As Halloween draws closer, attention is turning to something potentially scarier than the ghosts and ghouls out trick-or-treating: waste. Although the consumer’s role in this should not be downplayed, there are things that can be done across the supply chain to limit Halloween-related waste.
Seasonal products in the supply chain present a unique challenge and are much more likely to be wasted, due to the sharp decrease in demand following an event like Halloween, Christmas, or Easter. Halloween-specific items including costumes, decorations, and pumpkins are obviously in high demand in the lead-up to the night, but this demand all but disappears after 1 November.
A 2019 survey of 19 UK retailers, carried out by the Fairyland Trust and Hubbub, found that “UK Halloween celebrations generate over 2,000 tonnes of plastic waste from clothing and costumes alone”. Meanwhile, research from Business Waste suggests that the annual total of Halloween pumpkins that end up in landfill equates to 18,000 tonnes.
Of course, consumers can do more to make the most of their pumpkins and re-use or recycle costumes, but there are some ways in which a more sustainable supply chain could help to reduce unnecessary waste. For example, action can be taken to extend the life cycle of products and contribute to a more circular economy.
An investigation in the Fairyland Trust and Hubbub report found that 83% of the material in 324 clothing items promoted through the online platforms of retailers in 2019 was oil-based plastic. Furthermore, a 2017 report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation found that “across the [fashion] industry, only 13% of the total material input is in some way recycled after clothing use”.
If retailers made a more conscious effort in their procurement decisions to work with manufacturers that’s products are made from more recycled or recyclable materials, there’s a good chance less garments would go straight to landfill. This could be even more significant following periods like Halloween, when costumes are often bought with a single use in mind and thrown out afterwards.
Another strategy that could make a difference is in waste reduction within supply chains is effective planning and the implementation of AI technology to support this.
Svante Gothe, Head of Sustainability at supply chain and retail planning platform provider RELEX, said: “With the help of AI, retailers can get highly accurate demand forecasts by automatically capturing the impact of hundreds of demand drivers. Businesses have visibility into future demand, allowing for improved planning processes across merchandising, supply chain, and operations, leading to reduced waste.
“Retailers must navigate a delicate balance of reducing their environmental impact while continuing to meet customer needs and expectations. At Halloween, fresh retailers are tasked with managing a supply chain full of pumpkins, which pose a high risk of spoiling. What doesn’t get sold might quickly end up in the waste bin.”
Gothe acknowledges, however, that this is not an easy challenge to overcome, adding: “Across the Halloween season, it is not as simple as one might think. Halloween pumpkins create a distinct challenge in taking roughly 90 to 120 days to grow, meaning decisions on how many to produce must happen months before Halloween.
“Even with the addition of AI tools to [optimise] supply chain planning, there is a risk of overproduction and waste upstream in the supply chain if the plans and forecasts are not shared with the producers. Collaboration is vital, and when forecasts and planned orders are shared in advance throughout the supply chain, the risk of overproduction becomes smaller.”
AI looks set to become an increasingly vital tool in supply chain planning, with Zebra Technologies’ Warehouse Vision Study finding that 91% of surveyed decision-makers plan to implement predictive analytics by 2027.
Zebra’s Senior Director of Artificial Intelligence and Advanced Development, Stuart Hubbard, told Logistics Manager: “Today, AI low/no code platforms are being used for demand forecasting, taking retailer and CPG data such as customer loyalty programmes and in-store and online sales behaviours, and external data including weather, major events, and traffic, to predict trends in demand for inventory.”
The accuracy of AI-generated analysis and predictions should only get stronger with every year, as the pool of data it can draw from grows and grows. Despite this, if the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that one sudden change can impact supply chains immediately and dramatically. AI can predict a lot, but supply chains need to be flexible and agile because some things – be it a pandemic or global conflict – are much harder to predict.
Don’t forget to book your table for the biggest event in the supply chain calendar: the Supply Chain Excellence Awards! Now in their 27th year, the awards will take place on 9 November at the London Hilton on Park Lane. Click here to find out more about attending or sponsoring!