Five ways to reduce single-use plastic in the supply chain

Reducing single-use plastic infographicReducing single-use plastic is a key element of driving down Unipart’s carbon footprint.

Teams work in collaboration with customers and suppliers on creative ways of taking single-use plastic out of the supply chain.  

The Unipart Logistics team working with Sky recently celebrated reaching their target to entirely eliminate all single-use plastics from their own operation.

Roz Jacobs, Unipart Logistics Sky Account Manager, said: “Using the tools of The Unipart Way we considered each of our processes to understand why we were using plastic in each one. Some elements were within our own control, and were fairly easy to find alternatives for. Some of it required more creative problem solving and influencing with our suppliers to tackle.”

Following on from World Environment Day on 5 June, Unipart teams globally are coming together this week to collaborate and share best practice as they focus on ways in which they can make their areas of the business even more sustainable and environmentally friendly.

Unipart Group is committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2030.

When it comes to reducing single-use plastic, from pallet wrap to paperclips, here are five key areas for the intelligent supply chain expert to consider.

1. Pallet wrap

Pallet wrap – a type of plastic film to secure products for transportation – can account for a large proportion of the plastic used within an operation.  

Some teams have already switched to reusable alternatives such as velcro or cardboard pallet strapping, and ‘loadhog lids’ which help to further stabilise and protect higher value products and reusable shrouds.

By reviewing and standardising which products actually need to be wrapped, switching suppliers to source thinner wrap with the same protection, and introducing reusable velcro pallet straps for some products, a Unipart Logistics team in Cowley has eliminated 10 tonnes of plastic annually from a customer’s supply chain.  

2. Alternative packaging

Other protective packaging such as bubble wrap, void filler packaging used to fill gaps in boxes, plastic tape, ties, and seals can also account for a significant proportion of single-use plastic.

The Unipart Logistics team in Baginton used the tools of The Unipart Way to identify where packaging could be re-used, changed to a more sustainable solution, or eliminated completely without compromising quality for a customer in the premium automotive manufacturing sector.

They were able to replace bubble wrap in multiple products with shredded paperwork and cardboard from elsewhere in the process. This not only achieved savings of over £200,000 for the customer but also saved tonnes of single-use plastics annually.

3. Reusable packaging

Although Unipart Logistics already runs a recycling operation for waste returned by Sky Engineers, the waste was previously returned in large single-use plastic bags. These have been replaced with durable woven bags which are re-used multiple times and can also be tracked, taking around 47 tonnes of single-use plastic out of the operation. 

The Sky team now sends all products to end customers in recyclable cardboard packaging.   They designed a new box in-house with a double seal that can be re-used by the customer to return their old set top box.   

In Baginton the team created new coloured labels to match branded supplier packaging, allowing the packaging to be reused.

4. Stationery

Single-use plastics are used in all areas of the business, not only operations. Simple swaps, such as refillable instead of disposable pens, recycled cardboard folders instead of plastic ones, and even plain instead of plastic coated paper clips can all cumulatively make a big difference. 

Avoiding laminating and ordering stationery in bulk to reduce packaging are other simple and cost effective actions.  

5. Personal commitment

There are other ways for each of us individually to reduce our single-use plastic use at work. For example, considering reusable containers for your food instead of buying single-use food items, using fresh coffee grounds instead of plastic ‘pods’, and even avoiding plastic products like balloons for celebrations. 

In Unipart’s Cowley Distribution Centre reusable plastic cups were issued to colleagues, removing the need for single-use cups, with the potential to eliminate a staggering 100,000 cups a year.

Plastic facts

Since the 1950s, around 8.3 billions tons of plastic have been produced worldwide, with only 9% of it recycled.

Over the past 50 years plastic production has doubled. If plastic consumption continues at its current rate by 2050 there will be 12 billion metric tonnes in landfill.

One million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute.

Plastic is killing more than 1.1 million seabirds and animals every year.

In the UK, the introduction of the 5p plastic bag charge in 2015 led to an 83% reduction in plastic bag use.

The average time a plastic bag is used for is 12 minutes. It can take up to a thousand years to decompose.

Read more about Unipart’s environmental commitments

Corporate Responsibility The Unipart Way 2019/20

Unipart Logistics and Environmental Sustainability