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Retailers ahead of the pack

European retailers seem, at last, to be taking the issue of packaging minimisation more seriously. From carrier bag initiatives to reduced transit packaging, the majority of the UK and mainland Europes retailing community have pledged to bring packaging waste down and have included the commitment in their increasingly important corporate social responsibility agendas.

At UK pharmacy, health and beauty retailer Boots, the company has gone through a major re-engineering exercise in its supply chain, piloting a direct to shelf scheme from its northern production facility that it hopes to roll-out across the country.

The project involves using the retailers electronic stock management software to identify the number of products in each store that require replenishing for the next day. Exact numbers of each item are then loaded on reusable containers, without outer packaging. Historically, if a store needed five units of a product then it was transported in a standard package of say six, explains Boots sustainable development manager Ian Barnes. By delivering exactly the amount of stock required we improve the system in several ways. Firstly we dispense with the need for outer packaging, secondly we reduce staff time undoing packaging in the stock room and finally we reduce delivery requirements through the use of our new containers.

The new plastic delivery trays are similar to bread baskets and have four rigid but collapsible sides. The previous trays were nestable but these ones pack flat, which means that a lot more of them can be transported at one time, says Barnes. That means our fill efficiency for vans is much better, reducing the number of trips they need to make. In addition, we recycle all our packaging anyway but by not producing so much in the first place weve reduced our reverse logistics demand, which is important for any retailer.


Having tested the system in the north of England, Boots is trialling some of its highest-volume lines at its main Nottingham plant and is also in discussion with several of its largest suppliers about reducing outer transit packaging. Since the project began Boots has brought its paper and cardboard waste down from 19,243 tonnes in 2002/3 to around 18,500 tonnes on a higher turnover of product. Similarly, although plastic waste is down to 3,291 tonnes from 3,380 for the same period, this does not take into account higher sales volumes.

The objective is to reduce our transit packaging as far as possible, set against practical constraints such as the fact that if a store needs a pack of 12 of a particular item and it comes in outer-packed 12 units then it will be delivered like that. But that situation makes up quite a small proportion of our total orders and the project is providing a commercial and environmental winwin for Boots, says Barnes.


However, not all retail-based schemes are so welcome. Last month industry body Beverage Can Makers in Europe declared victory in a long-running recycling battle with the German government. It welcomed the advocate generals conclusions in an EU Court case regarding Germanys contentious packaging regime. In his findings, the advocate general found discriminatory elements in Germanys packaging order regarding refill protection, adding up to an infringement of EU law. Though the German government has not, as yet, rescinded the scheme, the decision suggests the conclusion to a protracted recycling row.

The problem stemmed primarily from the fact that the deposit system on one-way packaging was introduced without the necessary infrastructure, requiring consumers wanting to reclaim their deposit to return the container to the store where it was bought.

The supermarkets response was simply to stop selling all one-way containers a move that saw entire ranges of soft drinks and beer disappear from their shelves. The German government reacted by allowing cans or bottles to be returned to any store, provided that the outlet stocked can

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