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  • Leah Barrier

Zero-Waste Supply Chain Model


Eco-friendly.

Carbon footprint.

Sustainable.

Green.

These cultural terms and socially popular phrases are riding the fast track to progressive ideology and even necessity - with waste throughout the supply chain taking center stage. What, then, must be done in order to restructure and integrate a ‘greener’ supply chain, industry wide?

A zero-waste supply chain guarantees the reuse or at least recycle of every product or byproduct of a supply chain. This initiative is beginning to transcend all industries in attempts to take immediate action on the dangers and destruction currently wreaking havoc in our oceans and on our landfills.

Most manufacturing giants waste roughly 150,000 tons of product alone, per year. The question is, then, how can supply chain changes be implemented to begin reversing previous affects?

What Exactly Does a Zero-Waste Supply Chain Look Like?

The sheer beauty of a zero-waste supply chain model (aside from the obvious environmental aesthetics) is that it can be derived from simplicity. No empirical data to analyze or meticulous research to be back tested, re-tested, and tested again. Just the old adage we all were privy to in elementary school:

Reduce

Reuse

Recycle

With the newest addition - Recover.

Reduce, Reuse, Recover, and Recycle.

In order to thoroughly reduce waste within an industry, we must first utilize metrics to single out and identify areas where massive amounts of waste are viable. Once particular areas are properly categorized, stopping the waste in specific, strategic, and individualized efforts across every single department becomes mission critical. No stone can be left unturned. Moving to a zero-waste supply chain model means just that – zero waste left behind.

From here the initiative refocuses on reusing specific items. What was previously characterized as waste can essentially become a resource for the company. Examples of reusing industry waste can come in the form of alternative manufacturing materials derived from initial manufacturing product waste. Or company cafeteria waste being composed and utilized as an alternative form of energy instead of becoming garbage to be disposed of elsewhere. Reusing waste not only reduces a company’s carbon footprint, but raises a company’s bottom line.

Recovery can be passed down through the entire supply chain to the customer. Especially when reverse logistics are broken down and taken into consideration. By setting up your customer return logistics to enable re-processing, repairs, and returns to be returned again, allows for complete product efficiency and minimal (if any) waste involved in the integration.

Lastly, implementing a recycling program opens the doors to environmental benefits on a massive level. By facilitating a process that employs recycling on a grander scale, like an entire company, you open a multitude of opportunities up not only to your company but on an outreached level through employment initiatives. New environmentally conscious processes increase the need for new jobs, which is indicative of growth. Growth, both on an eco-level and a monetary sector.

By adopting a circular approach to waste and waste reduction, industries are presented with the opportunity to upcycle one company’s waste into another company’s valuable resource. Implementing net zero waste programs throughout all industry sectors will initiate a type of growth that roots itself into the infrastructure of all companies, and eventually into all future acquisitions as well.

Make the Case for Zero-Waste Supply Chains

Trend terminology comes and goes, but sustainable supply chain is a phrase that is here to make a legitimate impact on all companies and their respective supply chains. No industry left behind initiatives are widespread and here to stay. That is, until eco-friendly, sustainable, green, and zero-waste procedures are woven into core company values, then meticulously tracked and measured with complete ongoing transparency to any who wish to bear witness.

The social impact and overall awareness are both rampant and only gaining traction. While the momentum increases and the once obscured knowledge becomes more accessible by the day, companies will begin to collectively jump on the sustainable band wagon.

But not for the reasons you’re thinking.

Obvious social pressures can certainly make a case here, but being on the right side of history makes an even better one.

Companies are integrating zero waste procedures into their supply chain for two primary reasons.

  1. Because their competition is doing it.

  2. The facts are the facts and numbers are the numbers. To put it frankly, because something has to be done.

By comprehensively understanding that creating visibility and a fully transparent supply chain is the key to prolonged sustainability, companies are able to make a viable case for increased spending in the name of eco-friendly industries.

The encompassing issue with sustainable supply chains and greener pastures (on the other side) is the ‘pipe dream’ mentality, that creating zero-waste supply chains are essentially impossible, or would take too many resources to facilitate any initial on-boarding process necessary for end-to-end implementation.

This simply could not be further from the truth.

Let us digress a bit and really dive into the weeds of what a zero-waste supply chain would actually consist of in order to systematically make the case. “Ultimately, reducing the waste of a supply chain is also about creating a high-value chain. Less waste requires us to use resources more efficiently. This requires looking at each individual step in the production and supply process to eliminate waste. In doing this, you increase value – not just to the customer, but also in terms of your own competitive advantage. Eliminating waste has many positive by-products.” [Paul Trudgian, Supply Chain Consultancy, The Case for Zero Waste Supply Chains]

Benefits of a zero-waste supply chain are tenfold and comprehensive in nature. They can be surmised as follows:

  1. Financial breaks, benefits, and cost reductions.

  2. Immediate boost in reputation by being an environmentally conscious and aware company.

  3. Procedural efficiency. You’re already analyzing data and departmental metrics throughout your current supply chain. This in turn makes advantageous data easily accessible to high-level managers on a consistent basis.

  4. The environmental impact your company would have after reducing their waste by significant amounts.

Set goals and take action by staking your company flag in sustainability as you progressively move towards a zero-waste supply chain.

Is a Zero-Waste Supply Chains Even Possible?

The zero-waste supply chain model dates back years, but the urgency and pressures that companies are beginning to feel at this moment are relatively new. Now, for the question surrounding the legitimacy of zero-waste supply chains as being a viable option for all industries? Yes. The answer is one hundred percent, yes.

How do we know this for certain? Because it’s already been done.

“Unilever has reached a new industry-leading achievement of sending zero non-hazardous waste to landfill across more than 600 sites in 70 countries including factories, warehouses, and distribution centers. Having identified the different non-hazardous waste streams in [their] operations, they have now found alternative routes for the waste from these sites…

…Unilever announced that over 240 factories had achieved zero waste to landfill status.” [Supply Chain 247, Achieving Zero Waste Across the Value Chain]

The best part about Unilever’s unparalleled success in moving forward with a more sustainable supply chain is that this was all done over 3 years ago, well before this immense urgency for immediate supply chain restructuring ensued.

The successful implementation of a zero-waste supply chain would take shifting efforts and conscious awareness to re-packaging, sourcing strategies, supplier / manufacturer compliance (production in general), and a circular approach to the end-to-end supply chain.

Why Zero-Waste Supply Chains are the New Normal

Perhaps a better headline would read, ‘Why Zero-Waste Supply Chains Have to be the New Normal’. The need for zero-waste and sustainability is best illustrated within the food production industry. Let’s take a look at the facts:

  • The world’s population is expected to grow from 7.4 billion (current) to 9 billion (by 2050)

  • According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), approximately 1/3 of all consumable foods produced in the world is wasted every single year

What does this mean on a global scale? As the world’s population exponentially increases over the next several decades, human demand will more than likely outgrow the previous yield. Food being produced for consumption is directly correlated with population surges - meaning the general public plays an instrumental role in this analysis.

Population increases >>> food production follows suit.

The question then becomes, how can food manufacturers secure their supply chains and reduce waste and overspend? If we dive deeper into the analysis of wasted food, we notice the same correlation in land waste, fertilizer waste, water waste, and even employee wage / labor waste. Food waste is essentially the catalyst to severe collateral damage across the entire chain.

Technology will be comprehensively employed during the integration phases of zero-waste initiatives. Digitized data increases the intelligence of a supply chain. The combination of a zero-waste supply chain plan and a smart supply chain allows for a major upgrade in the sustainability and environmental sectors.

Visibility and transparency are vital to the conception of a zero-waste supply chain.

Conclusive Thoughts

Solutions are already accessible and available for systematic implementation. By companies authorizing the tracking and transparency of their supply chain, end-to-end, we can begin to see sectors singled out and forced to employ more sustainable options. Then and only then will we be able to move in a direction of blanketed zero-waste supply chains across the board.

If you have any questions about the sustainability of your current supply chain, or how to begin the process of successfully implementing zero-waste programs, reach out to us today for a free consultation.

CLN Worldwide is a cross-functional team of logistics experts who help clients navigate areas of transportation, distribution, customs, and regulatory compliance. Our focus is not on the individual product group or service offering but rather a comprehensive approach to effectively managing and optimizing the supply chain.

#zerowaste #supplychain #sustainable #sustainability #zerowastesupplychain

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