Resource Efficiency in Plastics Processing
The sixth and last in a series of Worksheets by Jonathan Churchman-Davies and Dr. Robin Kent for Envirowise on Resource Efficiency in the Plastics Industry.
UK Government Environment and Energy Helpline 0800 585 794
Road traffic in the UK is increasing rapidly with almost 30 million vehicles using the road network. The resulting congestion is an increasing problem (particularly in urban areas) and the CBI has estimated that congestion costs British business £15 billion per year. The increasing congestion increases the time taken for travel or distribution and also increases the unpredictability of meeting crucial delivery slots and appointments.
Road traffic is also the source of about 24% of the UK’s total CO2 emissions - it is one of the fastest growing sources of CO2 in the UK and is a major obstacle to meeting international commitments.
This growing volume of traffic and the increasing road congestion is making current distribution patterns in the UK unsustainable.
Transport is often hidden as a cost and environmental impact.
Focus on reducing transport costs to reduce overhead costs and reduce environmental impacts.
Efficient and well-managed distribution should firstly reduce the demand and then optimise the supply to minimise both the costs and the environmental impacts.
Fuel management and efficient distribution can improve both business effectiveness and profitability. Fuel cost is a major element of the total fleet operating costs (typically 25% of the total running cost of the vehicle) and fuel-efficient fleet management can produce typical savings of 10% - benefits that are likely to increase as fuel prices rise. Other possible cost reductions include minimising Vehicle Excise Duty and company car taxation by using more efficient vehicles, benefiting from government grants to support alternatively fuelled vehicles, and reducing accident and insurance costs from less driving and driving in safer, better maintained vehicles.
Reliable data on the cost of distribution is often not easily available and there is a need to be creative in setting targets and monitoring performance. Targets should be simple, independent of changes in the level of production and should aim to reduce demand before reducing the impact (e.g. reduce absolute distribution mileage before improving the cost efficiency of each mile).
Typical targets could be:
- Reduced vehicle mileage - set a target for % decrease in miles per employee/year or miles kg of product/year.
- Reduced fuel usage - set a target for % decrease in litres/employee/year.
- Distribution fuel efficiency for goods - set a target in % decrease in litres/tonne-km.
The typical information needed to set targets and monitor performance is:
- Fleet composition - Fuel efficiency information is available from official government sources, from manufacturers’ own specifications and from trade and consumer organisations.
- Fuel use and mileage of the current fleet: Existing records on fuel consumption of the fleet should be available.
- Type of fuel: From purchase records, information should be available on the fuel used and the proportions of petrol and diesel, along with any alternative fuels used (e.g. LPG, compressed or liquid natural gas, electricity, or hybrid vehicles).
- Vehicles leased: Information on the types of vehicles leased, engine size, type of fuel, fuel efficiency and emissions. Records of mileage travelled can be converted to fuel consumption information.
Actions to reduce demand
- Reduce the need for distribution by minimising raw material inputs to both save money directly, and cut down on the need for deliveries. Minimising waste outputs will also reduce the need for disposal.
- Optimise the distribution of goods by ensuring that vehicles carry a maximum load when leaving the site, this can be encouraged by selling whole loads at a discount and also using at back-loading where return journeys are made with other loads. New information technology is being developed to maximise back-loading.
- Optimise delivery routes by using computer technology and use in-cab tracking and modern communications to enable diversions to optimise collection and delivery rounds.
Actions to optimise the supply
- Switch from energy intensive methods to cleaner methods such as rail. Freight quality partnerships bring together local authorities, local trading organisations, hauliers, train operating companies and conservation groups to agree standards for freight delivery that will minimise noise, disturbance and pollution.
- Keep existing vehicles efficient and well-maintained to give higher fuel efficiency and lower emissions.
- Monitor all vehicles to identify differences in fuel economy, tyre wear and maintenance costs.
- Identify and train drivers in fuel-efficient driving techniques and use an incentive scheme to ‘reward’ better performers.
- Purchase cleaner, more efficient vehicles.
Tip: There are differences of up to 45% in the fuel economy of different models using the same fuel within the same size range. Choosing fuel-efficient vehicles can save large amounts of money.
Tip: The Government is encouraging the use of alternative fuels through the DTLR PowerShift programme which gives grants towards the additional cost of buying clean fuel vehicles e.g. natural gas; liquefied petroleum gas (LPG); battery electric vehicles (BEV); hybrid electric vehicles (HEV); fuel cell electric vehicles (FCV).
- Influence distribution suppliers by including environmental issues in contracts.
Distribution creates significant costs to plastics processors and in too many cases it is treated as an uncontrollable overhead with little real effort to minimise the cost.
The shorter distribution lines for UK suppliers can provide a unique selling point only if it is used to the best advantage.
Cleaner design looks not only at the product; it is also concerned with reducing costs, energy use, waste and pollution during distribution and storage.
Product distribution, i.e. distribution, storage and packaging, can result in both significant costs and environmental impacts. Designers should investigate:
- The method and length of the distribution chain - Can the product be made closer to the point of use and can it be made in response to demand (i.e. minimum stock)?
- The type of packaging currently used - Can robust returnable and re-usable packaging be substituted for single trip disposable packaging?
- The amount of packaging currently used - Can using packaging of a more appropriate size reduce the weight and volume of packaging?
- Can packaging be redesigned to protect vulnerable components only?
- Can the product be labelled instead of the packaging to provide free advertising for life?
- The methods of storage during the distribution chain and if any require special storage conditions are needed.
- Is packaging needed to protect the product from poor storage or distribution conditions?
- If these were improved could the packaging be reduced or eliminated?
Tip: Ask the dispatch department, drivers and customers for areas and ideas to reduce packaging, implement re-usable packaging or packaging with a lower cost and environmental impact.
The migration and loss of business to other areas in search of lower labour costs is not an inevitable process for the UK plastics industry. The cost of labour is not the dominant cost component today and as the markets and vital issues change it will be even less important in the future.
The markets and issues will change to reflect the demands for sustainable development from both consumers and governments.
The key issue in the future will be increasing the total resource efficiency of the business - not simply concentrating on one minor contributor and the major technique for improving resource efficiency in the future will be that of cleaner design. Cleaner design concentrates on the complete life cycle of the product and provides the basis for a route map to improved resource efficiency, increased profits, decreased environmental impacts. Implementing the route map will revitalise the way we do business and reduce the costs of resources at all stages of the product life for the UK plastics industry.
Resource efficiency and cleaner design are not temporary concerns but will become the defining aspects of the plastics processing sector over the next 15 years.
We believe that these changes will radically transform the UK plastics processing industry - companies that are pro-active in this area will benefit and prosper, reactive companies will see their competitive advantages and markets disappear.
The signs are clear; the pressures are there - the only thing left is action.
The signs are clear, the pressures are there - the only thing left is action.
- Transport and Environmental Management Systems (GPG318).
- Fuel-efficient Fleet Management (GPG218).
- Fuel Management Guide (GPG307).
- Cleaner Product Design - An introduction for industry (GG294).
- Finding and reducing waste in plastics processing (GG277).
Available free from the Environment and Energy Helpline (0800 585 794) or can be downloaded from this site.
The 'Resource Efficiency' series is designed to give plastics processors a route map to the future for the plastics industry. The series is:
Part 1: Resource Efficiency
Part 2: Manufacturing - Targeting Efforts
Part 3: Use - Optimising Usage
Part 4: End-of-Life - Minimising Outputs
Part 5: Raw Materials - Minimising Inputs
Part 6: Distribution - The Essential Link (This Section)
Download the complete series as an Adobe Acrobat file.
Last edited: 11/03/10
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