Since 2005, WRAP has been working with major retailers and brand manufacturers as part of the Courtauld Commitment aimed at improving resource efficiency and reducing waste in the UK grocery sector. Now in phase three, the initiative is focusing on reducing supply chain packaging and improving product protection to eliminate food waste, the initiative has already saved 2.9 million tonnes of waste.

The EU’s ‘waste hierarchy’ approach focuses on waste prevention. Thus pushing the notion that improving our environment needs to be more than just using recycling bins and turning off lights when you leave a room. By not generating waste in the first place through single trip packaging such as cardboard and polystyrene, the issue of correct disposal becomes irrelevant. Reducing waste at the source is regarded as the highest priority, according the waste hierarchy.

Not only does this allow companies to bypass the process of correct and regulated waste disposal but it also relieves financial pressures, reducing the cost of going green. As of October 2013, the Government’s Packaging Regulations state that re-usable packaging must be manufactured in a way that it can become recycled at the end of use.

Tried and tested

The use of returnable transit packaging (RTP) allows for immediate waste prevention. The equipment is re-used on a cycle system, allowing transit packaging to be re-used rather than recycled. Once the goods are no longer fit for purpose they can be recycled via reputable companies. Switching from cardboard to plastic crates also produces around 52% less carbon emissions. Reviewing and building an environmentally friendly supply chain will set the standard for an efficient and green future.

Moving away from recycling and toward re-using is made possible with the manufacturing of food-safe returnable packaging options. Materials are continually tested to support conformity within the food logistics industry as well as for chemical resistance, strength and durability to ensure a long life span.

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.

Common misconceptions

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 increase as the food industry determines what works best for each environment and supply chain.

It is a common misconception that becoming green can be costly. The use of single trip containers creates the issue of purchasing new packaging each time, this being both costly and environmentally irresponsible. The renting or pooling of RTP provides a financially viable option for you to develop a greener status without a large initial financial outlay. PPS Equipment has seen the majority of RTP customers experience a significant reduction in overhead costs. The price per use of RTP is often cheaper than purchasing the traditional cardboard or polystyrene boxes.

The move from recycling to re-using in the food logistics industry can be a simple process with the correct procedures in place. There are many options for making re-usable equipment work within your supply chain, every operation is different, and therefore it is vital that businesses find the solution which works for them.

The first step would be to choose a plastic alternative that is re-usable. To make this decision many factors will need to be evaluated to ensure the optimum product is chosen. The size of the product being transported will be the first factor to consider to guarantee that there is no product damage during transport. The production facility and any automation will also need to be thought of to confirm that the new packaging option will integrate well.

Feasible option

When switching from a single-use alternative, the capital expenditure involved in purchasing an equipment pool can be fairly large and somewhat off putting. Re-using saves money per trip when compared to single use alternatives due to a longer life span. However, the initial outlay of investment can prevent many businesses making the move from recycling to re-using. This is where the option of renting or leasing can be beneficial. With leasing and rental, customers pay a weekly rental charge for the equipment that they use. There is the opportunity to purchase it at a later date with leasing. Rental can be particularly advantageous in sectors that experience seasonal peaks such as the food industry at Christmas, you can increase the equipment you have on rental during busy periods.

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 going green a non-feasible option.

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.

Joanne Moss is managing director of PPS Equipment, which provides returnable plastic packaging and container solutions.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie