The Path to and Benefits of a Zero Waste Supply Chain

Sustainability is becoming increasingly important in supply chains—here’s why a zero waste supply chain is not only realistic but beneficial. 

In recent years the expectation for companies to have supply chains that are sustainable has grown considerably. As a result, many have started making pledges and commitments outlining their transition to greener supply chains. Major companies like Nestle, Coca-Cola, and Unilever have all done so to varying degrees already. Other businesses will soon have to do the same if they’re to stay competitive in this environment.

As a recent article from Supply Chain Digital explains,

It’s clear that the ‘war on plastic’ is gaining momentum. As the world becomes more focused on the environmental impacts of plastic pollution, you should examine your supply chain and see how you can eliminate it.

With that said, converting a supply chain to zero waste doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated. And, in turn, if handled the right way, it can be useful beyond just meeting market demands.

This article by Morai Logistics highlights a realistic path to a zero waste supply chain and why having such a supply chain can be advantageous.

What is a Zero Waste Supply Chain?

A zero waste supply chain, just as the name suggests, is a supply chain that produces no waste. This means ensuring every step within the supply chain is sustainable—the materials are either reused or recycled, so that there is no trash. In turn, what this amounts to is no waste ending up in landfills or incinerators.

Such a goal might sound highly ambitious, verging on unfeasible, but that isn’t the case. Rather, it’s a necessary objective that companies like Unilever are already making a reality. Keep in mind that, for example, in the United Kingdom a majority of consumers are willing to pay more for products that don’t use plastic packaging. And that’s just plastic, only a single component of green supply chain. The demand is there. It’s up to companies to meet that demand.

Why is it Beneficial?

An entirely sustainable supply chain is beneficial for a number of reasons. First of all, it’s great for efficiency. Since zero waste supply chains cannot afford to be excessive in any way, that means they have to be careful with processes and materials that they are using. This leads to extreme efficiency. This efficiency leads to cost reduction, since less has to be spent on materials and superfluous operations.

Moreover, a sustainable supply chain is good for the environment. This isn’t just a feel-good benefit. It also means companies are likely to receive government incentives, while avoiding sanctions. Thus, it’s not only a good thing to do, it’s also a business friendly move. Additionally, it’s good for a company’s image, which in turn can attract more business.

How can Supply Chains Make a Transition to Zero Waste?

Making the switch to zero waste isn’t as challenging as it might seem. Like with any other major change, the first thing to do is come up with a strategy. In this case, a sustainable supply chain strategy. Then formulate reasonable goals as benchmarks on the route to the ultimate objective of zero waste.

Furthermore, it’s important to have key indicators that you can examine to see if you are being successful with those goals. Essentially, the transition is about starting broad (the strategy) and getting increasingly granular and specific until it’s ingrained into your company mindset and culture.

Finally, there are the four R’s as outlined by Unilever.

Unilever credits its four ‘R’ approach to achieving zero waste. The four R approach encompasses: reducing, reusing, recovering and recycling. Viewing waste in this way – as having various potential alternative uses – can be introduced across all businesses.