← All News

Plastic Waste: The Route to Net Zero

4 minutes read · 25th August 2023

Plastic Waste: The Route to Net Zero

Michael Daley and Miriam Hall explain how they’ve been supporting the UK’s largest producer of blown plastic film to reduce material loss by more than 50%, and set them on their path to net zero waste.

We need to act now to reduce plastic waste

Plastic waste has risen in the public consciousness over the last 5 years, with images of polluted seas and stricken marine life highlighting the need for change. One of Chartwell’s clients in the packaging sector has taken a visionary approach to the issue and is aiming to achieve net zero waste across all of its sites. We have been supporting their largest UK site as a lighthouse project for this vision. The site produces a wide range of plastic films for the UK’s food, medical, construction and agricultural industries across 25 blown extrusion lines. Finished goods conversion and scrap recycling steps add processing and material control challenges.

The complexity of the product portfolio had increased significantly in recent years with the site team just about keeping pace with more challenging processes and products to keep production waste roughly constant. Loss-based metrics, which counted up the recorded scrap, put the site’s waste figure at around 4% of the raw materials purchased.

The benefit of a zero-based mass balance approach

Supported by the Chartwell team the site used a zero-based mass balance approach – comparing finished goods to input virgin material – to build a complete understanding of polymer waste. Comparing the mass balance with the existing (but underutilized) production data showed more than 1,000 Tonnes per year of previously hidden material losses; – there were sources of waste not accounted for in the loss-based metrics, and mass balance waste was over double the existing measure at 8.4%.

The huge opportunity to reduce material consumption and improve margin was clear but it was critical to build this picture together with a cross-functional group so that manufacturing, material control, finance departments could agree on “one truth”.

Realizing previously hidden opportunities

This new-found opportunity galvanized the site team to take action. By building transparent reports about where losses were occurring and their specific causes, colleagues from the boardroom to the shopfloor could make better decisions about how they could reduce waste. Focused initiatives were started to improve specific levers, including reducing changeover waste and solving recurring process issues.

These focused initiatives showed the scale of what was possible. The team instituted a structure of tiered, data-based review meetings that held individuals at every level accountable for reducing their waste and gave access to the resources they needed to solve problems to root cause. Training on SMED, problem solving and motivating teams helped staff to deliver rapid change.

Recycling – key lever towards net zero material loss

In order to sustainably achieve net zero material loss we needed to do more than only reduce production scrap; recycling needed to become an integral part of the site’s technical and manufacturing organizations. The team worked to establish the same structures and controls in the recycling department as in other production areas and used these to drive scrap recycling output. This also helped to maximize accountability within the production team for using as much of this high-quality recycled material as possible in each product. The product development team worked to discover how even more recycled material content across the product portfolio. This has also had positive impacts looking at waste beyond the factory gates as well: highlighting ways we might incorporate more post-consumer waste and impact the recyclability of packaging.

This client has already made a massive stride to reduce their net waste – 2021 mass balance waste is more than 50% below the 2019 baseline. Moreover, a clear plan exists to achieve net zero waste in the coming 12 months making the site more sustainable, both environmentally and financially.

To learn more about how Chartwell might help your team to achieve their waste goals, reach out directly to Miriam via Email or LinkedIn Linkedin Image