These days plastic is a dirty word.  Around the world, the war against the reviled material has intensified.  Lobby groups are pressuring legislators into imposing harsh laws outlawing single use plastics.  Retailers are developing eco-friendly carrier bags from biodegradable materials.  

By Terence Ong – Own work, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1335850

Plastic packaging is being reduced, recycled and reused but despite our best efforts, 340 million tonnes of the stuff are produced each year.

Notwithstanding an all-out attack on the ubiquitous material, plastic still has a place in the supply chain… and it’s easy to see why.  Convincing eco-warriors about the value of plastics is a bit like trying to convince an online pokies player about the value of bingo or keno! 

However, when you calmly assess the benefits of reusable plastic over other materials – like cardboard or glass – there’s a clear winner.  Let’s take a look at why plastic is still king when it comes to logistics and warehousing:

Reusable Plastic Crates – Strong and Durable

Although activists will try and convince you otherwise, reusable plastic crates (RPCs) are a far more sustainable and effective packaging solution than traditional cardboard cartons.  In fact, right across the supply chain from farm or factory to store, the benefits of using plastic are manifold.

Getting fresh produce and manufactured goods to the consumer in a pristine condition is key to logistics operations.  By using plastic crates rather than cardboard boxes, warehousing and distribution companies are able to meet their mandate more easily.  With durable plastic as the base material, humidity, persistent handling and tough travelling conditions have no impact on the integrity of the load.

Along with strength and durability RPCs have exactly the same profile.  As a result, they are more suitable for automated loading systems.  They are also conveniently stackable in the truck, shipping container, warehouse or store.  That means the use of plastic packing crates automatically frees up valuable space.  

Although it may cost a little more to transport RPCs, the fact that there’s a low probability of damaging the crates’ contents far outweighs the outlay of the extra pounds and pence.

Zero Contamination with RPCs

Another major benefit of choosing RPCs as the transport and logistic go-to guys is the aerated structure of the crates.  The innate architecture of the container supports and promotes the free flow of air within the pallet unit.

Fresh air reduces the risk of contamination and keeps fresh fruit and vegetables, in particular, in the best possible condition… in storage and on the road.

Huge Waste Reduction at the Point of Delivery  

Last but not least, reusable plastic crates are as their name suggests… reusable.  That means less waste at the point of delivery, waste that would usually find its way into our landfills.  If handled properly RPCs can be re-used hundreds of times.  The same cannot be said about cardboard cartons.

How Can Manufacturers and Retailers Mitigate the Use of Plastics in Packaging?

We’ve seen why plastic is still the best proposition when it comes to transporting and storing goods.  On the other side of the supply chain, the situation is markedly different – and we’re talking about the rampant use of plastics in packaging.  

As we speak packaging is responsible for 40 percent of the world’s total plastics use but only 12 percent of packaging is recycled.  That leaves an alarming amount of waste that’s finding its way into our landfills, rivers and oceans.

Although major brands like Walmart, Alibaba, Starbucks and Trader Joe’s are reducing their use of plastics, it’s not yet making a noticeable difference to the environment.  Millions of tons of plastic are still washing up on the worlds beaches and the notorious garbage patches in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans are growing at a rapid rate.

Who’s to blame for the catastrophic state of our natural environment?  Companies like Coca Cola, Danone, PepsiCo, Nestle and Unilever have to shoulder some of the blame. They’re amongst a coterie of culprits that produce 30 percent of all the plastic packaging that’s produced worldwide!

It’s Time to Sweat the Small Stuff

It’s not always the big statements that make a difference, it’s the small design details that could well help to save our planet.  Details like eliminating plastic windows in cardboard packaging and banning shrink wrap labels from recyclable cooldrink bottles can make the world of difference to whether an item can be recycled or not.

Going one step further and regulating the use of the dyes and inks used in the manufacture of plastic labelling is a simple yet strategic intervention that can pay off big time.  Imposing restrictions on toxic materials can prevent the contamination of what would have been a recyclable PET bottle or perfectly acceptable packaging.

The Buy-In of Everyone is Required to Win the War Against Single Use Plastics  

If we really are going to make plastic packaging one hundred percent recyclable by 2025, we need the buy-in of all the governments in the world – not just those in first world countries. Developed countries are more than adequately equipped to collect, process, sanitize and reuse mountains of plastic waste… it’s the rest of the world we have to ensnare in the recycling net!

In the meantime, reusable plastic crates are tough, stackable, aerated and cost effective, elements that are not readily found in any other type of short- or long-haul packaging solutions.