Resource Efficiency in Plastics Processing
Part 6 - Distribution - The Essential Link





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

Unsustainable patterns

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.

Managing Distribution

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:

The typical information needed to set targets and monitor performance is:

Actions to reduce demand

Actions to optimise the supply

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).

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.

Using cleaner design to reduce costs and impacts

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:

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 route map - Concluding the series

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.

More Information

Available free from the Environment and Energy Helpline (0800 585 794) or can be downloaded from this site.

'Resource Efficiency' Series.

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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