The Circular Economy: The Supply Chain Director’s secret tool

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Between 2015 and 2016, world plastic production increased by over 4% to 335 million tons. 40% of food packaging ends up in landfill which corresponds to 9 million tons of plastic

Of the 60% that is recycled, 32% leaks out of collecting and sorting systems to finally end up in the ocean or soil. These plastics degrade into nano-sized particles which can easily penetrate living organisms such as fish, ultimately ending up in the food chain. This could have dramatic detrimental long-term effects; If nothing is done, by 2050 there may be more plastic than fish by weight in the ocean. This is not just an issue for food packaging, but any organisation that has an impact on the planet or produces waste.

In recent years, we have seen many clients take this subject seriously and develop new initiatives and tools to reduce and even eradicate waste from processes and final products. However, very few are embracing the philosophy of a Circular Economy.  

A Circular Economy encourages a system that reduces waste, and more closely monitors the consumption of resources. A number of organisations and governments already use these concepts and therefore a number of tools exist for originations to utilise, such as: EU Circular Economy Action Plan (adopted by the UK government), the Cradle-to-Cradle (C2C) design protocol (Ellen MacArthur Foundation), the Material Circularity Indicator, the 3Rs (reduce, reuse, and recycle) and many more.  

Many firms are well aware of the legal obligations for waste reduction, but there are also many voluntary initiatives for businesses. Including The cross-industry Sustainable Packaging Coalition, the Courtauld Commitment, and the Retail Forum for Sustainability, as well as industry-specific packaging initiatives such as that of the A.I.S.E. These encourage organisations to reduce the environmental impact of their packaging and increase the recyclability of and use of recycled materials across their entire supply chains. 

A leading example used by academics in the field focuses on the Barcelona Sports Institute (BSI). In 2018, over ten thousand participants received T-shirts individually wrapped in plastic and transported in triple-layered corrugated cardboard boxes for an annual race. The following year the BSI contracted a new supplier, who reduced the cardboard packaging waste by 75% by using reusable boxes for transportation and was able to eliminate the individual plastic packaging of the T-shirts. 

Successfully implementing the Circular Economy has the potential to significantly reduce waste through recycling and reuse, thus generating both environmental and economic benefits, increasing the lifetime of products, and potentially creating jobs.  

Optimising packing in your end-to-end supply chain is key to limit your environmental impactreduce consumption and improve your bottom lineAt 4C we specialise in procurement and supply chain management support, with a focus on sustainable solutions. We are dedicated to sustainability and long term prosperity. If you would like to learn more about the work we do, please reach out to Gavin Bowen-Ashwin at   

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