Using existing technology to improve processes

GS1 and APCO are developing a new channel within the National Product Catalogue to help create a more sustainable packaging sector.

GS1 and APCO are working together to develop a new channel within the National Product Catalogue to help create a more sustainable and efficient packaging sector. Adam McCleery writes.

GS1, a not-for-profit company developing and maintaining the global standard for barcodes, has turned its attention
to helping develop better packaging practices to reduce waste and create greater efficiency and sustainability.

As part of this goal, GS1 is using its National Product Catalogue, which allows the collation of product master data, to help achieve this goal.

Marcel Sieira, Chief Customer Officer for GS1 Australia, said better managing information about packaging materials would go a long way to reducing waste, and in turn better efficiency and sustainability of production.

“The National Product Catalogue is the enabling tool for this goal,” he said.

“But really, the primary theme we are trying to work on is around the traditional philosophy that you can’t manage something unless you can measure it.

“We want to better measure the amount of packaging materials that are entering the economy in order to better manage the amount of waste.

“One of the most fundamental things we need to do first to address this is have a way to measure these things.”

The National Product Catalogue provides a platform to achieve exactly the goal of capturing information on the type of packaging waste and to ensure recyclability.

“We need to be able to measure how much is going into the market, to measure, report, and track what types of materials are going into that packaging and what percentage of materials entering the market come from recyclable content,” Sieira added.

“And how recyclable are those materials.”

By doing so, Sieira said, key stakeholders such as Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) can access this critical information.

“That information helps industry, APCO, and government understand what further initiatives and programs are needed,” he added.

“Whether that be around recycling infrastructure, or around sustainable packaging. All of this is designed to better manage waste in Australia.”

“That’s the ultimate outcome and the area where we can help as GS1 is to develop the capabilities within the National Product Catalogue that will allow brands, retailers, manufacturers, to capture information about the product’s packaging in a way that is consistent and harmonised.

“We are excited to partner with GS1 Australia to help our Members meet the changing regulations and consumer demands in the packaging industry,” said APCO CEO, Chris Foley.

“If Brand Owners elect to share their packaging metrics with APCO, accurate and consistent data from the NPC will ensure that our Members are supported in meeting their reporting requirements.”

The partnership means 55 per cent of APCO Annual reporting questions have been incorporated into the GS1 National Product Catalogue (NPC) database, providing a solution for APCO members to actively track progress towards the 2025 National Packaging Targets (NPT).

Harmonisation of access to critical information around packaging materials and use is the ideal scenario to be created by GS1’s work with APCO.

“The National Product Catalogue will also allow cataloguing standards around material types, for example, and make it easy to capture that in a harmonised way and then make that information available to APCO and other interested parties,” said Sieira.

Sieira said the National Product Catalogue’s successful implementation and use in the grocery sector had already proven the validity of the platform to take on this added channel.

“The National Product Catalogue made sense in the context of being a successful platform for the food and grocery industry for many years,” he said.

“It has been used by the manufacturing community to capture master data about products they sell, in order to share with retail trading partners.

“It’s a platform which is significantly used within industry and captures a wide range of product information.”

Being able to leverage the existing platform to help the industry is also made easier by the simplicity of adapting the National Product Catalogue.

“Leveraging the NPC to serve this purpose means there isn’t a different application, system, or process, for companies to achieve this objective,” said Sieira.

“Because of this, it makes a lot of sense to leverage what is already in use and not add any further costs on industry. That was the work we have been doing with APCO.”

The combined teams have so far been working to understand what packaging information is of interest for the 2025 National Packaging Targets and to what extent those pieces of data are already being supported within the National Product Catalogue.

“And identifying where the gaps are, and then building those additional data points, or attributes, into the NPC to address the requirements APCO has. That is on the technical side of things,” said Sieira.

“There’s been a significant amount of engaging APCO members in this process. It’s a combination of positive feedback from APCO members and consultation process and also a positive outcome in terms of technical viability which has led to this program being put into place.

“We at GS1 can make a valuable contribution and positive impact to better manage waste.”

The fact the National Product Catalogue has already proven to be a success within the food and beverage sector, meaning it ticks some key boxes when it comes to the adoption of new processes across industry.

“It made it simple because when you look at bringing in a new program to industry one of the really important things is how feasible is it for industry to adopt it,” said Sieira.

“Often we talk about new technologies and how amazing they work but when you begin to look at the level of effort for its adoption you begin to realise the tech is wonderful, however it might not work unless it provides a simple path for industry to make it happen.

“When you look at the NPC, there’s already 1,500 Australian companies, mainly manufacturing businesses, are already using it.”

Because of this, using the National Product Catalogue for an additional purpose brings no added burden to industry.

“It’s simply a matter of collecting dditional attributes and then loading them onto a platform that is already being used on a day-to-day basis with the likes of Woolworths, Coles and Metcash,” Sieira added.

“There had already been a lot of work in the past to ensure the NPC supported a number of attributes, such as types of materials, whether they come from recycled inputs, and how much of it is recyclable.

“When we looked at the gap, we needed to build onto the platform to satisfy the needs of APCO, we are looking at making small changes to what we already had.

“The core of data that was needed was already there and combined with a significant adoption rate across the industry, made it really feasible in terms of making it simple for the industry to leverage.”

The data synchronisation provided by the National Product Catalogue will ultimately lead to more efficient order and production processes, Sieira said, because of the harmonisation of information.

“When you look at the concept of data synchronisation the idea is to ensure the information that is being used about a product is consistent across all parties in the supply chain,” he said.

“That’s the foundational premise.” Sieira added that in the context of master data, and its importance for a supply chain process like replenishment, the National Product Catalogue helps provide the accuracy needed.

“If a retailer has really accurate information about your product, then when you receive a purchase order from a retailer you have accurate information in the purchase order to fulfil it effectively,” he said.

“The manufacturer then has greater ability to accurately fulfil that purchase order leading to a significant improvement in accuracy because the data is harmonised, and it creates a common understanding.

“Where other benefits come in is from the master data supporting a raft of processes between manufacturers and retailers.

“The other advantage of course is that with a tool like the NPC, a manufacturer can focus on managing and maintaining product data in one place and share it with all their trading partners.”

As of publishing, the National Product Catalogue currently has over 2,280 companies subscribed, at least 1,500 from within Australia.

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