Rethinking the packaging supply chain

July 2021

Industry 4.0 is continually pushing the boundaries of innovation, especially when it comes to packaging. In the case of glass bottle manufacturing, the sector’s renewed focus on sustainability has led to a need for greater authenticity, traceability, transparency, and levels of information that benefit consumers and everyone across the supply chain. Here, Kieran Kelly, Director at ubloquity, a provenance and authentication platform built to digitally record and register animals for the agriculture sector, explains the advantages of Blockchain technology and how the glass sector could also take advantage when creating smart bottles.

Society is demanding progress towards a more sustainable future, free from plastic pollution and its impact on our health and the environment. We know that glass is the most viable alternative, able to offer fantastic sustainability and health benefits, contribute to the fight against climate change and reduce our reliance on the world’s precious natural resources.

I think the story behind this infinitely recyclable product and the brands enacting positive change in the world require a global platform to share their success and propositions. So how do we tell the story of ethically made bottles in a way which helps supply chains and resonates with today’s consumers?

The most efficient and impactful way to achieve this is digitally, taking virtual steps to link the supply chain with the consumer, while gathering information behind the brands and the companies who support this shared vision of a better, more climate-conscious world.

Transparency through Blockchain

This is where Blockchain can play a critical role. Using this technology, we can capture pre-production and production data linked to each container, such as where a bottle’s ingredients were sourced, which furnace it was made in, what factory it was stored, and how it will be sent into the retail sector. With this information, we can build a connected community telling the unique story of every product, and the supply chain behind it.

By gathering and validating raw material, production and machine data, companies can begin to trade on the trust economy and collaborate with multiple supply chain members and stakeholders, who too could take advantage of this technology, adding their own chapters to the bottle’s life story. Ultimately, this will, in turn, increase transparency and unlock value throughout the supply chain, promoting sustainable brands to consumers and streamlining operations in a product’s route to market.

By building a connected ecosystem based on real-time data, members of the supply chain can share operational information that, when combined with product, logistic and consumer data, has potential to transform the sector.

This complete, democratised overview can increase efficiency; support frictionless trade, enhance time-sensitive logistics and deliver real-time audit and compliance, while reducing risk and removing the need for manual data entry.

Encouraging better behaviours

Another essential element in this data sharing economy is how we can then link it into Government policies, such as the shared commitments of reducing and recycling glass. By establishing a connected community and digitising our glass containers, we can support positive economic behaviour and encourage recycling from the earliest step in the consumer process. By implementing a unique identifier (digital code) on each product, manufacturers, brands and Government groups can not only track and authenticate a single item, but also account for and audit products across the sector, live.

This means we can prevent counterfeiting across the FMCG sectors. Through a combination of digital marking and smart labelling on bottles, stakeholders and consumers can validate the authenticity of their products through transparent supply chain data accessible through the labels.

To encourage recycling, policy makers, brands and companies can implement and support a reward scheme that supports the scanning and returning of individual containers for a token or reward. This transformation has the potential to drive the environmental action that is required from the packaging sector.

Trusted data

Blockchain relies on the creation of digital twins – replicas of physical assets and objects which exist in the virtual world. Once made, these digital twins can be linked to an infinite amount of data accessible to anyone who comes into contact with the physical container. However, these can only be leveraged and trusted if certainty of identity can be established.

For a glass bottle to make its way from the producer to the consumer, and everywhere in between, there is an interconnected web of organisations involved. They all rely on data to be shared and trusted to facilitate a multitude of interactions, such as certifications, payments, and the proper movement of goods. Therefore, the importance of trust in the data underpins companies’ ability to conduct trade, from the authenticity of products, to financing letters of credit and facilitating exports.

Today, systems across the supply chain are built and operated in a siloed manner. To bring these together to benefit from the transformation that Blockchain can bring, a digital identity system for supply chain and trade needs to be thoughtfully designed, which will enable more efficient, accurate and trustworthy interactions.

Connecting the dots

Importantly, Blockchain technology gives packaging brands the ability to align the customer base with their values. These simple but smart labels can be scanned by the consumer, instantly giving them the sustainable story behind the brand, and the bottle. This data can be completely tailored by brands, ultimately supporting value statements and environmental commitments while building trust with the consumer.

By digitally transforming our primary production and glass supply chains, and by digitising our glass to support unique identities for each product, we can create an inclusive ecosystem of connected supply chain members. It’s inevitable that Blockchain will soon be incorporated into all forms of packaging, so we must make sure that glass is one of the first materials to use this technology for good, addressing sustainability and supply chain inefficiencies head-on.

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