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Experience helps industry make right decision for sustainable solutions

Bunzl has a wealth of experience when it comes to sustainability, and making sure customers get the right information is one of its keys to success. Mike Wheeler explains.

When you’re a global business that specialises in, among other things, selling plastic wrap, it is important to know what your customers want, especially when it comes to sustainability.

Bunzl is a company that services many industries including those in the food packaging space. With more than 150 years of heritage behind its name, the company takes its responsibility in the sustainability arena seriously.

Being a distributor in the food processing and packaging industry means it has a lot of experience in making sure the right products are not only doing the job they were designed to do, but also comply with the various legislation – both at state and federal levels.

“We have seen recently that most state governments are putting policies in place to phase out some single-use plastics,” said Bunzl Australia’s sustainability specialist Felicity Kelly. “Before the bans, Bunzl was already transitioning away from some plastic products. As a part of the packaging supply chain, we are always looking for innovative alternatives to single-use plastics. We want to support our customers to minimise any negative impact on the environment.”

People are one of the investments the company has taken on board. In recent years it has appointed several sustainability solutions leads around the globe to ensure the company is not only taking sustainability seriously, but meeting the needs of its customers.

The company realises that the products it sells need to have a solution to their end use. Part of that was Bunzl investing in finding answers to these issues.

“We see ourselves in a unique place where we can work with our customer to understand their situation and then provide a solution,” said Kelly. “We spend the time to understand what is important for customers. That might be reducing waste to landfill from their manufacturing sites, reducing carbon impact, or complying with single-use plastics legislative requirements.

“Responsible and ethical sourcing of products is also often a key focus for many customers. Many customers are bound by modern slavery legislation or they simply want to partner with a business that has an extensive social audit program, like Bunzl.”

One of the products the company distributes is Advantage Plastic’s Stretch Wrap, which is designed for wrapping pallets of food and beverage products. However, not all wraps are created equal.

“Advantage Plastic’s wrap is unique because of its high quality and when it’s applied correctly you don’t need to use as much. It is also recyclable through soft plastic recycling,” said Mimmo Audino, general manager of Bunzl’s Processor & Industry sector. Audino has more than 35 years’ experience in the packaging industry, and sees sustainability around soft plastics as a positive game changer.

Where Bunzl comes into play is to make sure that customers are using the product in the right way, minimising the amount of plastic being used, which not only saves on the environment but also saves money.

Then there is the wrapping machinery itself. For example, Bunzl’s Western Australian distribution centre, in Jandakot, has three new SIAT ProWrap pallet wrappers that feature 12 programs and five wrap modes, a 1650mm turn table with 2400kg turn-table capacity, a 2200mm wrap height, and size variable wrap zones up and down the pallet.

Utilising the machine with its Precision Wrap Platinum stretch wrap, the company believes it can save up to eight tonnes and $20,000 in the amount of stretch wrap being used, as well as a reduction of more than 600 wrapping hours.

“We conduct cut and weigh tests for many of our customers,” said Audino.

“That’s the process of analysing the amount of film needed. This process is essential in understanding the true cost to wrap a pallet and measuring the amount of film needed to do the job effectively. In many cases, the focus is on the cost per roll, which often works out to using more plastic than is needed and a higher cost overall. Our focus instead is on using less plastic, which means a lower cost per pallet wrapped and less plastic used as well. The result is some incredible cost savings and reductions in wrap used.”

Through its supplier and manufacturer partners, Bunzl is able to offer a range of solutions and provide access to many packaging technologies. The company’s advice is based on what is best for the customer.

“As a distributor we are not wedded to any particular product or material type,” Kelly said.

“If there is an innovation or particular type of material or technology that a customer thinks will reduce the environmental impact of their operations, through working with us, then we’ll work to source it.”

One area where Kelly’s expertise comes to the fore is making sure that clients understand the intricacies of plastic and its role in the food and beverage industry.

“We talk with our customers about sustainable packaging, helping them navigate through that space,” said Kelly.

“We often receive queries from customers about new packaging technology, and then we’ll do the research to understand it. I’ll often reach out to Bunzl colleagues in the UK, US or Europe and we’ll discuss the merits and suitability of the technology. We’ll also make sure that we are supporting our customer to make an informed decision. We need to understand the implications of using such a product, any regulatory requirements, recyclability in Australia, or any other feature that’s important.”

Sometimes clients are surprised at what they can and cannot use in terms of plastics and other packaging materials, said Kelly.

“There are some misconceptions out there, particularly about what’s problematic and what isn’t,” she said.

“I often spend time with customers going through their product range to identify problematic and unnecessary single-use plastics as well as opportunities to transition to more sustainable alternatives. We distribute a lot of products that are used in medical and food hygiene space. They’re not the kind of plastics that are banned, and if a plastic can be recycled, then that is a great solution.

“For businesses in Australia there are certainly pockets of excellence,” said Kelly. “I have spent my career working in sustainability within industry and have seen many changes in that time. The biggest though has been the attitude of business and their mindset on what can be achieved. Most individuals want to do what is right by the environment and are hampered by the diversity of requirements, solutions and even the ever-evolving terminology. Once that has been explained in a clear way, most people are off and running.”

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