Reusing, the new recycling for the food transit industry

by Search Gate staff. Published Wed 19 Aug 2015 09:49
The benefits of returnable transit packaging

Joanne Moss, managing director of leading sustainable packaging firm PPS, discusses how reuse rather than recycling may be easier to achieve for industry and the supply chain.

In recent years, WRAP have been working closely with major retailers and brand manufacturers in improving resource efficiency and reducing waste in the UK grocery sector. An emphasis has been putting an increased focus on reducing supply chain packaging and improving product protection to eliminate food waste in the food retail industry.

In the same vein, the EU's ‘waste hierarchy’ approach focuses on waste prevention. Through taking measures to prevent initial waste generation, issues surrounding correct disposal of single trip packaging such as cardboard and polystyrene becomes irrelevant. Moreover, as of October 2013, the Government's Packaging Regulations stated that re-usable packaging must be manufactured in such a way as to allow for it to be recycled at the end of use.

Returnable Transit Packaging vs Single Trip Packaging

The use of returnable transit packaging (RTP) is one way in which waste prevention can be prevented at supply chain levels. Equipment is re-used on a cycle system, allowing transit packaging to bypass the recycle heap and be used on an ongoing basis.

The switch from single trip cardboard boxes to plastic crates produces roughly 52% less carbon emissions whilst the switch from polystyrene is even greater at 89%. In addition, switching to sturdier packaging structures reduces the amount of food waste through preventing bruising and/ or damaging. Reviewing and building an environmentally friendly supply chain will set the standard for an efficient, green and sustainable future.

Single trip packaging predominantly consists of cardboard and polystyrene boxes that after one use have to be recycled in conformity with strict recycling guidelines. Although the cost of purchasing single trip packaging is significantly cheaper than purchasing a reusable option, when taking into consideration the cost of recycling at the end of use, this is not always the most economical option. As a user of single trip packaging companies are liable for the correct disposal and recycling of this equipment. The use of single trip containers means that as a company you are forced to purchase new equipment after every cycle. This is both costly and environmentally irresponsible.
Making The Change

Making the change from recycling toward re-using is made possible through the manufacture of food-safe returnable packaging options. RTP consists of equipment such as plastic crates, trays, plastic pallets and bulk bins which are mainly used in closed loop systems. Compared with single use packaging, the RTP options have a significantly higher number of benefits including financial and environmental. Not only can the equipment be hygienically washed but the strength of the product will also provide greater protection for your goods in transit in comparison to cardboard which could be crushed. The recycling of plastic at the end of its long lifespan follows the guidelines set by the EU’s Waste Hierarchy approach to waste management. Thus, deeming it an efficient and sustainable use of equipment.
In the production of Returnable Transit Packaging, materials are continually tested in order to conform to strict regulations within the food logistics industry as well as for chemical resistance, strength and durability to ensure a long life span.

RTP Benefits

Materials including HDPE (high-density polyethylene) and PP (polypropylene) are used extensively in the manufacturing of equipment such as plastic crates, bulk bins and plastic pallets as it is the ideal material for injection moulding. Possessing chemical and corrosive resistance, the odourless material is the optimal choice for ensuring that the packaging can be hygienically washed using food safe chemicals enabling the re-use cycle to continue at the highest quality standards. The material is also resilient between a large span of temperature fluctuations, ensuring the high strength material can be used in various environments. This might include use in cold stores where foods are frozen or hotter climates that might be involved with citrus fruit farming.

Design features from injection moulding enable the goods to stay fresher for longer. Ventilation slots in plastic crates are ideal for freezing foods allowing the surrounding temperature to penetrate the plastic vents. The strength of material used plays a crucial part in protecting the goods in transit and storage. For many years, fruit producers have been using durable plastic crates instead of the common cardboard alternative.

With operational benefits, the stable stacking features and smooth edges will cause less chance of the food becoming damaged by crushing cardboard or damaged sides. Due to the commitment of suppliers, the options of returnable packaging is on the rise in the United Kingdom.

Industry Results

It is a common misconception that making the change to become a green accredited company is a costly process. However, PPS has seen the majority of RTP customers experience a significant reduction in overhead costs. As a main service provider of RTP, 95% of PPS customers experience cost savings when they switch to returnable options, typically saving 25%.

When making decisions regarding your supply chain, focusing on turning green is becoming increasingly important. Recycling has become the most common method used by companies to improve their green credentials. However, with the costs involved and issues surrounding viable waste disposal procedures, recycling can make sustainability a far flung goal.

For many companies, moving towards reuse rather than recycle may be the only way forward and we will be excited to see where the trends in sustainability will take the food transit industry in the near future.

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