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Eco Products – Rise to the Challenge

Hardly a week goes by without another announcement about how companies, governments, and organizations are seeking to leave less of a footprint on our planet. Intercontinental Hotels recently pledged to remove the 200 million miniature plastic toiletries it uses annually, by 2021. Brewers, Carlsberg and Guinness are just two of the beer companies who are getting rid of plastic rings that hold four-packs together.

Supermarket Waitrose has said that its popular free hot drinks promotion is now only available if you bring your own cup, to cut down on single cup waste. And don’t forget the plastic bag tax that since 2015 has seen single-use plastic bag consumption in the UK plummeted by 90% – and it’s still falling. Let’s just remind ourselves of why this is important.

Globally the production and use of plastic continue to rocket – 381 million tonnes were produced in 2015 compared with just two million tonnes in 1950. Much of this is single-use and not recycled – it can take up to 1,000 years for plastic to decompose in a landfill. It enters our oceans and pollutes them. It is also a colossal waste of a finite resource.

As the examples above show, the world is waking up to the problem. But what about the merchandise industry? It is a sector that could be accused of aiding and abetting consumer’s love affair with cheap, disposable plastic, with its own use of this versatile, but increasingly demonised material.

What is the sector doing? We asked, and the answer seems to be ‘quite a lot’. While the following examples are not exhaustive, they give some idea of how merchandise companies are rising to the challenge with new products and processes. But before we all start patting ourselves on the back, it is worth bearing in mind that this is just the start of what could be a paradigm shift in the way that the industry operates. Read Andrew Langley’s thoughts on page 24 for an insight into some of the tough questions ahead.

However, the longest journey starts with one step, and the BPMA is taking the lead with a new Sustainability Group established to act as a forum to debate these issues. Anyone interested in finding out more is urged to contact jon.birrell@bpma.co.uk.

Growing demand As head of the Advantage catalog group, Lawrence Angelow has noted a growing interest in sustainable products and has been printing on responsibly sourced paper with biodegradable inks for a number of years. He has enhanced the Eco section this year and it kicks off the catalog by appearing at the front. Products are also changing, he says. “We have dropped plastic bags from our selection, replacing with paper, and also bottled water as it is supplied in a single-use plastic bottle. I anticipate that our Eco section will grow again next year as awareness and product availability is heightened.” AMTMarketing says there has been a 20% increase in eco products and a massive shift away from the single-use promotional items or plastic cups which ends up in a landfill. In view of this change in customer demand, the company has decided to build a specific website to explain a large range of eco promotional products.

Green initiatives

More and more merchandise companies are seeing the value of ‘going green’. In 2018, Firebrand Promotions instituted Project Green in recognition of the developing business demands and requirements around the environment. The business pledged to stock more eco-friendly and sustainable products and to practice what it preached by using these sorts of products for its own giveaways and marketing activities. Firebrand’s showcase event, AWOM3, in April this year had a specifically green focus, says Paul Oakley, sales and marketing director. “We welcomed over 100 clients to our AWOM3 customer innovation event at Mercedes Benz World. The theme was ‘Going Greener’ with all suppliers tasked with considering and presenting the latest sustainable product and branding solutions.”

The next edition of the industry’s own show, Merchandise World, on 11 September, also has a sustainable theme with a new element in EcoWorld, showcasing the best in green products and practices. One exhibitor, MidOcean Brands has nominated certain products Greener Choice. These are items that meet a number of criteria such as being made from recycled materials, sustainable or biodegradable materials, or natural materials such as wood, bamboo, and cork.

Plastic free

Plastic may be a dirty word for some clients, but it doesn’t have to be. There are biodegradable products out there, some that are quite surprising, such as Xoopar’s Mr. Bio Cable from Desktop Ideas, a 3-in-1 charger that is also recyclable. Bags are one of the biggest problems in merchandise, but Oversolve has just launched a bag made from 100% potato starch, which is like a polythene bag without any polythene.

It is 100% compostable and a great alternative to the plastic bag. Of course, not all merchandise is plastic. Briman member WCM&A not only uses hardwoods for badges, merchandise, and awards but ensures that these come from the same supplier which has full FSC and PEFC certification to prove a responsible supply chain. Meanwhile, Boosters has chucked the plastic with its recyclable and reusable Tin-It range of UK sourced and manufactured confectionery. Tin-It features a selection of local and the well-known UK manufactured brands such as Walker’s Nonsuch Toffees, Swizzels Retro Mix, Fox’s mints and fruits, Furniss Cornish biscuits, and Cornish clotted cream fudge.

Logistics

With transport accounting for a great deal of the carbon footprint of any product, a more sustainable approach to logistics is being offered by many businesses. Preseli is committed to keeping the environmental impact of its activities to a minimum while continuing to provide a quick, reliable, competitive and quality service.

This includes using Carbon Neutral air courier services and offering the option of sea freight alternatives. The courier, UPS, calculates transportation CO2 emissions, that Preseli counterbalances via various verified emission reduction projects around the world including the Garcia River Forest project in the US, landfill gas projects in China and Colombia, and other projects involved in reforestation, wastewater treatment, and methane destruction.

Unnecessary packaging

Another bête noire of those in search of green nirvana is excessive packaging. All of WCM&A’s name and promotional badges are sent out using completely plastic-free packaging, which is certainly unique in the UK, and probably the world, says managing director Simon Adam. The company has developed recycled card packaging that can itself be recycled. “All other badge suppliers use some sort of poly bagging and it’s completely, totally and absolutely unnecessary and simply ends up in a landfill.

We’re talking millions of name and promotional badges supplied in the UK every year from either UK or overseas manufacturers and everyone else poly bags them.” Fleqs has also been focused on removing single-use plastics where possible since the turn of the year in 2018. This included no longer offering cellophane wrapping as default, which has removed an estimated 10,000m2 of single-use plastic from the production process.

Gilt Edged has also stopped individually bagging branded clothing to significantly reduce its plastic usage. It is also asking its sales team to reduce their paper usage by 75% by the end of the year. Factory production Many merchandise suppliers are recognising the improvements to be made in their production facilities. Pen company, Senator has a long-standing sustainability standpoint. As well as designing all pens to take refills and introducing biobased plastics, the entire electrical energy for its 20,000m² plant in Gross Bieberau Germany has been obtained ecologically from renewable raw materials for years – the only company in the industry to do so. WCM&A’s factory aims to be as sustainable as possible and is assessed every year through ISO14001 accreditation. All heating comes from a biomass boiler using pellets made from waste material from the pallet industry. A new 465m2 extension will be completely LED lit.

CHX recently completed the installation of solar panels on its factory, cutting the amount of energy taken from Grid to manufacture. So far this year, it has had 12 complete days when it has been totally energy self-sufficient. Closed-loop manufacturing has been introduced with the recent introduction of a machine, that takes all waste from the manufacturing process, regrinds it and puts it straight back into the production process within 45 seconds. Also, in the West Country, PenCarrie has installed solar panels as well as adopting a ‘zero-to-landfill’ policy.

Last year it sent 90,552kg of waste for processing. 79,887kg was recycled and 10,685kg was used for RDF fuel (Refuse-derived fuel) to make electricity. The company harvests rainwater for vehicle washing and last year, re-used 289,620 cardboard boxes, meaning 347,544kg of cardboard didn’t go straight to waste.

Reuse it

Trophies and awards company Special EFX works extensively in aluminum of which 70% is recycled metal. The company then employs a number of different finishes, such as nickel or gold plate to create dazzling effects. It makes innovative use of recycled plastic, bottles and remnant metals for manufacturing award components and complete awards or plaques. Plush  manufacturer, Ravensden is committed to reducing its environmental impact both within UK operations and manufacturing overseas. It has held ISO-14001 since 2011 and since July, all of its plush uses recycled PET polyester stuffing. It has also now removed all plastic beads from plush ranges.

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