Returnable Transport Items – Where is the Next Big Win?

On a recent trip to the Oregon coast I took a photo that I’ve been quite anxious to share.  There, along the beautiful, pristine beach, where sea lions gather and people search for seashells, I found this:

A beautiful wooden pallet.  Lost track of.  Serving no purpose.  Cluttering the landscape. Wasting some company’s money. So, when I see an article about the benefits of Returnable Transport Items (RTIs) such as plastic pallets, totes, containers and bins, I pay particular notice.  There are many benefits of moving from wooden or cardboard packaging including improved sanitation, less waste and the potential for implementing close loop systems that can improve profitability.  This morning I came across an article titled Reusables – Where is the Next Big Win?  It talks about the increasing use of RTIs by leading retailers such as Safeway and Kroger and how they’re able to improve operations based on switching to plastic-based returnable, reusable solutions.

Another interesting article Boosting Supply Chain Efficiencies with Reusable Transport Packaging by Justin Lehrer of StopWaste.org elaborates on the benefits when it comes to shipping produce and again references Kroger and Safeway and the benefits they’re seeing from the shift away from legacy transport items.

But is that the next big win?  The movement to RTIs such as plastic pallets or the RPCs that milk or bread are delivered in is already underway and demand for them is increasing. Rather, I think the next big win is making RTIs intelligent by integrating temperature and condition sensor devices directly into the pallets, containers, totes and bins.  Not only does this give you the ability to track the RTI asset more efficiently, by adding the ability to monitor and manage the condition of perishable goods such as produce, meats, poultry and pharmaceuticals as they move through the supply chain, growers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers can make better decisions about how to pack, bundle and distribute goods more efficiently.  The result is that more food is delivered fresh and more pharmaceuticals are received safe and effective for use.  The result becomes not simply less waste in packaging but less waste in the goods in the package or container. 

Hats off to pioneers like Safeway and Kroger for innovating and looking at new ways to solve old problems that reduce waste and (along the way) help keep things like wooden pallets off the beach.

Kevin Payne

Senior Director of Marketing

Intelleflex

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