Returnable Transit Packaging Improves Carbon Footprint – PPS Survey Results

PPS, with industrial wash plants in both Measham in the Midlands (PPS Midlands) and in Grimsby (PPS East) believed there could be an improvement in companies’ carbon footprint when using returnable packaging and hired the Humber Institute to measure this critical factor in the supply chain, particularly within the food sector. PPS chose two specific single use packaging products and measured them against their equivalent returnable products. These two were a one-way trip cardboard box, typically used in the poultry or fresh produce areas and a single use expanded polystyrene (EPS) box used for transport of whole fish or fillets. Both were measured against returnable, nestable plastic crates and a plastic “fish box” (a plastic box with special drainage holes and a plastic lid) respectively.

Specialists in Returnable Transit Equipment

PPS has for several years now, been managing an ever-growing pool of returnable transit equipment throughout the UK. This pool largely consists of plastic crates and plastic pallets and is almost exclusively confined to the food sector, with smaller parts of their business servicing the pharmaceutical sector.

A so-called “full service option” offered by PPS is by far the most popular whereby PPS provides a client with the required number of plastic crates and pallets on an agreed date. The client then packs the crates and despatches them on a PPS plastic pallet to their customers. On despatch the customer enters details of the delivery onto Enable the PPS proprietary online asset tracking system (the same system is used for placing orders with PPS).

Now, knowing the location of their equipment, PPS arranges collection of used crates and pallets from the third parties and returns it to either their Midlands or Grimsby wash plants for inspection and cleaning. PPS is accredited to ISO 22000 (Safety in the Food Industry) and has set the highest standards of hygiene and control at both sites. So proud of their exemplary procedures is the company that PPS invites the highest scrutiny and inspection of its locations by any of its customers.

PPS’ first customer (and still an existing customer to this day) had earlier decided to switch from single trip cardboard boxes to a plastic returnable crate. There were two primary reasons for this poultry company to change their packaging medium – one was cost; they believed it would be more cost effective to use returnable plastic crates, even taking into consideration return transport costs and wash costs. The other reason was to prevent moisture damage – boxes of raw poultry meat may have been refrigerated or frozen and with temperature differentials, moisture formation is inevitable. On the top boxes stacked on a pallet this may not be a problem but can cause crushing in the lower levels of boxes. This in turn may lead to rejection of a certain percentage of the consignment.

But in 2002 this customer decided it was not happy with the service being supplied by its then service provider and opened discussions with PPS about providing an alternative and hopefully more cost-effective service. PPS could indeed provide a saving to the client but in those days the acknowledgement of carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions were some way into the future! Since that time PPS has grown substantially in the food sector and is now one of the UK’s key independent RTE service providers.

Coming closer up to date earlier this year, PPS completed the acquisition of a similar type of RTE service provider, based in Grimsby and servicing the fishing sector. PPS has made a substantial investment in this business, moving to a new modern location and installing state-of-the-art industrial wash lines. The location of the new site allows for expansion and already after only completing the acquisition a few months ago, PPS is now looking at a further expansion at their new site.

PPS has an aggressive marketing strategy and is continually looking at ways to increase its market share. After initial scepticism about the importance of carbon footprint impact within the food industry, PPS managers decided to carry out some initial research into what their clients thought about carbon footprints and more importantly, how to improve i.e. decrease their outputs. PPS was surprised at the reaction of their diverse client base with almost all clients stating they had an “ethical policy” when it came to greenhouse gas emissions and their carbon footprint.

It was at this point that PPS decided it was not just sufficient to say they believed they could offer an improvement in carbon footprint by using returnable transit equipment as opposed to single trip packaging but they had to have this accurately measured.

Step in the Humber Institute at this point. As stated above, the PPS criteria was to measure carbon footprint of nestable plastic crates against cardboard boxes and secondly plastic fish boxes against one-way trip EPS boxes.

A copy of the full report is available on request from PPS but the key points are that using returnable nestable plastic crates instead of cardboard results in a 52% saving in carbon footprint and an astonishing 89% saving when using plastic fish boxes instead of EPS boxes.

Director of PPS Iain McArthur said “I was sceptical that companies really paid much attention to carbon footprints, or rather they may do, as long as it doesn’t cost anything! However we increasingly see that not only our customers, but the food industry in general, is adopting an ethical approach to its packaging policies. This is all well and good of course, but what we show prospective customers is that the improvement in carbon footprint notwithstanding, switching to returnable transit packaging can give up to 40% cost saving versus single trip packaging. Probably the only exception to this being export markets where retrieval costs of packaging will often negate cost savings and carbon footprint reduction. The only other impediment we sometimes see is where some companies unfortunately simply don’t want to change, irrespective of potential cost savings and carbon footprint reduction. Fortunately for us all, such companies are now somewhat rare and most progressive businesses we meet and talk to listen to our proposals”.

All of the services PPS provide are viewable via their website. To find out more information you can contact a member of the PPS by calling 01530 515 333, or by filling out their ‘Contact Us’ form.

PPS is an established company that has many years experience within the Returnable Transit Equipment trade. To see how they can improve the efficiency of your business, visit


  1. I find this article very interesenting. Is it posible to have a copy of the report.


    Palle Petersen
    Senior consultant
    Danish technolocical Institute,
    Packaging and logistics

    0045 72 20 31 71

  2. Rick LeBlanc says

    Hi Palle. This post was based on a release by PPS. I would contact Iain McArthur at PPS to request a copy, or to talk about it at more depth. UK phone 01530 515 333 or visit

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