Returnable Revolution

Stuart Pritchard June 13, 2016



JOANNE MOSS, MD of PPS and Alison Handling, lays out some (Re)fresh ideas for food producers looking to wipe out waste…

For the food logistics industry, a sector so vital to the food supply chain, ensuring a sustainable business model is vital to obtain business longevity. Concerns around resource efficiency and waste prevention have entered the sustainability debate, adding to the issues around reducing carbon emissions in this sector.

For fresh fish and seafood, look no further than Re-fresh

For fresh fish and seafood, look no further than Re-fresh

Throughout last year, WRAP placed an emphasis on improving product protection to eliminate food waste in the food retail industry. Working with major retailers and manufacturers, they have been working towards improving reducing waste in the UK grocery sector and resource efficiency. For the EU, their waste hierarchy scheme has put waste prevention top of the agenda. Their scheme, aims to prevent issues surrounding correct disposal of waste through the prevention of waste generation at supply chain levels.

Preventative measures such as the use of returnable transit packaging (RTP) is one way in which waste prevention is possible in the supply chain. Through RTP, equipment can be re-used on a closed-loop system, allowing transit packaging to bypass the recycle heap.

In a case study, PPS compared two types of single trip packaging; cardboard boxes as well as single use expanded polystyrene (EPS), and compared them to their RTP crates.

Their study found that switching from single trip cardboard boxes to plastic crates produces roughly 52% less carbon emissions whilst the switch from polystyrene is even greater at 89%. With one trip packaging, a portion of cardboard boxes still end up in landfills, despite their ability to be recycled. The energy use is also far greater, with longer processes involved. Polystyrene containers fared even worse, with a longer processes involving much higher energy usage levels. As compared to RTP, which when used on a closed loop system used a fraction of the energy and is 100% recycled at the end of its life cycle.


In the production of RTP, materials are continually tested in order to conform to strict regulations within the food logistics industry. As well as for chemical resistance, strength and durability to ensure a long life span. Materials

The PPS eco-friendly washing process in action

The PPS eco-friendly washing process in action

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. 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.

The Re-Fresh box, recently launched by PPS, is a hygienic plastic tray, for full supply chain distribution of fresh fish and seafood. With a leak-proof lid, the boxes are designed for transit and can be 100% recycled at the end of their lifecycle. Built with stacking/nesting capabilities, the boxes are designed for strength, lessening food damage and waste. The ability to stack a number of boxes for transit was an engineering design challenge undertaken by Mergon International for the PPS Refresh boxes. Under compressive loading, buckling due to structural instability is often a significant engineering concern. To enable stacking, a bi-linear elastic-perfectly plastic material model was developed. This model used an assumed tangent modulus so that plasticised regions strain indefinitely unless limited through redistribution of load into surrounding non-plasticised regions.


With the correct procedures in place, the move from recycling to re-using in the food logistics industry can be a simple process. There are many options for making re-usable equipment work within your supply chain, every operation is

Well-engineered plastic welding

Well-engineered plastic welding

different, and therefore it is vital that businesses find the solution which works for them.

As a main service provider of RTP, 95% of PPS customers experience cost savings when they switch to returnable options, typically saving 25%. 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 its longevity qualities. Yet the initial outlay of investment can prevent many businesses making the move from recycling to re-using. However, with the option of renting or leasing, the alteration of a business’s supply chain model does not have to run the same financial risks and pitfalls.

Recycling has become the most common method used by UK businesses to gain their green credentials and long term sustainability. However, with the costs involved and issues surrounding viable waste disposal procedures, recycling can make sustainability a far flung goal.