The benefits of Reusable Transport Packaging

The growing concern about environmental sustainability comes from an increasing awareness of the impact human activities have on the planet. Issues such as climate change, deforestation, pollution, and exploitation of natural resources have led to a global recognition of the urgent need for sustainable practices. This awareness has sparked a global movement toward eco-friendly alternatives, renewable energy sources, and the reduction of waste, with individuals, businesses, and governments seeking ways to minimize their environmental footprint and preserve the planet for future generations.

Reusable Transport Packaging (reusable plastic crates and reusable wooden pallets) are one of the ways to efficiently reduce packaging production, consumption, and waste and lead Europe to use the most sustainable alternative. Let’s explore how RTP is the most viable and sustainable option for the EU.

Reducing packaging waste

Reusable Transport Packaging is a crucial factor in minimizing packaging waste in the supply chain. The Fraunhofer German study[1] highlights its effectiveness by contrasting damage rates with disposable packaging.

The use of Reusable Transport Packaging significantly contributes to reducing packaging waste through enhanced durability and adherence to standardized processes.

Low resource consumption and CO2 emissions

Reusable crates generate fewer greenhouse gas emissions compared to disposable crates. A study conducted on the Spanish peninsula revealed that reusable plastic crates exhibit an 88% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to single-use alternatives[2]. Additionally, an Italian study demonstrated that the reusable plastic crate system has lower environmental impacts than single-use plastic crates across various indicators, including water and energy consumption, after only three uses[3]. Even in terms of transport, RPC outperform single-use alternatives, as the reusable plastic crate system proves to be environmentally preferable when transport distances are under 1,200 km[4].

Regarding reusable wooden pallets, an examination of the environmental impact of reusable pallet items in a retailer supply chain found that integrating network infrastructures and adopting pooling management strategies could result in a 65% reduction in vehicle distance traveled (vehicle-km) and a 60% decrease in pollutant emissions[5]. Furthermore, compared to non-pooled alternatives, reusable wooden pallets emit 40 to 50% less CO2, use 55 to 70% less timber, and decrease landfill contributions by 70 to 80%[6].

Safeguarding hygiene

The industrial washing processes of Reusable Transport Packaging, in practice for an extended period, not only operate on a large scale but also adhere to the highest hygiene standards. Therefore, there are no threats or hazards associated with the hygiene of reusable plastic crates, including for food contact. Regulations 852/2004 and 1935/2004 play a pivotal role, addressing hygiene for packaging and food-contact materials.

These regulations extend their scope to all packaging types, irrespective of whether they are designed for single or multiple uses. Emphasizing the importance of maintaining cleanliness and implementing disinfection practices, the regulations emphasise the significance of preventing contamination in reusable transport packaging.

The adoption of reusable transport packaging in sectors directly involved with food, such as meats, seafood, fruits, vegetables, and baked goods, extends several decades. Moreover, the longevity of reusable transport packaging in food-related industries is supported by adherence to international hygiene standards. Entities engaged in crate washing activities must comply with established benchmarks, such as ISO or the Food Transport Container Regulation developed by IFS, a reputable certification and auditing institute. This ensures that pooling companies maintain a hygiene level that mitigates health risks, underlining the commitment to health and safety in the handling of reusable transport packaging.

Preventing food wastage

Reusable Transport Packaging significantly reduces food waste by enhancing the stability and protection of fruits and vegetables during transportation. Research from the Fraunhofer Institute[7] reveals that, when these perishable goods are exclusively transported in disposable packaging, instability issues lead to damaged goods.

Recycling

At the end of their lives, Reusable Transport Packaging are recycled, hereby fully complying with the European Waste Hierarchy, defined in the 2008/98/EG Directive. Reusable plastic crates can be recycled into new crates, as they define as food-grade materials, or they can be recycled into various plastic elements, such as garden furniture for example.

Reusable wooden pallets can be used for energy recovery, which means that the wooden pallets are converted to heat, electricity or fuel, or can be upcycled into new applications, such as furniture.

Source: Adhering to the Waste Hierachy – Kiely (kielybros.co.uk)

CONCLUSON: Reusable Transport Packaging is better than single use alternatives

Reusable Transport Packaging has demonstrated to be more environmental-friendly than single-use alternatives, as it effectively reduces packaging waste, food waste and consumes significantly less resources.

On top of its green performances, Reusable Transport Packaging plays a crucial role in protecting food and safeguarding hygiene during the transportation phase, from the producer to the retailer. For companies seeking to make their operations and supply chains more sustainable, to reduce their emissions, and reduce waste production, transitioning to Reusable Transport Packaging for their business is a first step in the right direction.


[1] Save the Food Study (May 2013) Determination of spoilage levels of fresh fruit and vegetables according to the type of packaging (in cooperation with Fraunhofer Institute).

[2] R. Abejónb, A. Balaa, I. Vázquez-Rowec, R. Aldacob, P. Fullana-i-Palmer: When plastic packaging should be preferred: Life cycle analysis of packages for fruit and vegetable distribution in the Spanish peninsular market (2020).

[3] Camilla Tua, Laura Biganzoli, Mario Grosso and Lucia Rigamonti: Life Cycle Assessment of Reusable Plastic Crates (RPCs) (2019).

[4] Marinella Levi, Sara Cortesi, Carlo Vezzoli, Giuseppe Salvia: A Comparative Life Cycle Assessment of Disposable and Reusable Packaging for the Distribution of Italian Fruit and Vegetables (2011).

[5] Riccardo Accorsi * , Giulia Baruffaldi , Riccardo Manzini and Chiara Pini: Environmental Impacts of Reusable Transport Items: A Case Study of Pallet Pooling in a Retailer Supply Chain (2019).

[6] ISO1044-compliant Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) for CHEP pallets versus non pooled alternatives; La Palette Rouge, Life of a Pallet analysis – aka LPR’s secret weapon.

[7]Save the Food Study (May 2013) Determination of spoilage levels of fresh fruit and vegetables according to the type of packaging (in cooperation with Fraunhofer Institute).