Harnessing the power of standardised packaging data

As the packaging industry navigates new legislation and a growing demand for sustainable solutions, the need for standardised packaging data has never been greater. To understand how the Open 3P Standard can enable this, Resource spoke to Frances Dickman, Head of Compliance at Colpac Ltd, and Tom Shaw, Packaging Analyst for Waitrose & Partners, two members of the Open 3P Standard Custodian Board appointed late last year.

Laptop screen displaying the homepage for the Open3P standardPackaging data is under the spotlight, with EPR legislation requiring more and better data than ever before. However, it is not just legislation driving the change. The growing focus on packaging sustainability and circularity means that the whole supply chain, and the consumers at the end of it, are looking for more detail and transparency around what is in packaging, and how more of it can be reduced, reused, composted or recycled.

Cue the Open 3P Standard for packaging data, a free-to-use data standard launched last autumn as a result of an innovation project funded by UKRI’s Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging Challenge, delivered by Innovate UK.

Essentially, the Open 3P data standard provides a common protocol – or language if you like – to categorise and describe different types of packaging in a consistent way. Developed collaboratively over three years by five industry partners (Dsposal, Ecosurety, Open Data Manchester CIC, OPRL and RECOUP) and 200 stakeholders across the packaging sector, the aim of the standard is to make the packaging supply chain more data-enabled and unlock of power of data to support sustainability, whilst increasing the bottom line. It opens up the potential for everyone involved in manufacturing, selling, and recycling packaging to be able to collate and share consistent and comparable packaging data with each other, as well as with regulators and government agencies for compliance.

Tasked with overseeing the future maintenance and development of the standard and supporting its uptake, Frances Dickman, Head of Compliance at Colpac Ltd, and Tom Shaw, Packaging Analyst for Waitrose & Partners can see many benefits that could be realised if everyone across the supply chain was using Open 3P to talk the same language when it comes to packaging data.

What can better, more consistent data deliver for the packaging supply chain?

“Regulatory and compliance requirements are, of course, on everyone’s minds. Being able to share consistent and accurate data in a common format means that everyone along the supply chain would be able to manage and fulfil their reporting obligations more easily and with the added reassurance of greater accuracy,” says Frances.
“As a packaging supplier, the potential for recording and reporting using more consistent data will also help Colpac to overcome the practical challenge we face when dealing with multiple information requests from customers and supply chain partners, many of whom ask for the data in different formats. In addition, it reduces the risk of errors associated with free text fields and the misinterpretation of terms, and the amount of time spent reconciling conflicting information.”
From a retailer perspective, Tom welcomes the potential for more consistent and granular data on the thousands of packaging formats in Waitrose stores.

“For a company like Waitrose, sustainability is critical and our customers are looking to us to provide more information on the products and packaging that we sell. Accurate and consistent data supports our drive to make our packaging more sustainable and allows better reporting and visibility around the targets that we have set.
“Waitrose has already invested in good packaging data but the Open 3P data standard will help to increase the granularity of the information, giving us a better understanding of the recyclability of different packaging components – for example, the proportions of different materials in films and laminates – and the ability to monitor characteristics such as recycled content. With significantly greater legislative requirements and compliance costs coming down the line, having access to better data will also allow us to mitigate the impact of these on the business.”
Both believe that reliable data in which users can have confidence will also promote greater transparency over time and can serve as a foundation for innovation, allowing manufacturers and retailers to make better choices around packaging design and composition.
“The opportunity to capture data in a consistent and accurate way means that any data output has more value, however it is going to be used,” says Frances. “Being able to talk openly and share common terminology with the whole supply chain allows for better communication and will help to provide deeper insight into the current and new packaging materials and formats, and how these formats can be designed better for sustainability and circularity. It could also help us to recalibrate and improve future recycling infrastructure.”

“Ultimately,” adds Tom, “it will also help us to help consumers to have a clearer understanding of how to manage and recycle their packaging.”

What were the key criteria in the development of the Open 3P data standard and how did you support its development?

Colpac has been involved in the development of Open 3P since its early days, supporting its evolution from plastic packaging standard to one that encompasses all packaging materials, including glass, metal, fibre-based composites and compostables.
“We worked with the Open 3P project team in testing the prototype and early versions of the standard to ensure it could accommodate users and current packaging formats,” Frances explains. “One of the key criteria was to ensure that the standard was flexible enough to reflect the needs of a complex supply chain.”
Tom agrees that the flexibility of the standard is critical to support wide adoption.
“Each player in the packaging supply chain needs to have or be able to provide different types and levels of information. The cascading data hierarchy in Open 3P allows a detailed picture to be built up for each packaging format and provides the opportunity to move towards truly granular data.

“The level of detail can be built up over time, making the standard easy to engage with. It provides a tool that everyone can use, from larger companies with in-house expertise to smaller suppliers for whom data compilation and management can be more challenging.”

How easy is it to understand and use the Open 3P data standard?

“Open 3P is available to all and free to use and there’s a lot of support in the form of online support,” explains Frances. “There are free data templates and video tutorials offering step-by-step instructions on working through each section of the standard – from basic navigation to creating an organisation ID.”

For Tom, the bigger question is how to ensure that everyone understands what an Open Standard for data is.

“We need to foster the understanding that it is access to the standard that is open, and that the role of the standard is to provide a framework or blueprint for compiling data – it does not mean that the standard contains data that is open. What it does mean is that the end result is consistent data that can be recognised by any system if and when the user chooses to share it. In other words, it’s a recipe rather than the actual ingredients.”

What impact could the Open 3P data standard have in the future and how can the industry engage constructively?

“This project has achieved a breakthrough in terms of bringing some very distinct parts of a complex supply chain together and, moving forward, the value of the standard will be harnessed through collaboration - that’s why I am on the board.” says Tom. 

“I recognise that the industry has been crying out for consistency and the Open 3P data standard can help us to achieve this. Smarter and more consistent data means that we can do so much more together to build a more circular, sustainable and safe future.”

Frances agrees and is keen to highlight the Open 3P Charter, which provides a route for companies across the packaging supply chain to signal their commitment to the principle of standardised and shareable data.

“The current version of the standard is an excellent example of what can be achieved by an industry sector when collaborative work is executed well and when opposing priorities are placed aside. The Open 3P Charter is an extension of this and I genuinely hope it can pave the way towards a smarter data future for the sector,” she says.

“As a member of the Open3P Board, I am also particularly interested in the opportunity for packaging data harmonisation and best practice on an international scale and the potential for Open 3P to support this is already being recognised through ongoing conversations with international packaging bodies and business groups.”

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