Presently, more than 10,000,000 crates and 400,000 pallets are circulating in the system day in and day out. The system consists of six different plastic crates manufactured by Schoeller Allibert, half-size pallets produced by Schoeller Arca Systems and IP Group, and one full-size pallet produced by Shuert Technologies. Svenska Retursystem delivers clean reusables to the food producers who fill them with product and transport them to the wholesaler. The wholesaler then delivers their product packed in the reusable crates to retail outlets. The wholesaler takes empty reusable crates back with them at each delivery. Svenska Retursystem picks up the used crates from the wholesaler. The crates are washed and quality checked after each loop before being placed back into the supply chain. The pallets are equipped with RFID tags allowing full traceability throughout the supply chain.
The standard sizes enable food manufacturers and distributors and Svenska Retursystem to use more automated equipment like conveyors in their processes, adding to the efficiencies and savings in labor. The standardization also makes it possible to leverage new opportunities, like traceability.
Every supplier and retailer pays the same fee for the reusable crates no matter the size of their company. Additionally, the cost of delivery is the same and is included in the fee no matter where in Sweden they are located. Companies pay a deposit on each crate they use.
The reusable crates can be used at least 200 times and have a lifetime of 10 to 15 years. The crates and pallets consist of pure materials to enable easy recycling after end of life, creating a closed material circuit.
“The standardization of crates for the entire industry lets everyone achieve greater economies of scale,” explained Swahn. “The costs of the system as a whole have been kept at a very low level. The fee that customers pay is up to 25 percent less than the cost of equivalent disposable one way packaging.”
The reusable crates also offer better product protection and have reduced damage to goods significantly. One example: an egg supplier reports a 75 percent reduction in broken eggs.
Less labor and less waste improve work environment
The reusable crates and pallets provide more efficient handling and better working conditions for employees. The plastic pallet has the same load capacity as the wooden pallet, but weighs 22 pounds less, making it easier for employees to pick up and handle. The weight savings also means less weight is transported in the trucks, adding to fuel efficiency. The crates have ergonomic handles that make them easier to lift and handle, and they won’t collapse from wet conditions. The reusable crates go directly on display, saving staff labor. And there is no cardboard to break down and dispose. In a survey of retail stores, staff responded that they were saving 45 minutes a day in labor on average. This represents 725,000 hours and the equivalent of $22 million across all retail outlets per year.
“The reusables are easier for employees to handle than alternative packaging systems. This means it is easier for us to train people in the skills needed to use the plastic systems, and so it is easier for us to provide employment opportunities,” said Sören Frediksson, head of the Coop’s distribution centre for grocery goods in Västerås. Coop is the second largest grocery/retailer in Sweden.
And perhaps everyone in Sweden is breathing easier thanks to the reduction in CO2e emissions. A life cycle assessment conducted by the Swedish Institute for Food and Biology found the crate gave rise to 44% less CO2e emissions compared to corresponding disposable packaging produced of 80% recycled materials. This corresponds to a reduction in emissions of over 115 million kg of CO2e since the program’s inception.
“Today the system is a natural part of the supply chain within the Swedish grocery business,” said Swahn. “It is a model that could be replicated within any densely populated area with a high volume of product to move.”
About Svenska Retursystem
Svenska Retursystem is the winner of the 2014 Reusable Packaging Association Excellence in Reusable Packaging Award for businesses with revenues more than $25 million. The company simplifies, streamlines and environmentally adapts flows of goods for the Swedish grocery business by operating and developing packaging systems based on reuse instead of single use. Consumer products are delivered in returnable transport items (RTIs) that are reused within a system, thus benefiting the environment. The system is growing rapidly, and Svenska Retursystem has replaced over one billion RTIs since the beginning. www.retursystem.se/
About the RPA Excellence in Reusable Packaging Award
The annual award recognizes companies that have developed, supported, or implemented measurable and innovative reusable solutions in a business-to-business supply chain. Non-members and members of the RPA are encouraged to enter.
Companies are judged on the quantifiable environmental and economic benefits of their reusable packaging solutions and services. Submissions are reviewed by an independent committee of judges who are not members of the RPA. The award is sponsored by International Contract Molding, LLC, an Otto Company; and supported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Reusable Packaging Machinery Institute, and StopWaste.Org.
Applications for the award are accepted in the spring. Visit www.reusables.org to learn more.