Home » SCMAP Perspective » Plastic in the Supply Chain

Arguably, the advent of plastics has enabled modern supply chains. New packaging materials has allowed products – especially perishables – to go further while keeping its quality intact. From a marketing standpoint, it has also allowed more opportunities to allow a product to stand out and connect with potential customers. That’s not to mention the many roles plastics play in many points of the supply chain, from enabling manufacturing processes to upping efficiencies in storage and distribution.


Nowadays, of course, the conversation has shifted towards the impact of plastics on the environment. We know these materials do not degrade over time. We also know that plastics use continues to rise, especially in packaging, as it’s become a cheaper alternative to more traditional materials like metals and glass. There is proof that plastic is even affecting our food chains, with microscopic particles being found in the seas, and in the bodies of the fish we eat.


Many efforts are underway to reduce plastic use. Here in the Philippines, several local governments have implemented wildly different schemes to reduce plastic use – or, in the case of Quezon City’s ordinance charging customers an extra fee to use plastic bags in supermarkets, penalize it. While laudable, it has led to inconsistencies in a customer’s experience. Say, how can you enjoy a soda float from McDonald’s without a straw? Do you ask for a (plastic) spoon?


Elsewhere around the world, efforts are being stepped up to address the issue. The European Union is rolling out a plan to end the use of single-use plastics – in the words of the European Commission’s Frans Timmermans, plastics that “take five seconds to produce, you use it for five minutes, and it takes 500 years to break down again”. Its strategies include investment in research towards production of reusable plastics; improving access to clean tap water to discourage sales of bottled water; and an education campaign on the short-term (for packaging design) and long-term (for the environment) impact of recyclable plastics.


This comes after a similar plan from the United Kingdom to remove single-use plastics from stores, which has resulted in a vow from supermarket chain Iceland to shift towards paper packaging for its own-brand products.


All this may sound like environmental claptrap, but this is a supply chain issue. It’s no longer just about producing products, or bringing them to customers. Guaranteeing a sustainable supply chain, with an eye towards responsible sourcing, production and distribution, ensures that we fulfill our responsibility to stakeholders and consumers not just by bringing value, but by maintaining and improving quality of life not just in the short term, but in the long term as well.


Consider, again, the role plastics play in ensuring products maintain its quality as it is transported long distances. Perhaps we can achieve the same results with more responsible packaging materials, like paper or reusable plastics?


Of course, at the moment shifting towards these materials can cost more. (There’s a reason why we still use plastic straws over paper or metal straws: they are easier to procure, are less expensive, and don’t provide an inconvenience to customers – not that they can’t totally shift.) But that would take a lot of convincing, fine-tuning and balancing to ensure that any such shift would not just support sustainability concerns, but would not adversely affect product quality, consumer expectations and, more importantly, the company’s bottom line. (But then, consumers are becoming savvier. Slowly.)


The government must also step in to provide guidance and support as the private sector begins its efforts to address the issue. For starters, it can look at the inconsistent policies at the local government level. While their ordinances mean well, the differing requirements per locality offer a complexity in supply chains that can affect cost and customer experience, and hopefully we can do without. Also, perhaps we can look at the EU’s plans: an information campaign to allow Filipinos to truly, fully understand the impact of plastics on the environment and our lives, backed up by a robust system to recycle plastics and other materials. Some households may be segregating their trash, but once it arrives at a landfill, they might all be lumped together again by unprepared waste disposal systems.


And maybe we can look at rolling out methods to recycle plastics. China, the world’s biggest market for waste plastics – which it has reused, as its strength as a manufacturing base rose – is implementing a ban on foreign waste plastic this year. We might as well clean our own backyard rather than rely on others to do so.


Supply Chain Outlook: Join us this Friday (Jan 26) for Supply Chain Outlook, happening at the Garden Ballroom of the EDSA Shangri-la in Mandaluyong City. The Department of Finance’s Mitch Abdon joins us to discuss tax reform and its impact on supply chains, while REID Foundation’s Ronilo Balbieran will present his economic outlook for 2018. To register and for more information, visit scmap.org.


Henrik Batallones is the marketing and communications executive of SCMAP. A former board director, he is also editor-in-chief of the organization’s official publication, Supply Chain Philippines. More information about SCMAP is available at scmap.org.

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