Open standard for packaging data could be key to EPR success

Open 3P, an open standard for plastic packaging data which launched in September 2022, has secured further funding from Innovate UK to enter phase two of its development.

Open 3P data sharing platform
A mock up of the upcoming data sharing platform
It provides a common framework to help those involved in the manufacturing, selling and recycling of plastic packaging share data with each other, regulators and government agencies. The project is a collaboration between Dsposal, OPRL, Open Data Manchester, RECOUP and Ecosurety.

The data open standard is broken down into various levels – for example, materials, components, complete packaging, and loads – with data for each level, and is available for open use across the industry.

Sophie Walker, CEO of Dsposal and Project Lead for phase two of Open 3P, said that due to extended producer responsibility (EPR) updates ‘the need for the data standard was clear’ and that ‘packaging technologists at some companies have told us that the run-up to the EPR reporting deadline is ‘traumatic’ because the workload is so great and the pressure so intense’.

She added: “But it is not just about making compliance and reporting easier and more accurate. Being able to share data across the packaging supply chain supports the broader drive to make packaging more sustainable and increase high-quality recycling. In developing Open 3P, we’ve had a lot of support and engagement with organisations ranging from chemical manufacturers to retailers, packaging manufacturers and recyclers.

The collaborators are hoping to get the open standard recognised by the UK Open Standards Board, but say that ‘this will take time’.

Phase two aims to expand the open standard – which currently only covers plastic – to cover all packaging materials including glass, metals, paper and wood.

It also hopes to develop a ‘user-friendly, real-time data-sharing platform for the packaging value chain’. The data will be uploaded by the material and packaging producers themselves, which the creators say speeds up the process and improves accuracy. Data on packaging materials, format and components will allow other stakeholders in the value chain to analyse, manage and report to authorities.

When asked about the benefits of the improved data-sharing, Walker told Resource: “The way businesses currently gather and report on packaging data is insane. Mostly, they take a product off a shelf, empty the contents out, weigh each piece and record this info, making a best guess at the material.”

Walker told Resource that in order to meet EPR changes, packaging producers are in need of more efficient ways to share data. Through its data standards, Open 3P hopes to create a universal format and system for the recording and sharing of data and meet this need. Walker told Resource that she hopes this will have time-saving benefits as well as improve the quality of the data.

Open 3P also has the potential to improve sustainability in the packaging industry, Walker continued: “A granular data standard and a data sharing platform which provides users with an accurate and holistic picture of their packaging will mean that they can more easily target problematic materials and more easily understand the carbon footprint or environmental impact of their packaging.

“[In the industry], we’ll be integrating with recyclability tools so it will give more accurate advice about tweaks that can make products more recyclable, and we’ll be helping them understand the end of life implications of design choices so that they can make better decisions at that early stage.”

Manufacturer Berry UK has committed to being an early adopter of the platform and is likely to pilot the project using its real data through excel templates. This will inform the next phase of development and allow it to be tested with users after Easter 2023.

“Berry Global is delighted to have been a major supporter and collaborator in this project,” commented Jamie Riley, Berry’s UK Sustainability Lead. “With increased environmental legislation as well as strong consumer demand for sustainable solutions, the need for transparent and robust reporting has never been greater. Companies from across many sectors will therefore benefit greatly from this platform.

“The project’s aims are also fully aligned with Berry’s own sustainability objectives and the wider need for a more collaborative approach to drive towards a more sustainable and environmentally aware manufacturing industry.”

Jude Allan Chair IOM3 Packaging Group commented, “This is such a brilliant project; reliable packaging data has never been so important. This second phase extending the project beyond plastic packaging to all materials across all packaging sectors will make a real difference to the understanding of the whole packaging value chain.”

Walker concluded: “This project has been a true example of what can happen when a broad group of organisations come together to solve a pressing problem. This project has always been about delivering on the triple bottom line, that’s why we will be establishing a new not-for-profit entity to manage the data-sharing platform and support Open 3P so that it can continue to benefit the entire packaging ecosystem and the environment.”