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The approach to transit packaging is changing like never before, with a number of factors, namely cost and environment, playing a major role in altering the face of the market.

Returnable transit packaging in particular is becoming increasingly prevalent. Jon Graves, general manager of packaging management company PLS, says: “RTP can revolutionise supply chains, adding instant value and boosting green credentials. As well as offering a durable, rigid construction with contoured surfaces and easy-to-grasp handles, these dimensionally consistent products are easy to handle and stack, resulting in fewer strains and musculoskeletal disorders…

“Additionally, plastic packaging has no nails or loose flaps to halt a high-speed system. This is a major plus for high-volume industries, where hundreds of thousands of pounds are lost each year as a result of packaging-related stoppages on automated lines.”

The Kienast Shoe Trading Company found that when it replaced cardboard boxes with plastic containers from SSI Schaefer that it created huge savings. The plastic boxes provide around a third more space, the risk of damage is reduced and they fold down flat to save space when empty.

Packaging company PPS says it has been promoting the advantages of RTP for a number of years. However director Iain McArthur warns: “while the carbon footprint reduction is currently in vogue, the major driving factor in the move to returnable plastic equipment is economics… it may be fashionable to claim you are reducing your carbon footprint but the reality is that unless the exercise is cost effective no manager will sanction it.”

PPS has been working with a major poultry producer to replace the cardboard boxes it previously used with plastic nestable crates. As the boxes had to be disposed of after one trip due to soiling a huge amount of waste was ending up in landfill. This has now been significantly reduced. In addition, the plastic crates are able to hold 19kg of produce rather than 15kg, which means more produce can be transported per truck resulting in fewer journeys and as such a reduction in carbon emissions.

To measure carbon footprint accurately and fairly the Carbon Trust and its partners introduced a new standard in the UK at the end of 2008 called PAS (Publicly Available Specification) 2050, something which Linpac Allibert’s Simon Mendes says has been a long time coming.

“The PAS 2050 standard is hugely important. Up until now anybody could make any claim they liked in relation to their own products as there was no industry standard… PAS 2050 is a much more prescriptive method for measuring carbon footprint. It’s a very definite standard that compares apples with apples and the first of its kind across Europe. We are one of the first companies, and certainly the first packaging company, to complete a study as part of it.”

The research, which was conducted by Sustain Limited in accordance with the standard, looked at Linpac Allibert’s Maxinest product, as well as the soon to be launched XLxs, a new folding tray for the supermarket sector. Based on the criterion that plastic crates typically make a total of 92 return trips over a five year period, the Maxinest tray was found to have a carbon footprint of 26.304 carbon dioxide kg per unit over its working life, and the XLxs, 23.014 carbon dioxide kg. 71.442 carbon dioxide kg per unit, resulting in a 67.8 per cent saving. As such the company’s RTP offering was found to be more carbon efficient after 20 trips.

As the adoption of RTP can require substantial capital outlay Linpac Allibert has developed a leasing package designed to help companies better manage the financial implications and minimise the initial risk. Linpac Services brings together two other Linpac Allibert businesses: Logtek which specialises in asset management, leasing, equipment washing, repairs, refurbishments and recycling, and RFID expert Intellident Supply Chain.

The package has been designed to help customers maximise return on investment and increase the efficiency of the RTP fleet throughout its usable life.

Peter Higgs, commercial director of Linpac Services, says: “The Linpac Services offer means that Linpac Allibert’s RTP experts are not only able to track customers’ assets but can also assist financially with leasing options, protect investments with repair and refurbishment services, customise product to clients’ specific needs, as well as helping customers to meet environmental requirements.”

Graves reckons it is short-sighted of companies not to make the initial investment because “in the long-run returnable packaging will reap immeasurable benefits”.

“Unsurprisingly,” he says, “cost is a key factor within most business decisions, but all too often, this can be to the detriment of green concerns. Businesses need to realise that the two need not be mutually exclusive – in fact, they are inextricably linked. The sooner people open their eyes to this then the sooner the business world can move onto a greener – and critically, a more profitable future.”

To help companies better understand this fact the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), which helps businesses and individuals reduce waste and recycle, has commissioned a study to review the environmental impact of reusable packaging versus single trip packaging.

Mike Robey, WRAP’s retail programme manager – home improvement, says: “By choosing priorities carefully it is possible to find projects with big commercial benefits as well as environmental ones. If a project is handled correctly there are very broad benefits, which is something we are always keen to highlight.”

The organisation is currently looking for life cycle assessments, carbon footprints and other environmental appraisals from around the world to analyse the findings on a wider scale. The objective is to provide companies considering reusable packaging with a comprehensive review of the current understanding to help them make more informed choices given the number of commercial and environmental variables.

Robey says: “It’s a challenge as each individual supply chain will get different answers. In some cases it could be that single trip packaging is actually better because if extra vehicles are being used to return packaging the additional cost and environmental impact could well be greater.”

However, there are developments being made within the realms of single use packaging that support the green agenda.

Alex Begley, sales director at bpi.films, says: “Transit packaging, like all areas of logistics, continues to evolve as users seek new ways of enjoying commercial benefits, whether that’s reduced cost, minimised environmental impact or improved efficiency… what we’re currently finding is that people aren’t using less stretch film by meterage. What they are doing is using less film by yield – or weight.”

bpi.films recently launched Wrapsmartultra, a new pallet stretchwrap, that offers the performance of a 14 micron film from a profile of seven microns, helping to reduce the volume of wrap needed, which in turn cuts costs and packaging waste. Begley continues: “Like any technologically advanced product, its price does carry a slight premium but Wrapsmartultra actually delivers better value over the long-run. As it’s thinner than a 14 micron film, users get more film and the ability to wrap more pallets with every reel. Plus, there are indirect cost benefits too. More film per reel means fewer reel changes and machine stoppages, maximising both machine and operator efficiency.”

Elsewhere, German packaging company Storopack has developed Pelespan Bio, a biodegradable version of its S-shaped loose fill, which is made from vegetable starch instead of the more traditional polystyrene.

The eco-friendly chips work in the same way as their plastic counterparts by filling the voids between packaged products, interlocking and wedging them into place.


In response to customer demand for a lower cost alternative, has introduced a One-Trip version of its APB1140L and APB1212L nestable pallets.

Jim Hardisty, managing director of, says: “In these challenging times, we have experienced an increase in customers seeking more cost effective solutions. In the last six weeks, there has been a softening in plastic prices, and we are constantly monitoring our own prices to ensure that we offer our clients the most suitable product, at the best price.” The new pallets are manufactured in a lower-grade recycled material, which means the company is able to price them more competitively.

Jon Graves of PLS, suggests that companies could see additional savings, both financially and environmentally, by optimising space within a truck. He says: “Plastic containers and pallets can be securely stacked higher than expendable ones and nest or collapse to take up less floor space, making inventory management and material handling easier, as well as minimising reverse logistics costs. Receiving and inspection of deliveries are also faster and easier with standardised packaging and consistent unit sizes.

“Equally, companies may be surprised to hear that a plastic pallet weighs around 20 per cent less than its timber counterpart – a difference that will be translated over time into massive fuel savings.”

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