Rethinking Supply Cycles Is The Key To A Circular Mind Set

Mathew-ProsserMathew Prosser, European commercial director for DS Smith, Recycling Division, looks at the discussion points raised in the company’s recent white paper and the Government’s response to the EAC report, in a CIWM Journal Online Exclusive


The Government has been accused of missing opportunities, rejecting calls to require new products to be recycled and stopping food waste from going to landfill.

The Government’s response to the Environmental Audit Committee’s report, Ending the Throwaway Society: Growing a Circular Economy, has rejected many of the Committee’s recommendations, despite agreeing it does have a role to play in developing the circular economy.

This is a shame, as we do need clear political leadership to support the ethos of the circular economy. We need to rethink how our supply chains work and think about improving resource efficiency because we get so much material that ends up as waste.

When we discussed the topic in our “Supply Cycle Think Tank” workshop earlier in the year, many delegates felt there was a lack of political leadership with clear direction. While not wishing for over-subscriptive enforcement, relevant guidance is useful, they said. The legislative framework needs to encourage growth and not hinder development. Many doubted we had the positive and powerful leadership required to make the changes across the whole of the economy and for all to benefit from the potential opportunities.

Within our discussions delegates agreed that the regulatory framework was found to have both a positive and negative impact within reverse networks. For me reverse networks is about redefining how people think about linear models, or chains, encouraging them to move towards a supply cycle. It’s about looking at the touch points and the way materials flow and how they are reused and recycled.

On the negative side legislation was said to have limiting effects, with some believing it can be too restrictive in places, preferring market forces to drive forward changes. But food waste regulations are helping to drive volumes and build an infrastructure of reprocessing facilities.

A Zero Waste Mind Set

This circular process requires a zero waste mind set ensuring resource efficiency – across materials, energy, water and logistics – is maximised to the best potential. It’s ensuring materials don’t go to landfill or that incineration replaces landfill as the disposal method of choice. It’s about creating savings as materials are reused, vehicle journeys are utilised and developing business models that can reduce the amount of waste generated in the first place.

While a relevant regulatory framework will help there are many questions business can ask when reviewing and assessing supply networks in a bid to become more resource efficient. These include how the firm currently engages with its supply chain, whether the business uses its own vehicles that could be used to return materials to central locations or does it need to collaborate with those that provide delivery and collection services to maximise backhaul journeys? Perhaps we need to consider companies that work outside the normal logistics network, thinking outside the box.

Commercial viability is crucial to ensure success but just as important, is an entrepreneurial approach that some organisations are providing, as delegates to the workshop pointed out. Combined with research and development this gives us hope for the possibilities that are out there.

With a number of great successful examples, sharing knowledge and experience is vital to speed up the process. It’s about sharing what has worked across different industries and seeing how this can be applied elsewhere.

Continuous and consistent communication was another area our delegates thought necessary to help raise awareness of reverse networks. Education and information throughout the supply cycle, including consumers will be required. There’s still much work to be undertaken on changing peoples’ mind set, wherever they are in the cycle, particularly on regarding waste as a resource and a material that can be put to good use once more.

We don’t have all the answers but a better understanding of how businesses interact with their supply cycles will help bring about that change.

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


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