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No Time to Waste: 3 Important Waste Management Considerations for your Supply Chain

Waste management has become legally, technically and commercially complex in recent times. A growing body of national, EU and global legislation is making waste management a key issue for businesses, while the potential for hefty penalties and reputational damage dictates that good practice must be monitored right across the supply-chain. This is even true for businesses that only ‘pass-through’ materials that will eventually become waste, such as retailers and wholesalers – and is a particular concern in the fashion retail world right now. Here in the UK, £140 million worth of clothing goes to landfill each year – a figure which has caused the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC)[1] to call on Government for an extended producer responsibility scheme and stronger sustainability measures.[2] That’s not to say it’s a concern limited to specific sectors; with our world’s resources under pressure and environmental protection high on the Government and public agenda, waste management strategies are coming under closer scrutiny across all businesses and industries.

Non-compliance in waste management is now a supply chain risk that organisations simply cannot afford to take – and savvy businesses are going further than compliance requires to make sure their waste strategies are truly fit-for-purpose.

Here we take a look at three of the key waste management considerations affecting the supply chains of our UK businesses.

Reduce, reuse, recycle

Reducing waste usually also results in reducing costs, adding to the business case for getting waste management right. These cost savings can benefit the entire supply chain and are something that can be built in right from the beginning during product design; by considering whether the amount of raw materials used can be reduced or whether raw can be replaced with recycled. Ideally, design should also consider the product’s ‘end-of-life’ and whether circular production methods are possible. This applies to packaging as much as it does to the product itself, particularly in light of the recent UK Plastics Pact[3].

Quality control will also have an important role to play in reducing waste. Implementing processes and production methods to ensure that materials and finished goods are of a high quality will ensure that more goods pass quality inspection and that they enjoy a longer life. And it’s not only material waste that should be audited at this stage: processes that produce water or heat waste should also be examined, as should transportation methods. They may all provide valuable waste reduction opportunities.

When it comes to reducing waste, the most important message is to choose suppliers whose values align with your own. By making your expectations clear, asking the right questions at the outset and maintaining open lines of communication, it’s easier to make sure standards are upheld across every tier of the supply chain – building in value and resilience along the way.

Getting inventory levels right

Getting inventory levels right is one of the best ways to eliminate waste from your supply chain. Businesses are increasingly using just-in-time (JiT) inventory controls to achieve this. However, JiT requires highly synchronised supply chains and accurate forecasting, along with full supply chain mapping and contingency measures for when things go wrong. Many businesses following a JiT philosophy will outsource their supply chain management to specialists to make sure they get it right, as getting it wrong can mean damaging levels of disruption, financial risk and loss of customer confidence. Having the right software and data handling methodologies in place is also essential for effective deployment of a JiT methodology.

While JiT might seem like the most complex supply chain option, it works best when processes are simplified – through more efficient processes where anything that doesn’t add value is removed. JiT actually originates from a Japanese management philosophy which has been applied in practice since the early 1970s by many Japanese manufacturers. It was first developed and perfected within the Toyota manufacturing plants by Taiichi Ohno as a means of meeting consumer demands with minimum delays[4]. Understanding the origin of JiT can help us to understand how to make it work today, as the approach focuses on individual commitment and continuous improvement. Today, businesses can enhance JiT methods through employee development, knowledge sharing, stringent quality control at source and early signal systems to identify and resolve problems.

Staying ahead of compliance

Even businesses with brilliant waste reduction and recycling strategies in place will have some waste to dispose of. How you do that will depend on the type of business you are and the type of waste you produce. For the majority of UK businesses, council-run services will not provide a complete solution – and for large businesses producing regulated waste, processing will unfortunately be a significant overhead cost. When it comes to waste disposal however, it’s crucial not to cut corners; the costs involved will soar if your waste service providers aren’t properly audited for compliance. One recent example of waste disposal gone wrong was provided when Biffa hit the headlines earlier this year. The waste management company received a £350K fine for trying to ship household rubbish to China as wastepaper fit for recycling[5].

As more businesses pursue ambitious sustainability goals and pressure from environmental groups mounts, going further than compliance in your waste management could actually give your business a competitive edge. If your organisation is confident in its waste management policy throughout the supply chain, it’s certainly something worth shouting about. And, as change currently seems to be the most consistent feature of UK waste policy, getting ahead of the challenge will also protect your business from any disruption caused by having to implement new practices at short notice. Unfortunately, the official guidelines on environmental management[6] can be tricky to decipher, so working with an expert partner is often the best way to stay ahead of compliance.

To find out how Altius can help you to implement good practice across your supply chain and be ready for whatever comes next, contact us







Best practice guide to supply chain compliance now available as a free download.