Nicole Constantini, Commercial Manager at Valpak, explains how the right data systems can ease the task of producing more sustainable packaging
Imagine trying to redesign the country’s transport networks from scratch, using only a fraction of the existing infrastructure and linking with international routes. Oh, and remember to keep the freight, commuters and general public moving in the meantime. And did I mention the deadline?
For retailers, transforming supply chains and long-established packaging products to meet current demands may feel as daunting as creating a new transport system. But, in fact, the tools and expertise needed to reduce the burden are already available.
Many retailers are focused on making their packaging more sustainable. The numbers signing up to the UK’s voluntary Plastics Pact targets show the scale of appetite for change and, on the shop floor, customers are also creating a stir.
Meanwhile, government supports the ban on single-use plastics, and more legislation is due in the form of changes to extended producer responsibility. With change on its way, Valpak is in a unique position to radically improve the sustainability of its packaging, while also improving business performance. Before changing direction, it is essential to know exactly where you are. In packaging terms, this means establishing a baseline on existing performance across your entire product make-up before taking steps to improve recyclability or remove problematic packaging elements. Retailers might aim to align packaging material choices more closely to the recycling infrastructure available in the UK, or increase the use of recycled material.
Managing such large quantities of detailed data is daunting. Collecting data is a challenge, and sourcing it and arranging it in an accessible format is extremely time consuming.
Often, data can lie in numerous databases, speak different languages or not be joined up in a way which makes queries easy to carry out. Working alone on something so complex will take up considerable staff time, not to mention the challenges of ensuring that the correct information is highlighted. Luckily, systems are available to help.
Valpak holds over 22 million stock-keeping units (SKUs) on its database. These have been gathered over the last 23 years using producer responsibility data. As the largest packaging compliance scheme, the company has access to the most extensive data set in the UK. It also organises weighing days to identify new product information and extend its range.
In 2016, Valpak worked collaboratively with Tesco to develop a new service – the Data Insight Platform. The platform is the only product currently on the market which allows businesses to go beyond compliance and perform analysis on metrics such as recyclability, carbon impact, Plastics Pact targets and supplier performance, using one tool.
It offers a unique opportunity to impact on the packaging design of the future and has also been used to report on areas such as nutritional profiling or Modern-Day Slavery compliance. Last year, it was a finalist in the National Recycling Awards. Many users of the Platform are benchmarking suppliers on metrics such as recyclability of packaging, or identifying characteristics such as material type or colour. Under the current optical sorting systems used in recycling facilities, for example, coloured – largely black – plastic is extremely difficult to sort reliably alongside other polymers. To address this issue, retailers need to identify the products which use coloured packaging. Armed with this knowledge, they can explore customer attitudes to alternatives, check whether the colouring is essential or cosmetic, and then begin to make changes.
Change can be for the good – as long as it is based on robust data and has a clear direction. With the right tools, we can develop a package that combines sustainability and greater efficiency.