Focus on Packaging

sustainability risk  analysis  tool  update
The HEPA Responsible Procurement Group Sustainable Packaging and Deliveries Subgroup have been working to develop resources and activities to support Consortia and University Procurement staff in reducing packaging, increasing recycled content and reducing deliveries which would also help with reducing carbon emissions. 
Key Sustainability Issues
During the current pandemic and lockdown periods, IMRG (the UK’s online retail association) reported that on-line sales had increased by 36% in 2020, which is the highest growth rate in 13 years. This increase in on-line deliveries has highlighted three key sustainability issues.
  1. The excessive waste of packaging which goes way beyond product protection
  2. The use of non-recycled or recyclable packaging materials 
  3. The multiple separate deliveries from certain on-line retailers for a single order. 
When these issues are translated into the volume of product and packaging delivered to a University campus annually, and there are clearly sustainability concerns that Procurement staff can target and reduce in collaboration with internal customers and suppliers.
Taking Action
One of the first things that was considered by the group was how to identify which categories needed the most attention due to the high volumes of packaging. The University of the West of England offered their assistance. Facilitated by Helen Baker in Procurement, the Sustainability team of Paul Roberts and Jennifer Fawcett-Thorne took the existing Sustainability Risk Analysis by PROC-HE 2 and updated it to include columns for packaging, specifically plastics, cardboard and polystyrene as well as identifying where the supplier may be liable for reporting volumes as part of the Packaging Waste: Producer Responsibilities. 
This provides a great tool to use when developing a sourcing or procurement plan prior to tendering, as it helps identify whether there is the potential to reduce, recycle, reuse or even eliminate packaging through the life of the contract. Another use could be to identify where questions on the sustainability credentials of packaging might form part of the tender evaluation criteria. 
Plastic Packaging Tax
Over the last few years, there has been much coverage of plastic waste on TV, in the media and highlighted by leading environmental pressure groups. The UK Government has announced that from April 2022, the Plastics Packaging Tax will be introduced with a £200 per tonne tax rate for packaging which contains less than 30% recycled plastic. 
The HEPA Sustainable Packaging Group suggest that Universities might consider encouraging suppliers to adopt WRAP’s UK Plastic Pact targets which are:
  1. Eliminate problematic or unnecessary single-use packaging through redesign, innovation or alternative (reuse) delivery model.
  2. 100% of plastics packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable.
  3. 70% of plastics packaging effectively recycled or composted.
  4. 30% average recycled content across all plastic packaging. 
Driving Down Single Use
There’s been a big focus on eliminating single-use plastics wherever possible, replacing with multi-use, recycled content or plant-based alternatives. But the use of any material that is either excessive in terms of volume or needs to go through recycling and re-manufacture processes to be reused is also quite wasteful. So what can be done?
  • Can you encourage suppliers to reduce the volume of packaging supplied with their products? 
  • Are there ways this can be done without compromising the integrity of its products whilst being stored and during delivery? 
  • Can the supplier develop permanent or reusable packaging and collect for reuse? 
  • If alternatives are not possible – can they use packaging from a sustainable source, that is fully recyclable or have a high recycled content.
Next Steps
The Sustainable Packaging and Deliveries Subgroup are working to develop packaging specification guidance for procurement staff and develop template evaluation criteria, model answers and suggested packaging KPI’s. Whilst the group will undertake research to develop these tools, if you or anyone at your institution has any relevant content or useful links, please share with the group via Lorraine Whelan, NEUPC Head of Operational Procurement.