The Power of Less: Where Packaging’s role in a circular economy becomes clear

0 Posted by - March 4, 2015 - Uncategorized

DS Smith Launches ‘The Power of Less’ report: Collaboration vital to realise packaging potential in circular economy

Reducing complexity and optimising potential is a key focus in DS Smith’s ‘The Power of Less’ report, launched yesterday.

By applying supply cycle principles to packaging, where linear supply chains are replaced with circular processes and through carefully considered design and understanding of the full lifecycle, packaging can deliver tangible business benefits.

The Power of Less: Where Packaging’s role in a circular economy becomes clear

The report shows packaging’s journey throughout the supply cycle, from initial design, to logistics and recycling, detailing an approach that can deliver business benefits including less costs, less waste, more sales and managed risk.

Looking at the figures it makes sense for the packaging industry to adopt circular economy principles. While global packaging sales are forecast to reach $975 billion by 2018(1), recyclable post-consumer packaging with an estimated market value of $11.4bn gets wasted in the US each year(2). The problem occurs with the nature of global trading that uses long, complex supply chains across a variety of channels within the retail sector alone.

DS Smith chief executive Miles Roberts said: “Long, convoluted supply chains are traditional in a multi-channel retail environment that seems to be getting bigger, faster and more competitive by the minute. Globalisation, fuelled by digital and mobile technology, coupled with fierce customer demands for quality of service, is placing product manufacturers, suppliers and retailers under intense market pressure to deliver the goods – literally.

“In this environment, packaging has never been more relevant, and the benefits of a strategic and sustainable packaging solution that can lighten the load never more attractive.”

Through interviews with key industry players, the report details the challenges of the management of packaging in the supply cycle, explaining how solutions can be found through packaging design and recycling.

Properly managed systems need smart thinking across the supply cycle as well as a greater understanding of the way materials are used in packaging and their potential impact on the ability to recycled them.

DS Smith sustainability director Mark Greenwood said: “The key to successfully managing packaging in the supply chain is to optimise the supply cycle system, not the disparate elements.”

Design is a key enabler in making packaging materials more circular so they can flow through existing recovery mechanisms better. Packaging designers need to find the balance to create packaging that does the job with the least amount of material, energy and space but should also be fully recyclable and become the base material for the next supply cycle.

This involves everyone in the supply cycle, not just specific individuals.

Dr Adam Read, practice director – resource efficiency & waste management at Ricardo-AEA, said: “The packaging industry must work both upstream with manufacturers and downstream with consumers to promote better design. Not just light-weighting, but material substitution and simplification to make disassembly and recycling easier.”

And recycling plans that are integrated with the whole packaging process rather than tagged on as an afterthought produce better results and ensure effective waste
hierarchy management. By adhering to waste hierarchy principles a business can start to design for materials recovery, seeing the value this approach generates. This model becomes a natural fit with the circular economy.

Mark Greenwood added: “The most sophisticated packaging buyers are already recognising the value of end-of-life recovery as a materials sourcing solution, not a waste management problem.”

Within the report there is information on:

  • An exclusive Marks & Spencer case study. Working with The Less Packaging Company, part of DS Smith, the retailer is running a large programme to optimise all transit cartons coming into the UK with the potential to generate cost savings of around £1.5 million a year.
  • An infographic demonstrating how brands including Unilever and Walmart were able to save money and cut carbon emissions with strategic packaging
  • Insight into how recycling plans that are integrated with the whole packaging process rather than tagged on as an afterthought produce better results and ensure effective waste hierarchy management
  • Advice from DS Smith experts and a six-month checklist for achieving a circular approach to packaging throughout your supply cycle


1. Liz Goodwin, chief executive of WRAP, says the law of unintended consequences can often prove a strategic challenge. “We need thinking around the system to ensure we reap our best possible outcomes. Businesses and individuals need to work together to understand these interconnectivities. Closing the loop on the packaging sector requires a collective effort.”

2. Roger Wright, head of technical packaging, general merchandise at Marks &
Spencer: “The most important thing we retailers need to do is collaborate with
our end-to-end supply chain. This includes specifying the most appropriate
materials at one end, designing the way they are handled in the middle and
ensuring they can be responsibly disposed of or reused at the other end. If we
focus on only one of these elements, we will inevitably waste more resources
than we protect.”