A new Welsh model could be the answer to managing post-consumer waste
“If you really want to up your recycling rate,” suggests Lucy Siegel in her 2018 book Turning the Tide on Plastic, “move to Wales!” Indeed, it’s a pub quiz answer that might surprise a few people: Wales ranks third on the global top recyclers table.
The country’s journey to becoming a world-class recycler is impressive and demonstrates why strategic thinking is key in this area. In 1999, the year the Welsh National Assembly first convened, only 5 per cent of the country’s household waste was recycled. But by 2025, the country is set to hit its target of no more than 5 per cent going to landfill.
The odds are in Wales’s favour. There seems to be a consensus that well-set targets – long-term as well as interim short-term ones – are key to bringing about sea changes of this calibre.
In November 2020 there was cause for celebration across Wales when news of exceeding the statutory 64 per cent recycling rate by more than one per cent – and beating the UK target by 35 years – came. Especially so in the top three local authorities for recycling, which have already hit the 2025 level at more than 70 per cent, well ahead of schedule.
The country’s success is well-deserved, as it has been firing on all cylinders for the past 20 years to pull the feat off. In addition to setting targets and drawing roadmaps, the Welsh government has also invested generously in recycling facilities, circular economy initiatives and attitude-changing campaigns. So what are the key ingredients of this secret Welsh recipe?
The Welsh government’s approach is unique in that it goes “beyond recycling”, which is also the name of its new circular economy programme, launched in March 2021.
The concept that sustainable waste management is not just about increasing recycling capacity and developing revolutionary – and often energy-intensive – new technologies but also, and pre-eminently, about “keeping resources in use and avoiding waste” – more reminiscent of grassroot environmentalist thinking than the usual government schemes.
The longer household appliances and electronic products are in use, the less packaging needs to be tackled. Setting up re-use shops and repair cafes near household waste recycling centres (HWRCs) can divert a lot of items from energy-to-waste recycling by giving them an extended or a new lease of life.
The way the Welsh government has introduced a moratorium on the building of large-scale energy-for-waste plants with immediate effect is another sign that it means business.
Burning waste for energy is at least an improvement on plain incineration, but we can do far better. Here, again, the Welsh department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has embraced a cause that environmentalist groups such as Bin the Burners have already been making a case for: reduce unrecyclable waste first and then build burners only if you still need them.
Put your money where your mouth is
Working towards a circular economy doesn’t come cheap. Wales has spent £1 billion since 2000 solely on providing financial support for local authorities to improve their waste collection services.
Introducing electric waste collection vehicles or managing as many as 20 different waste streams are measures that eat into budgets. So is replacing standard 240-litre wheelie bins with considerably smaller ones, a desperate move that recycling underachiever Cardiff made in 2015 to improve residents’ waste selection habits.
The Circular Economy Fund encouraging businesses to increase their use of recycled materials in their products or packaging has been recently expanded by £3.2 million in addition to the £6.5 million granted previously.
But targets and roadmaps will go up in smoke and funds will get squandered unless the legislation underlying them is enforced. This is less of a problem in Wales, where councils are under enormous pressure to deliver – as evidenced by the above example, as Cardiff Council faces fines of up to £2 million for failing to meet statutory targets.
To shift some of this burden, councils are imposing penalties on their residents if they find their plastic collection for recycling is not up to standard due to contamination. Incurring a hefty penalty for leaving your recycling bag beside a recycling bank is not uncommon.
These sanctions might sound rather draconian and may spur the less environmentally conscious to leave Wales rather than move there. Many struggle to squeeze their non-recyclable waste into the bags provided by councils tri-weekly.
On the upside, however, those who are serious about consumer responsibility and punctilious in their shopping choices can rest assured that their efforts will eventually not be in vain.
The site myrecyclingwales, which tells visitors how much waste has been collected by a particular local council and where it ends up, is debunking the received wisdom that selective waste collection is pointless.
Those who think that the Welsh scheme entails too much citizen effort, argues Siegle – too many sticks and not enough carrots – may find inspiration in the fact that better collection means cleaner recycles, which in turn means more money for the council, which, in a good scenario, can trickle back to residents in the form of lower taxes.
The post-Brexit UK Environmental Bill 2021 sets targets and allocates funds necessary for making a greener UK a reality, which the sustainable management of post-consumer waste is an important pillar of. It also undertakes to review the developments in environmental legislation globally every two years. But taking a closer look at the regulations, best practices and mistakes of the recycling champion in its front yard could be a good example to follow.
I'm a climate scientist – here's three key things I have learned over a year of Covid-19
The planet had already warmed by around 1.2℃ since pre-industrial times when the World Health Organization officially declared a pandemic on March 11 2020. This began a sudden and unprecedented drop in human activity, as much of the world went into lockdown and factories stopped operating, cars kept their engines off and planes were grounded.
There have been many monumental changes since then, but for those of us who work as climate scientists this period has also brought some entirely new and sometimes unexpected insights.
Here are three things we have learned:
1. Climate science can operate in real time
The pandemic made us think on our feet about how to get around some of the difficulties of monitoring greenhouse gas emissions, and CO₂ in particular, in real time. When many lockdowns were beginning in March 2020, the next comprehensive Global Carbon Budget setting out the year’s emissions trends was not due until the end of the year. So climate scientists set about looking for other data that might indicate how CO₂ was changing.
We used information on lockdown as a mirror for global emissions. In other words, if we knew what the emissions were from various economic sectors or countries pre-pandemic, and we knew by how much activity had fallen, we could assume that their emissions had fallen by the same amount.
By May 2020, a landmark study combined government lockdown policies and activity data from around the world to predict a 7% fall in CO₂ emissions by the end of the year, a figure later confirmed by the Global Carbon Project. This was soon followed by research by my own team, which used Google and Apple mobility data to reflect changes in ten different pollutants, while a third study again tracked CO₂ emissions using data on fossil fuel combustion and cement production.
The latest Google mobility data shows that although daily activity hasn’t yet returned to pre-pandemic levels, it has recovered to some extent. This is reflected in our latest emissions estimate, which shows, following a limited bounce back after the first lockdown, a fairly steady growth in global emissions during the second half of 2020. This was followed by a second and smaller dip representing the second wave in late 2020/early 2021.
Meanwhile, as the pandemic progressed, the Carbon Monitor project established methods for tracking CO₂ emissions in close to real time, giving us a valuable new way to do this kind of science.
2. No dramatic effect on climate change
In both the short and long term, the pandemic will have less effect on efforts to tackle climate change than many people had hoped.
Despite the clear and quiet skies, research I was involved in found that lockdown actually had a slight warming effect in spring 2020: as industry ground to a halt, air pollution dropped and so did the ability of aerosols, tiny particles produced by the burning of fossil fuels, to cool the planet by reflecting sunlight away from the Earth. The impact on global temperatures was short-lived and very small (just 0.03°C), but it was still bigger than anything caused by lockdown-related changes in ozone, CO₂ or aviation.
Looking further ahead to 2030, simple climate models have estimated that global temperatures will only be around 0.01°C lower as a result of Covid-19 than if countries followed the emissions pledges they already had in place at the height of the pandemic. These findings were later backed up by more complex model simulations.
Many of these national pledges have been updated and strengthened over the past year, but they still aren’t enough to avoid dangerous climate change, and as long as emissions continue we will be eating into the remaining carbon budget. The longer we delay action, the steeper the emissions cuts will need to be.
3. This isn’t a plan for climate action
The temporary halt to normal life we have now seen with successive lockdowns is not only not enough to stop climate change, it is also not sustainable: like climate change, Covid-19 has hit the most vulnerable the hardest. We need to find ways to reduce emissions without the economic and social impacts of lockdowns, and find solutions that also promote health, welfare and equity. Widespread climate ambition and action by individuals, institutions and businesses is still vital, but it must be underpinned and supported by structural economic change.
Colleagues and I have estimated that investing just 1.2% of global GDP in economic recovery packages could mean the difference between keeping global temperature rise below 1.5°C, and a future where we are facing much more severe impacts – and higher costs.
Unfortunately, green investment is not being made at anything like the level needed. However, many more investments will be made over the next few months. It’s essential that strong climate action is integrated into future investments. The stakes may seem high, but the potential rewards are far higher.
The new table stakes: digital supply chain ecosystems
Supply chain leaders face an increasingly complex and challenging world. Changes in consumer behaviours and expectations, accelerating supply chain shocks and disruptions, and increasing volumes and types of data impact every aspect of how companies make decisions.
It’s a whole new world that requires reimagining supply chain operations. In the not-so-distant past, the supply chain design was linear, simpler and less complex. Decisions moved slowly and could tolerate longer decision cycles.
Today’s global supply chains have many layers, move quickly, are interconnected, and require informed decisions made in real time and which are optimised across the supply chain.
Selecting the right supply chain planning technology to help transform supply chains from linear to connected ecosystems that link people, places, things and time across all layers in the supply chain for greater efficiency and response is critical.
Why digital supply chain ecosystems matter
Global supply chains are becoming more integrated across multiple value chain partners, linking customers, suppliers, manufacturers and trading partners.
Digital technology is also changing the business landscape with supply chains being digitally connected and machine-learning enabled, gathering and analysing multiple sources of data – such as IoT, point of sale, weather, social data and more – to drive additional insights and visibility into the supply chain.
Companies demand agility and the ability to quickly detect and respond to changing customer behaviours and supply disruptions. As global supply chains continue to become more interconnected, this will move supply chains beyond a focus on operational efficiency towards end-to-end orchestration of their ecosystem. Digital ecosystems are supply chains’ new table stakes.
Model real-world parameters with a digital twin
Too often supply chain decisions are based on stale and static data. But supply chain models must be dynamic and represent the real world. A digital twin is at the heart of a supply chain planning solution – where it produces a virtual replica of the supply chain and models real-world impacts.
The digital twin acts as a supply chain blueprint and provides accurate data about the relationships between supply chain entities. They can model any environment and connect it with business systems and sensors to perform what-if scenarios and develop prescriptive insights.
The simulations compare what is happening in the supply chain against historical data and potential plans (such as capacities, demand or inventories) to predict the future. The digital twin provides an end-to-end model that is continuously in synch with the entire supply chain ecosystem and facilitates strategic, operational and tactical plans while operating on a common data model and modeling real-world parameters such as leads times, set-up times, bill of materials and more.
Linking planning to execution
Modern supply chain planning technology helps companies better navigate disruptions such as unexpected spikes in demand, inbound and outbound delivery problems, supplier quality concerns and more.
Linking planning to execution becomes crucial, especially as supply chain disruptions and omni-channel approaches increase. For instance, if port congestion delays cargo, this data can help the company locate alternative transportation sources, incorporate container sizes and truck load capacity, and negotiate new freight rates on the fly.
By having a connected ecosystem and removing traditional business siloes, companies get quick visibility into issues and can respond faster to resolve them.
Optimising the supply chain to improve sustainability
Supply chain planning technology does more than just provide supply chain insights, it also impacts sustainability.
The importance of sustainability and the circular economy continues to grow. A recent Gartner survey finds that 51 per cent of supply chain professionals expect the emphasis on the circular economy to increase within two years.
The reduce, reuse, recycle mantra is not new. Supply chains generally produce more harmful emissions than most other company operations, drawing the attention of the C-level as they face pressure from investors, consumers and regulators to do more about sustainability initiatives. Most companies focus on low-hanging sustainability fruit for quick gains.
As consumers continue to gain interest in sustainable measures and reducing waste, companies will need to look at their entire network design and determine how to get the network to optimally align based on sustainability KPIs – not just report KPIs. The ability to have better visibility into the supply chain allows companies to identify, focus and accelerate sustainable efforts.
How to get started?
In a global climate rife with volatility, supply chain shocks and shifts in revenue, supply chain planning technology that seamlessly synchronises the entire supply chain ecosystem to remove silos, maximise resources and provide end-to-end visibility is not a nice-to-have, it’s a must.
John Galt Solutions is a supply chain planning technology market leader that has helped thousands of companies transform their supply chain to the needs of a constantly changing world. Want to learn more? Schedule a demo and consultation with John Galt Solutions at https://johngalt.com/
by Alex Pradhan, Product Strategy Leader, John Galt Solutions
The world’s first cross supply chain orchestrator
TRI-VIZOR is a disruptive innovator in logistics and supply chain management. As the world’s first impartial orchestrator it was one of the first companies to introduce the principles of the sharing economy in transport and logistics, supported by its baseline “Carpooling for Cargo”. TRI-VIZOR proactively designs and operates horizontal partnerships and collaborative communities among shippers. By bundling and synchronising freight flows and sharing capacity and resources across multiple supply networks, double digit gains in cost, customer service and sustainability can be achieved.
Vision and mission
TRI-VIZOR has developed a strong vision on how logistics and supply chain management will evolve in the coming years and wants to prepare companies and other organisations to anticipate what is to come. In essence, the current business models in transport and logistics will fail very soon due to low efficiencies caused by fragmentation and important capacity shortages. The new business models for smart and sustainable logistics will be based on sharing capacity – for example, in bundling of flows, clustering of activities, sharing services and pooling resources. TRI-VIZOR has demonstrated that horizontal partnerships and platforms are the most fair and appropriate way to realise this.
TRI-VIZOR was originally a spin-off company of the University of Antwerp, founded in 2008. The two founding partners of TRI-VIZOR, Alex Van Breedam and Bart Vannieuwenhuyse, have individually gained global recognition as innovators and experts in horizontal collaboration.
TRI-VIZOR has since collected an impressive track record of prizes and awards. Its reputation and recognition is to a great extent due to a strong focus on its mission to set up and operate horizontal collaborations. It has grown to the leading reference for horizontal collaboration projects – it is the world’s first cross supply chain orchestrator. TRI-VIZOR’s knowledge base is the result of ten years of coping with challenging and complex collaboration projects. These projects were conducted with leading global companies such as P&G, Nike, Baxter, UCB, WabCo, Hologic, Pfizer, Novartis, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Donaldson, Jindal, Omya, Agfa, Unilever, SCA, Delhaize, Sony, Panasonic, Intersnack, JSP, Ferrero, Ontex, Kimberly-Clark, Autogrill, Takeda, Cargill and Skretting.
TRI-VIZOR has also established very close relationships with public authorities and organisations, including cities, ports and regional and European authorities. Some of the major deliverables of projects with public authorities were anti-trust compliant legal frameworks with models and guidelines for horizontal collaboration. TRI-VIZOR is also closely involved within Alice (Alliance for Logistics Innovation through Collaboration in Europe) and the development of the Physical Internet, the endgame for the future of logistics. The successful horizontal collaboration projects setup by TRI-VIZOR are considered as the first embryos of the Physical Internet.
In its role as neutral orchestrator, TRI-VIZOR prepares (as the “initiator”), involves, and supports companies in the processes of creating (as “architect”) and managing (as the “trustee”) horizontal collaboration partnerships and platforms.
As a community manager, TRI-VIZOR innovates in a variety of eco-systems and their governance.
For more information, please visit www.trivizor.com
by Bart Vannieuwenhuyse and Alex Van Breedam, founders of TRI-VIZOR NV
A supply chain overhaul is overdue – and not just for the sake of the bottom line
The path to greater innovation in supply chains may be different for every organisation but the ultimate goals will be the same – obtaining better value from suppliers, developing resilience against disruptions and finding new ways to continue to serve the business and its customers during good times and bad.
The knocks and diversions of the pandemic have encouraged supply chain managers to put renewed focus on innovative practices such as collaborating with competitors towards common goals or introducing multiple logistics strategies where once a handful of reliable suppliers was enough. As we emerge from the most difficult challenges in many generations, this spirit of innovation should say with us, continually driving for improvements in our supply chains to meet not just the strategic goals of the business but support societal good.
Looking at technological developments in supply chains is a good place to start. As businesses compete to get ahead in the digital race, mere investment in technology is not enough. What businesses need is increased agility and transparency of their suppliers and their suppliers’ suppliers and an understanding of how technology can bring this transparency and increase true value across the supply chain.
Our research last year found that 70 per cent of the businesses surveyed had used digital solutions to increase the performance of their supply chains, improving information, reducing operational costs or eliminating human error using automated systems. As data becomes the “new oil”, this is encouraging. During the pandemic, businesses were struggling to get hold of the latest information on where suppliers were still operating or where supply chains were broken, so this transparency is likely to become increasingly important.
Innovation cannot just be about increased cost-efficiencies but a driver of bigger goals. Organisations are dedicating more resources than ever to sustainability or social value initiatives and are thinking more about what their purpose is – not just about profit to shareholders but what they are delivering for society. Consumers think about which brands they are going to buy, employees what type of company they want to work for, and investors are savvier about who they are investing in. What they all have in common is that they want to deal with reputable businesses doing the right thing. What are businesses doing to eradicate labour violations, for instance, eliminating modern slavery or rooting out bribery and corruption in their supply chains?
Though the UK has the Modern Slavery Act, the German government has taken this approach further. The Supply Chain Act of 2021 is being lauded as the strongest legislation in Europe against exploitation of workers, where companies with more than 3,000 employees (the legislation will later be expanded to include those with more than 1,000 employees) will be truly accountable for human rights breaches.
I would like to see measures strengthened in the UK. The charity Focus on Labour Exploitation says that half of construction workers in London don’t have a contract, a third are not paid, another third abused and 50 per cent work in dangerous conditions. How can this continue in a civilised society?
The lack of prompt payment is another bugbear. In October 2020, the UK government gave the Small Business Commissioner stronger powers to support SMEs who were struggling with late payments from larger corporate customers. £23.4 billion is owed to SMEs according to official statistics, so paying suppliers on time, or even early, should be part of every organisation’s responsible payment policy.
What is clear from the lessons of the pandemic is that only the most agile and adaptable of companies were ready to manage the ebb and flow of lockdowns and disruptions to shipping lanes across the globe – and only a few managed this successfully. As we emerge from the worst of Covid’s impact, companies are now looking towards building more resilient and ethical supply chains in preparation for the challenges still to come and using innovative thinking to fuel those goals.
For more information please visit www.cips.org
by Malcolm Harrison, Group CEO of The Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply, the global professional body for procurement and supply.
Future supply chains are built to bend
Peter Brereton, president and CEO of Tecsys, discusses the need for agility in logistics and the role that technology plays in designing future-ready supply chains.
When the Titanic struck an iceberg in 1912, it was despite lookouts having reported potential hazards, the vessel being steered hard to starboard, and the engines thrown into reverse to avoid collision. By the time these measures were taken, of course, the unsinkable ship was already lost.
The captain of the Titanic was missing three key tools, which led to the disaster: insufficient data, limited visibility and a lack of agility. Remarkably, supply chain organisations that are at risk of sinking all these years later are often wrestling with these very obstacles.
“We are in a world of very rapid change. If you do not have a supply chain platform that is designed for – and simply assumes – change in every part of the supply chain and has the ability to handle it with nimbleness, accuracy and efficiency, then you're out of the game,” says Peter Brereton, president and CEO of Tecsys, a supply chain technology company that equips organisations with software and service solutions designed for transforming markets.
“In the mid-90s, it was both reasonable and practical to install a monolithic ERP that could be configured once and left for years without much need to tweak,” continues Brereton. “But in today’s supply chain, what you did two years ago may very well be irrelevant to what’s happening today.”
“Fast forward a few decades, and many well-established organisations are left with their feet mired in cement, when it’s the people wearing sneakers that can respond quickly enough to the changing demands of the world we’re in,” adds Brereton.
Over the last decade, the role of supply chain has dramatically evolved from transactional cost center to strategic asset. This shift has spurred more logistical complexity, which has made it more difficult to be efficient and effective without the support of technology.
“To unlock the strategic advantages of the supply chain, it is necessary to invest in technology, but not for the sake of technology; investing in technology needs to be done thoughtfully and with a keen purpose of increasing your organisation’s resilience and agility. That’s where the rubber hits the road,” explains Brereton.
Indeed, as Geraint John, vice president analyst with the Gartner Supply Chain practice, reports: “Supply chain executives overwhelmingly recognise the necessity to make their networks more resilient and agile. At the same time, 60 per cent admit that their supply chains have not been designed for resilience, but cost-efficiency. The challenge will be to create an operating model for supply chains that combines the best of both worlds and also delivers supreme customer service.”
The winds of change have gathered speed through this pandemic and the water is choppier than ever with supply disruptions and changing consumer demands. As Brereton explains, it will take purposeful leadership to captain a technology transformation towards resilience and agility because it is a critical business decision that involves almost every departmental stakeholder in an organisation. “It should not be taken lightly, and it should not be back-burnered. More than ever, supply chain supports all of the other important business decisions that need to be made to remain competitive.”
The modern supply chain is not made of steel, but something more flexible. It needs to bend and adapt to the unpredictability of the market, which is more volatile and more complex than ever before. For Brereton and Tecsys, agility is just the waterline for supply chain survival. Navigating the ice fields of modern logistics demands the pursuit for more robust data, visibility, resilience, and innovative use of proven technologies. And that pursuit needs all hands on deck.
To learn more about Tecsys and its portfolio of supply chain solutions, click here.
How digital technologies leverage sustainability in manufacturing
Dr. Dirk Holbach, Chief Supply Chain Officer Laundry & Home Care, Henkel
In recent years, sustainability has grown to become more and more important throughout the manufacturing industry. Henkel, a global consumer goods company, aims to pioneer new solutions for sustainable development in all business activities.
“Companies that manufacture consumer products have the responsibility to promote not only sustainable and smart packaging, but also sustainable production processes. The transformation towards a circular economy and our goal to become climate-positive by 2040 can only be achieved if we join forces along the entire value chain. And at Henkel, we take action and develop innovative solutions to stop plastic waste and enhance sustainability in manufacturing”
Dr. Dirk Holbach, Chief Supply Chain Officer at Henkel Laundry & Home Care
One key lever for this purpose is digital transformation within production. Henkel operates worldwide with leading brands and technologies in its three business units: Adhesive Technologies, Beauty Care and Laundry & Home Care. Within the company, Henkel’s target starts with a strong focus on production sites, where the company continually improves its energy efficiency.
“At Laundry & Home Care, we achieved a 65% reduction of CO2 over the past 15 years. This represents 3.5 million tons of CO2,” says Dr. Dirk Holbach, Chief Supply Chain Officer at Henkel Laundry & Home Care. To continuously make production processes more sustainable, the company is using digital tools, Industry 4.0 applications and advanced technologies in manufacturing. One example is the implementation of a cloud-based digital platform, Digital Backbone.
But leveraging digital brings chances and challenges. It requires reliable measurement and transparency, standardized information and a digital mindset among teams. Only then can consistent improvement be achieved. Addressing these requirements, Digital Backbone was introduced at Henkel Laundry & Home Care eight years ago. This digital ecosystem measures energy consumption in real time for more than 30 Laundry & Home Care production sites worldwide, and has evolved into one of the most important tools for holistic supply chain steering.
“We have been driving digital transformation consistently for many years. In 2013, we developed Digital Backbone to digitalize our supply chain,” says Holbach. “Today, more than 4,000 sensors are distributed everywhere on the globe. These sensors feed a billion data points every day into our system on a real-time basis.” With the platform initially focusing on energy consumption, it has now developed into much more, optimizing energy consumption and analyzing water and waste parameters while driving safety, efficiency and quality performance in Henkel’s production facilities.
“Digital and sustainability can go hand in hand and deliver concrete business with environmental benefits,” says Holbach. While the newest technological developments allow for these opportunities, it is crucial to involve people to successfully drive digital transformation. New technologies require new skill sets—which is why Henkel carries out digital upskilling programs across the entire company and those targeted in the supply chain. To constantly improve the quality of the application and drive engagement, Henkel Laundry & Home Care focuses on future users when implementing new technologies.
Find out more about Henkel here.
Make a global impact
After an incredibly difficult year, the supply chain industry is hard at work rebuilding better and stronger than before. As our global community looks to the future, it’s clear that all supply chains have a unique and important opportunity to learn from both the shocks of 2020 and how the most resilient organisations faced a myriad of challenges.
To that end, the Association for Supply Chain Management (ASCM) has commissioned The Resilient Supply Chain Benchmark research report from The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). The report assesses modern supply chain resilience-building capabilities by evaluating the supply chains of 308 publicly listed retail, pharmaceutical and consumer electronics companies. The result is a rare insight into both operational and strategic supply chain resilience that enables companies to identify and respond to both sudden shocks and longer-term structural shifts.
The research confirms that one essential objective for tomorrow’s supply chains will be a keen focus on ecological stewardship, social responsibility and economic sustainability. There is simply no doubt that all companies have an opportunity to make an impact by decarbonising their global supply chains. However, less than half have set targets to reduce supply chain-related carbon emissions. Plus, after setting targets comes the considerably more difficult endeavour of reducing emissions across complex networks with numerous suppliers.
A second focus area for the supply chains of the future will be visibility. Unfortunately, the research finds that more than half of companies surveyed lack end-to-end visibility into their supply chains because they rely on a picture of supply and demand that is based on only internal data. In addition, 37 per cent of those surveyed reported that their visibility is hampered by either internal siloes or is not data-driven. This leaves these businesses vulnerable to unexpected risk and limits their ability to detect emerging threats.
Thirdly, the research concludes that business continuity plans and playbooks should incorporate triggers outlining actions to be taken across a range of disruptions. Overall, only 57 per cent of respondents say they have business continuity plans that meet this criterion, a number that is shockingly high given today’s complex and dynamic threat matrix. During such a prolonged crisis, processes that may not seem essential have blindsided critical processes when they fail.
For all three of these supply chain targets – and countless others – multi-stakeholder collaboration is key to getting us where we need to be. As the accompanying ASCM/EIU whitepaper states, supply chains must collaborate beyond one’s own network in order to become truly sustainable. Furthermore, time and again the high performers are those organisations that work together with their supply chain partners by sharing best practices, joint long-term planning and providing financial assistance to preserve supply chain networks. In fact, 55 per cent of companies benchmarked say they directly help suppliers remain solvent during times of crisis.
The second phase of ASCM’s collaboration with the EIU is a benchmarking framework that identifies best practices in both real time and strategic supply chain resilience. The Resilient Supply Chain Benchmark interactive tool will enable supply chain leaders everywhere to discover essential supply chain lessons from industry peers and be much better equipped for a resilient future.
by Abe Eshkenazi, CEO, ASCM
Supply chain digitisation drives the bottom line for long-term growth in retail
The Covid-19 pandemic, which began as a public health crisis, has triggered significant changes in how global brands, retailers and importers manage their supply chains, underscoring the importance of speed, agility and efficiency. And as a result of global manufacturing and transportation disruptions, the path towards effective supply chain digitisation has been accelerated.
In today’s increasingly digital marketplace, a business can use the digitisation of its supply chain as a distinct competitive advantage in bolstering its brand reputation. Furthermore, in a constantly evolving global business climate, businesses that digitise are able to more nimbly shift their sourcing operations between geographies so they can hedge against disaster and disruption.
In the end, such digitisation future-proofs a business by unlocking long-term growth opportunities, ensuring customer satisfaction and driving the bottom line.
Supplier disruptions left businesses in the dark
Covid19 has challenged organisations involved in global trade worldwide to take a hard look at areas of their business that left them most vulnerable to risk and unable to meet ever-changing consumer demand. With no roadmap to guide retailers and suppliers on how much to order or manufacture or where to stock, the demand forecasts typically relied on were shattered. We saw sudden lockdowns and shifts to working from home cause panic buying of essential food items and household goods, while work clothes lingered on the shelves of shuttered stores, unsold. And this uncertainty has continued.
Apart from missing the supply and demand mark, businesses with a low degree of supply chain digitisation were also twice as likely to suffer from serious product quality and supplier communication issues, according to a recent survey of 700 global businesses conducted by QIMA. When you combine product quality issues with supplier delays, it’s a recipe for disaster. This is why it’s more alarming that less than half (44 per cent) of the surveyed businesses reported having a highly digitised supply chain, and up to 85 per cent admitted to blind spots within their supply chains.
Cash is still king – and quality is its close confidant
Against a global recession and mass uncertainty, cash flow is a boardroom centrepiece. But innovative businesses know that if cash is king, quality is among its closest confidants. Above all else, high-quality measures in the supply chain secure the bottom line by helping businesses to deliver flawless products cost-effectively and on time, while bolstering brand image in the marketplace.
Notably, Covid-19 profoundly changed consumer behaviour, with the rise of online shopping pressuring businesses to consider how returns, fast shipping and reviews impact operational decisions and profit margins. Moreover, as ethical and environmental consumerism continues to rise, businesses must also prioritise sustainable sourcing, transparency and traceability mechanisms in their supply chains.
In monetary terms, quality-related costs can consume 15 to 20 per cent of sales. According to Shopify, 10 per cent of products purchased online are returned for preventable reasons, including poor quality, damage and not matching the description. In addition, 93 per cent of customers reference online reviews before buying a product and four out of five consumers have changed their mind about a purchase after reading negative reviews.
Global supply chains need a 360-degree view, from factory to shelves
In order to hedge compliance and quality risks, businesses must gain a holistic view into the entire product journey – from the raw material producer to the factory to the moment it hits shelves or arrives at a customer’s door.
With a digital quality inspection platform like QIMAone, inspectors anywhere in the globe and at any step of the manufacturing process can upload data immediately using their mobile device, increasing pace, accuracy and convenience – gaining up to 50 per cent in efficiencies over manual entry. Furthermore, cloud-enabled features facilitate collaboration with inspectors and suppliers remotely, a critical capability during travel restrictions and quarantines. Multilingual interfaces, live chat collaboration, in-app training content and efficient corrective action tracking help foster collective intelligence within the supply chain and ultimately improve quality and compliance.
Overall, workflow automation for inspection and auditing processes can help save time for all stakeholders of the supply chain, accelerating the speed to market and mitigating expensive buybacks.
Now is the time to future-proof supply chains
Indeed, perhaps the most prized feature of a digital inspection platform is that it transforms supplier relationships and encourages continuous improvement. The digitisation of quality and compliance processes allow for the collection of harmonised, reliable data that can help retailers and suppliers go from a reactive mode to a risk-based, proactive approach where they can predict and anticipate quality risk.
Thanks to real-time visibility of the factory floor, each relationship is no longer based on a standard client-vendor contract. Instead, the mutually beneficial relationship is anchored by transparency, partnership, teamwork, cost-effectiveness and, ultimately, customer satisfaction. This level of visibility can save businesses precious margin points annually by streamlining processes, reducing human error and allowing for cost-effective supplier diversification.
By reimagining the supply chain built on visibility, trust and collaboration, businesses are fortified to successfully overcome costly challenges brought on by the pandemic and other unexpected disruptors.
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Plastic pollution: how chemical recycling technology could help fix it
It’s impossible to imagine everyday life without plastics. Lightweight, durable and cheap, these materials outperform many others in a diverse range of applications.
Plastics have brought about positive change in ways we often overlook. For example, the development of plastic components in electronic devices, such as the one you’re using to read this article, means we’ve never been more connected to the world around us.
But our love of plastics has come at an environmental cost. It’s been estimated that of the 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic made between 1950 to 2015, over 75% is now waste, with 79% accumulating in either landfill or the natural environment.
For scale, that’s more than all living things on Earth, and our oceans are drowning in plastic. Because of this, recent research efforts have focused on addressing these mounting environmental concerns. One of these is chemical recycling.
The value of plastic
To overcome the huge environmental concerns created by plastic we need to start valuing plastic waste as a resource. After all, plastic waste contains value in the form of stable chemical bonds, so at the very least we should try to recover that energy. In fact, the stability of these bonds is why plastics linger for so long in the environment.
Beyond burning plastic to recover this energy, we can also recycle plastic. The world currently relies on mechanical recycling, where plastics are sorted, melted and remoulded to create mainly lower-grade plastic products. But this process is limited. The harsh conditions involved mean each time a piece of plastic is recycled, its performance properties are negatively affected. This limits the number of times a piece of plastic can be recycled.
To make sure plastic keeps its value in the long term, we need alternative recycling strategies. Chemical recycling provides the potential for infinite recyclability. But the challenge lies in achieving it in a sustainable and economic way at scale. Traditional methods are usually costly and energy or resource intensive, which has limited their widespread use.
Plastics are made up of long-chain molecules known as polymers, which consist of smaller repeating building blocks called monomers. These monomers come in different shapes and sizes, and the bonding between them determines the plastic’s material properties – such as melting temperature and toughness – which affects the way it is used.
While mechanical recycling involves melting, chemical recycling relies on a chemical transformation and thus breaking the links between monomers. Chemical recycling breaks the plastic down at a molecular level. This means the monomer can be recovered in what’s called closed-loop recycling or the plastic waste can be transformed into other higher-value chemicals in open-loop recycling. For many types of plastic, it’s possible to recover monomers or other useful materials.
Some plastics, such as polyolefins – the material in a polyethylene plastic bag – don’t have weak monomer links, making it harder to chemically recycle them. In such cases, a process called pyrolysis is used, a different process to burning, which relies on high reaction temperatures to typically produce fuels and waxes.
Catalysts are used in around 90% of industrial chemical processes. They make the process more efficient by providing the reaction with an alternative route, much like the way Google maps optimises your journey. They can also allow us to be selective about what product is created and reduce waste. Such benefits are central to ensuring chemical recycling can be performed both sustainably and economically at an industrial scale.
The enzymes that were working tirelessly during your last meal are naturally occurring catalysts that play an important role in digestion. Enzymes that can even break down plastics have been reported.
However, these processes are limited by their productivity and require specific process conditions – such as the right temperature and pH – to keep the enzyme active. But given how rapidly the field is advancing, using naturally occurring catalysts may be commercially viable in the future.
We’ve developed highly efficient metal-based catalysts for the chemical recycling of polylactic acid (PLA), a plastic made from plant starch. This work used cheap and abundant metals – such as zinc or magnesium – targeting chemicals called lactate esters, which are a potential green alternative to petroleum-based solvents.
This area remains in its infancy, but we expect significant developments, particularly in process optimisation, to be made as the field gathers momentum. This is in fact a general endeavour of the field because traditional methods typically use harsh chemicals, and can be resource and energy intensive.
Beyond PLA, there is the potential to “up-cycle” other plastics, such as polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is used for plastic bottles. Recent examples include building blocks for high-performance materials and antibiotics and corrosion inhibitors from PET waste.
Our recent work has also investigated the chemical recycling of PET, which is used far more extensively. PET is used more widely in plastic bottles and food containers, while PLA takes up a much smaller share of the market, used mostly for 3D printing, biomedical devices and certain packaging applications.
Given societies diverse plastic use, a one-solution-fits-all approach is not feasible. Diverse and tailored recycling strategies are needed for both existing and new emerging plastics. However, commercial-scale chemical recycling operations are underway.
In the future, we expect chemical recycling to complement its mechanical counterpart, especially for difficult to recycle materials such as thin-films. One thing is for certain, plastics are here to stay. With production expected to exceed one billion tonnes by 2050, chemical recycling promises to be an exciting space to watch
Five ways fungi could change the world, from cleaning water to breaking down plastics
Fungi — a scientific goldmine? Well, that’s what a review published today in the journal Trends in Biotechnology indicates. You may think mushrooms are a long chalk from the caped crusaders of sustainability. But think again.
Many of us have heard of fungi’s role in creating more sustainable leather substitutes. Amadou vegan leather crafted from fungal-fruiting bodies has been around for some 5,000 years.
More recently, mycelium leather substitutes have taken the stage. These are produced from the root-like structure mycelium, which snakes through dead wood or soil beneath mushrooms.
You might even know about how fungi help us make many fermented food and drinks such as beer, wine, bread, soy sauce and tempeh. Many popular vegan protein products, including Quorn, are just flavoured masses of fungal mycelium.
But what makes fungi so versatile? And what else can they do?
Show me foamy and flexible
Fungal growth offers a cheap, simple and environmentally friendly way to bind agricultural byproducts (such as rice hulls, wheat straw, sugarcane bagasse and molasses) into biodegradable and carbon-neutral foams.
Fungal foams are becoming increasingly popular as sustainable packaging materials; IKEA is one company that has indicated a commitment to using them.
Fungal foams can also be used in the construction industry for insulation, flooring and panelling. Research has revealed them to be strong competitors against commercial materials in terms of having effective sound and heat insulation properties.
Moreover, adding in industrial wastes such as glass fines (crushed glass bits) in these foams can improve their fire resistance.
And isolating only the mycelium can produce a more flexible and spongy foam suitable for products such as facial sponges, artificial skin, ink and dye carriers, shoe insoles, lightweight insulation lofts, cushioning, soft furnishings and textiles.
Paper that doesn’t come from trees? No, chitin
For other products, it’s the composition of fungi that matters. Fungal filaments contain chitin: a remarkable polymer also found in crab shells and insect exoskeletons.
Chitin has a fibrous structure, similar to cellulose in wood. This means fungal fibre can be processed into sheets the same way paper is made.
When stretched, fungal papers are stronger than many plastics and not much weaker than some steels of the same thickness. We’ve yet to test its properties when subject to different forces.
Fungal paper’s strength can be substituted for rubbery flexibility by using specific fungal species, or a different part of the mushroom. The paper’s transparency can be customised in the same way.
Growing fungi in mineral-rich environments results in inherent fire resistance for the fungus, as it absorbs the inflammable minerals, incorporating them into its structure. Add to this that water doesn’t wet fungal surfaces, but rolls off, and you’ve got yourself some pretty useful paper.
A clear solution to dirty water
Some might ask: what’s the point of fungal paper when we already get paper from wood? That’s where the other interesting attributes of chitin come into play — or more specifically, the attributes of its derivative, chitosan.
Chitosan is chitin that has been chemically modified through exposure to an acid or alkali. This means with a few simple steps, fungal paper can adopt a whole new range of applications.
For instance, chitosan is electrically charged and can be used to attract heavy metal ions. So what happens if you couple it with a mycelium filament network that is intricate enough to prevent solids, bacteria and even viruses (which are much smaller than bacteria) from passing through?
The result is an environmentally friendly membrane with impressive water purification properties. In our research, my colleagues and I found this material to be stable, simple to make and useful for laboratory filtration.
While the technology hasn’t yet been commercialised, it holds particular promise for reducing the environmental impact of synthetic filtration materials, and providing safer drinking water where it’s not available.
Mushrooms in modern medicine
Perhaps even more interesting is chitosan’s considerable biomedical potential. Fungal materials have been used to create dressings with active wound healing properties.
Although not currently on the market, these have been proven to have antibacterial properties, stem bleeding and support cell proliferation and attachment.
Fungal enzymes can also be used to combat bacteria active in tooth decay, enhance bleaching and destroy compounds responsible for bad breath.
Then there’s the well-known role of fungi in antibiotics. Penicillin, made from the Penicillium fungi, was a scientific breakthrough that has saved millions of lives and become a staple of modern healthcare.
Many antibiotics are still produced from fungi or soil bacteria. And in an age of increasing antibiotic resistance, genome sequencing is finally enabling us to identify fungi’s untapped potential for manufacturing the antibiotics of the future.
Mushrooms mending the environment
Fungi could play a huge role in sustainability by remedying existing environmental damage.
For example, they can help clean up contaminated industrial sites through a popular technique known as mycoremediation, and can break down or absorb oils, pollutants, toxins, dyes and heavy metals.
They can also compost some synthetic plastics, such as polyurethane. In this process, the plastic is buried in regulated soil and its byproducts are digested by specific fungi as it degrades.
These incredible organisms can even help refine bio fuels. Whether or not we go as far as using fungal coffins to decompose our bodies into nutrients for plants — well, that’s a debate for another day.
But one thing is for sure: fungi have the undeniable potential to be used for a whole range of purposes we’re only beginning to grasp.
It could be the beer you drink, your next meal, antibiotics, a new faux leather bag or the packaging that delivered it to you — you never know what form the humble mushroom will take tomorrow.