Each year the UK produces around 10 million tonnes of waste packaging. Approximately 83% is sent to landfill sites, which leach poisonous gases and chemicals into the ground and atmosphere. 9% is incinerated, releasing concentrated doses of carbon dioxide into the air. This contributes to global warming, which is changing the world's climate. Just 8% of waste packaging is recycled. These alarming figures are at the centre of growing environmental concerns.
The Packaging Waste Directive aims to manage packaging waste in the EU and tackle its impact on the environment. Amended in 2004, it sets strict packaging recovery and recycling targets for UK businesses. The simplest way to comply with this legislation is to avoid packaging waste in the first place, rather than dispose of it later. This makes returnable packaging an environmentally friendly, cost effective choice.
Taking over from traditional forms of packaging, such as cardboard cartons, reusable plastic boxes are proving increasingly popular in the manufacturing and distribution industries. Reuse is proven superior to recycling - but why? All wood used to manufacture cardboard and corrugated packaging eventually ends up as solid waste or is incinerated, even if it is recycled several times first. Returnable packaging reduces waste and is a far more efficient sustainable solution.
Cardboard is made largely of wood and timber reserves are diminishing rapidly. Demand far outweighs the supply and the world's forests are being cut down faster than they can grow. Forests help stabilise the world's climate and prevent soil erosion, so cardboard packaging is coming under scrutiny, and rising timber prices are undermining its economical advantages. Using returnable plastic boxes protects the world's forests by conserving valuable wood supplies.
Reusable plastic boxes have an average lifespan of ten years, during which time one crate can eliminate approximately 400 cardboard boxes from landfill. If 250,000 are in use at any one time, this will eliminate 10 million boxes each year or over 100 million boxes in the containers' lifetime. At the end of their useful lifespan, reusable plastic boxes are easily recyclable. With an efficient recycling program in operation, their reuse capacity is almost infinite. This has a positive impact on the environment.
Most cardboard packaging needs replacing after just one trip and its disposal cost is increasing. Reusable plastic boxes are far more cost effective over their working lives and habitually out-live their projected life span by many years. Their initial price is coming down and companies often find additional uses for their containers, making payback periods shorter.
The plastic manufacturing process is highly efficient and environmentally friendly. It generates fewer gas emissions than cardboard manufacture or recycling, and uses less fossil fuel.
Returnable plastic boxes are hygienic and resist moisture, fat, and some acids, solvents and chemicals. They do not attract dust like cardboard cartons, have smooth edges that eliminate bug traps, and are simple to clean. This means plastic boxes can be used repeatedly with little chance of contamination.
Hygiene is essential when transporting food and beverages. Food distributors must ensure products reach the consumer in pristine condition and are subject to a multitude of well-enforced regulations. Plastic boxes are ideal and double as retail display cases, so products like fresh fruit and produce can travel straight to the shop floor, cutting transport and packaging costs.
Security is another advantage of returnable plastic packaging. Reusable plastic containers are rigid, protecting goods in transit from knocks and rough handling. They are stackable, eliminating product damage from crushing, a common and often expensive problem with cardboard packaging. Unlike cardboard cartons, plastic boxes endure weathering, offering superior product protection.
Retail containers often feature locking mechanisms, which prevent accidental or unauthorised opening. Due to the heightened risk of terrorism, distributors increasingly demand this level of security, especially those that ship overseas.
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) and other forms of electronic tagging allow the tracking of reusable plastic boxes over a vast area. It is possible to manage a whole fleet from a single computer and pinpoint the exact location of specific crates. This is particularly useful when shipping high value goods the loss of which would come at a high cost. RFID means companies can position their containers to meet the day-to-day needs of the business, increasing efficiency in the supply chain.
Pharmaceutical companies use RFID to identify counterfeit drug shipments and combat illegal drug trafficking, which improves patient safety. Its return on investment is also significant through improved inventory management and product-recall capability.
Publicity is an important feature of returnable plastic packaging. Containers can be manufactured in corporate colours and carry the company's name and logo printed or embossed on the side. This is increasingly popular with retail businesses that want to increase their professional profiles without additional advertising costs.
More and more companies are turning to returnable plastic boxes, as their benefits are becoming abundantly clear. Suitable for a wide range of applications, they are replacing traditional forms of packaging like cardboard.
Returnable plastic boxes make for cleaner, safer, well-ordered working environments. This means improved inventory control, better product flow and efficient running. With environmental awareness a hot topic, returnable packaging is an attractive, realistic option.