No Reusable Left Behind

Reusable plastic pallet and container recycling programs are becoming more widely available, further enhancing the circularity of reusables.

It is no secret that the existing recycling system in many parts of the world is broken regarding the recovery and recycling of single-use plastics. Significant investment and effective policy are needed to restore a balance between plastic production and recycling technologies/capabilities, yet the path forward remains muddied by apprehension about who will pay. Companies that actively invest in recycling initiatives can be frustrated by apathetic consumers or competitors that position themselves as “free riders.” 

And yet many businesses are reluctant to embrace further governmental influence when, in fact, the market has failed and continues to fail. It doesn’t seem like a recipe for a speedy resolution. 

In the absence of effective end-of-life material recovery systems, plastic leakage into the environment has led to widespread public concern about single-use plastic, even as packaging providers maintain that plastic packaging is more sustainable than other options. The time has come where we can no longer launch innovative products without being utterly mindful of end-of-life. Design for circularity is no longer just a “nice-to-have.”

When it comes to successful circular design, it is essential to differentiate between single-use plastics and reusable packaging, the latter long having been produced with reuse and recovery in mind. The usage of plastic in reusable packaging has been a marvelous success story. Such positive narratives should not be lost in the noise about single-use waste. Reusable packaging and pallet solutions continue to save money, reduce solid waste, and provide a more sustainable way of doing business in many industries. 

As part of that circular approach, leading providers of reusable packaging have long offered “take-back” programs for broken reusables, while some have repair services. Recently, recycling programs provided by reusable packaging suppliers have become more prominent, such as those managed by RPP Containers and Goplasticpallets.com.

Consolidating old plastic pallets for pickup. Source: Goplasticpallets.com

In the U.S., RPP Containers prevents plastic bulk containers from becoming solid waste in landfills. It buys damaged and out-of-use containers, from customers, and recycles them in two ways. Reusables that are damaged, but repairable, are refurbished into usable containers and sold under the RefurBest® brand. Containers too damaged to be refurbished are ground up, and a portion of the plastic regrind is used in the manufacturing of premium new reusable bulk containers and sold under the DuraGreen™ brand. In 2019, RPP Containers recycled 1.6 million lbs of plastic.

Goplasticpallets.com launched its plastic pallet recycling program in the U.K. in 2019. Nine months after starting the U.K.’s first plastic pallet recycling scheme, Goplasticpallets.com had recovered and recycled 192 tonnes of plastic from customers’ used or unwanted plastic pallets and boxes. The company has a goal of recycling 350 tonnes by February 2020.

Both companies offer convenient forms to request container recycling.

If you have damaged or end-of-life reusables that occur in your business, ensure that they are kept out of the trash. If they belong to a trading partner or a pooling provider, they likely should be returned to them, but check with them to determine the correct path to take. 

For your own or other damaged plastic pallets or containers, you can help keep them out of the waste stream by establishing a program for segregating and centrally stockpiling the unusable equipment until it can be recycled. Communications and training may be a challenge because the incidence of damage often is infrequent. However, by periodically communicating the benefits of your reusable packaging program while reinforcing roles and responsibilities, you can keep end-of-life handling and disposition at top of mind, ultimately helping to ensure that no broken container gets left behind.