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Collaborative approach throughout supply cycle key to zero waste ambitions

Date: 10/11/2014 | Author: Mathew Prosser

Image for Collaborative approach throughout supply cycle key to zero waste ambitionsDS Smith's Mathew Prosser looks at why design is essential for resource efficient products

Incorporating recyclability at the design stage of products is essential to ensure reuse again and again. As a business in the resource management sector we all too often have to deal with materials the best we can. They may be mixed with other materials as part of a composite or they could be contaminated. It’s frustrating when you know the best value of the material can’t be attained.

The decisions made at the design stage impact throughout the supply cycle especially when 80 per cent of the environmental impact of products is determined at this stage. Design can be used to reduce the environmental impact across the lifecycle and help improve the reuse and recyclability of products and materials.

The use and type of materials to consider is critical and designers should take into account the quality, scale and reliability of supply of the materials. Increasing resource scarcity will create a dependence on using recycled materials and the recycling industry will be required to supply a consistently high quality output.

Collaboration runs throughout the circular economy and it is no exception at the product design stage. We need design teams that incorporate representatives across the entire supply cycle, from recovery and recycling facility managers, to logistics, retail and environmental managers, right down to the end user. Without these teams working together we will not realise all the benefits and opportunities that the circular economy can bring.

It’s about considering how materials can be reused, recycled or recovered to create the minimal environment impact and move closer to zero waste.

When DS Smith ran its Supply Cycle Think Tank workshop earlier in the year to discuss how businesses could make the move towards a circular economy, we knew there would be challenges ahead. Adopting new business models and changing behaviour is not a simple process. But in our discussions we found the risk of failure was a real blocker in product design. It often means that’s the end of the conversation – “we won’t try this because it might fail”. However, risk is essential to change and we must understand this when considering a move into new territory.

It’s tied in with defining specification. Despite some materials being successfully reused and recycled for years there is still inconsistency. We need specific definitions and technical data to understand material capabilities. People need proof of quality to have confidence to use it.

And this leads us to procurement. While some delegates saw problems in getting people to change their ways, others saw procurement as a real enabler to change direction. For them it was being given the opportunity to start again with a blank sheet of paper to challenge and ask questions to find the right solution rather than produce something because “it’s always been done it that way”.

Collaborative thinking sets up a framework to link different section of industries and supply chains to develop ideas. We should ensure this approach is developed sooner rather than later.

You can find out more about these discussions in DS Smith’s White Paper: One Step Away from Zero Waste, which can be downloaded at:

Mathew Prosser is European commercial director at DS Smith, Recycling Division



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