The pandemic exposed the fragility of the global system designed to get the right product to the right place at the right time. When faced with resource shortages, product scarcity, and limited traceability, the supply chain became susceptible to counterfeit goods, compromised quality, and delays in distribution.
In response, companies are trying to build more resilience into the supply chain and the effort has revealed an unexpected connection with sustainability. As a recent GS1 US whitepaper points out, a more circular economy will be more resilient. At the same time, consumers have a growing appetite for greener, more sustainable products, so the future of supply chains must also be circular to build consumer loyalty and back up brand promises such as “made from recycled materials.”
Solving recycling to address the shrinking supply of virgin materials
Most Americans recycle bottles they use every day. However, less than 10% of plastic is recycled in the United States because the industry still struggles with sorting plastics. Shrink sleeve and pressure-sensitive labels are often the culprits: they cannot be separated from the plastic bottles they cover, making them impossible to process. Magnomer is a startup that believes magnetizable ink can fix this problem. Their technology uses magnets that already exist in many recycling plants to remove labels that often prevent recycling.
MeCycle is also aiming to improve the US recycling rate. A consumer can scan the UPC barcode of plastic, aluminum or glass containers using the MeCycle app, which shows them how much carbon and waste they are reducing and returns incentives such as bottle deposits that are available in their area. MeCycle is beginning to offer its service within select markets of New York State, so consumers can return bottles and cans to ensure they get reborn into new beverage containers or other useful items.
Rethinking fashion to reduce waste
In addition to food, bottles, and cans, textiles are wasted at a staggering rate. A whopping 14.5 million tons of textiles were sent to landfills or incinerated in 2018, which is equivalent to 85% of the textiles produced that year in the US alone.
A growing base of entrepreneurs are driving experimentation in the apparel industry to reduce this unsustainable amount of waste and make fashion greener. OtailO, for example, enables a “click-to-brick” returns management solution with smart and optimal returns routing for retail brands. Leveraging the GS1 system of standards for identifying products and locations, this solution enables shoppers to buy anywhere and return anywhere. OtailO technology makes brick-and-mortar locations a network of return and resell centres, which cuts down on textile waste, and means far less transportation and packaging associated with the traditional returns process.
These entrepreneurs recognise the opportunities associated with the growing consumer demand for sustainability. Their visions lead to a more circular economy, where products, assets, and infrastructure will be more productive as they are kept in use longer and reduce stress on supply streams. Future circular supply chains will transform today’s vulnerabilities into tomorrow’s opportunities.