptive forces driving changes in the way goods move across borders and through the supply chain, logistics has never been more important to UK plc” (FTA 2018). It is vital that the industry begins to implement future proof services for transporting goods, and with a potential ‘plastic tax’ on the horizon for single use plastic, now is the time for change (https://www.gov.uk 2018).

Next week Loadhog will be hosting a Logistics Leaders event confronting these issues as well as the effect eCommerce is having on efficient returns for logistics businesses.

Posted: 31/01/2019
Author: Naomi Jones

 

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