Collaboration in the supply chain: working together to help tackle unnecessary recycling of plastic returnable transit packaging
By Paul Empson, General Manager, Bakers Basco
Many products used in logistics across the supply chain are designed to be reused multiple times rather than being disposed of after a single use – known as the ‘circular economy’ – but a lack of education and awareness might be hindering businesses’ chances at building towards a more environmentally-friendly future.
This is a very real issue that came to light in a recent YouGov survey that polled 2,106 UK adults to uncover public awareness about plastic bread baskets and other food goods delivery trays/containers. We commissioned the research to shine a light on what has become an increasingly important environmental issue impacting the food industry and, more specifically, the bakery sector. It found that almost half (46%) of the UK public feel that too much multi-use plastic is recycled unnecessarily.
While it also highlighted that 61% of respondents were sure that bread baskets and food delivery trays go back to the factories they came from and are used over and over again, sadly more often than not this is not the case. Just 3% showed awareness of the “dark side” of plastic recycling where they are stolen and recycled illegally by a third party, or shredded for sale back to the plastics manufacturing industry by unscrupulous recycling operations (5%) and only 9% are aware that this equipment can also often end up in landfill.
Any business operating in the ‘circular economy’ will be well aware that much of this equipment is designed to last many years. Our bread baskets and dollies, for example, are made using sturdy, reusable plastic, with each piece of kit recycled potentially 400 times and the resulting raw plastic used to make more baskets before it reaches the end of its useful life. And of course we aren’t the only supplier of RTP to the food and drink industry. There are probably tens of millions of baskets, crates and pallets made out of heavy-duty plastic and designed to last for years, shuttling backwards and forwards from food manufacturer to depot to retailer, saving a fortune in disposable packaging and never going into landfill.
The trouble is that, despite our equipment carrying embossed warnings that clearly state who the owner of the property is, the general public, certain businesses and even refuse collectors don’t understand the value of these baskets. All too often they are diverted out of the supply chain, whether that’s being left abandoned on the street before ending up in landfill or people stealing the baskets and using them for their own benefit. In some cases, they are being sold on to unscrupulous recycling operations or, something that has more recently come onto our radar: individuals attempting to sell them unlawfully via online auction sites, ecommerce marketplaces and social media channels. Despite numerous polite attempts to ensure the safe return of our property – which even has our name on it – these individuals still refuse to give them back. Now that’s just plain, outright theft.
And we’re not just talking about a few trays here and there. Millions of these baskets and other food delivery equipment like pallets, food containers, bottles, drums and crates go missing every year presenting a growing problem for the UK’s transport and logistics industries, and the unethical recycling of stolen plastic items that don’t need to be recycled. It’s not just a business problem, it’s an environmental one too.
Tracking down missing RTP may not sound the most glamorous of occupations, but diversion and theft of reusable delivery equipment is a growing problem. At the end of the day, if packaging which is meant to be reused goes missing, then it means extra costs for the food producer which they have to pass on to the retailers who will then pass them on to the shoppers. Plus, of course, there are additional costs in terms of harm to the environment – people who misuse returnable packaging tend to dump surplus items at the side of the road or in canals, rather than disposing of them responsibly. The abuse and neglect of product pallets, trays and baskets can help swell landfill sites and damage a sector’s green credentials. So it’s up to us, as a broader industry, to take a stand and ensure we aren’t fuelling this negative impact on the environment.
We’ve taken our own steps to track down and reclaim any missing equipment that gets diverted out of the supply chain – through glitter additives and GPS tracking technology. Plus, we have a national investigations team dedicated solely to ensuring the safe return of misappropriated bread baskets to their rightful owners. But this alone isn’t enough and what this new research has highlighted is that the UK public believe that local councils (56%), the government (46%), individuals (48%), businesses (58%), industry trade associations (49%) and recycling companies (44%) all have a part to play in tackling unnecessary recycling.
We all have a responsibility to play our part but it requires a collaborative effort by all parties to help tackle the problem, before we undo all the positive steps already taken in the global fight against plastic. Plastic isn’t actually the villain it’s made out to be. The real issue is how we use it, how we keep tabs on ensuring it is being used responsibly, and what happens to it when we’ve finished with it. That’s why we all need to work together to help curb it once and for all.