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Plastic Waste Reduction
4 November 2019
Originally written for Inside Networks: November 2019 Issue

Are network infrastructure manufacturers and distributors doing enough to reduce the amount of plastic used in the packaging of their products? Can working with companies that operate sustainably help installers and integrators win business, and are end users seeking out evidence of environmental credentials when selecting supply chain partners?

As a distributor, our environmental responsibilities and what is achievable is closely coupled to our manufacturing partners, especially regarding packaging and the reduction of plastic.  Since it was only relatively recent in our industry that this received widespread coverage, it is to be congratulated that one of the major UK distributors have grasped the nettle of plastic reduction and publicised their achievements.  Networks Centre is also making big strides on this, working with our suppliers as part of a much wider initiative on sustainability of which plastic packaging reduction and re-use is just one part. We have a task team selected from across the business reporting directly to the board, looking at the packaging, product staging and end-to-end sustainability including end-of-life disposal. This covers not only packaging but the products themselves which are largely made of plastic, especially cable and how it is managed at end-of-life.  It is a major undertaking but in relation to plastic packaging, we estimate that we will soon exceed a realistic goal of a 50% reduction in plastic packaging. 

One element of the strategy is our product pre-configuring initiative where we have worked with customers to consolidate and assemble products at our new facility. This not only reduces the time to deploy and waste on-site, but enables us to maintain control of re-cycling, ensuring that we reduce all packaging and maximise its re-use.  Taking a humble 48 port loaded fibre patch panel, for example, Networks Centre has worked with suppliers to create a rack-ready product and reduced the number of plastic bags from over 50 to just 2. This is just one of many initiatives taking place across all industries. Taken alone it’s not much but collectively we, as an industry can make a significant impact on pollution. Companies need to share their good ideas as it should be seen as a civic duty, not just something to gain a competitive edge. 

Whilst single-use plastics and their disposal have rightly gained a lot of publicity, it is equally important not to lose sight of other aspects of pollution. The fossil fuel usage and pollutants associated with transport are significant.  As a distributor, we can also influence this directly.  For example, energy use and CO2 in shipping from a European factory uses significantly less fossil fuel-based energy than Far East locations, particularly Sulphur and particulates which are significant in sea transport.  (Source: EcoTransIT World.)  

Plastic pollutants are one of the most serious threats to our current and future health & wellbeing but strategies that take into consideration all aspects of a sustainable business should be adopted e.g. under the umbrella of ISO14001, the environmental standard.  It makes good business sense and ensures that this is embedded into a company’s processes and procedures for the long term.  

End-users and installers through corporate governance will also play their part and increasingly select products that minimise single-use plastic and make the supplier responsible for re-using and re-cycling responsibly.