In a site dedicated to recycling it might seem a bit of a stretch to consider the role of RPCs (reusable plastic containers), but it is interesting topic in regard to the potential impact on recycling trends, as well as in addition to potentially important reusable packaging business opportunities that fall within the domain of the recycling hierarchy.
What Is an RPC
An RPC is a category of reusable transport packaging, a type of transport packaging that is durable and can be reused for many shipments. Taking a step back, reusable transport packaging is a segment of the transport packaging market, the market that addresses the need for packaging for storage and transportation. As such it may be constitute secondary packaging, which contains consumer sized packs within, or primary packaging that holds unpackaged fruits and vegetables within.
RPC usage is specialized around the packing, shipping and retailing of consumer products. In North America, usage has gravitated around perishable products, predominantly fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as other chilled products such as fresh poultry and meat. RPCs are made of plastic, typically featuring collapsibility as a key feature. Because of the reverse logistics requirements related to reusing transport packaging, the ability to collapse RPCs in the back of a retail store for return back to the container washing facility provides much greater efficiency in transport versus the shipping of stackable containers.
Aside from collapsibility, other features of the RPC are highly prized by users. These include attributes such as ergonomic handholds, as well as container openings to promote ventilation and drainage. With perishable products, quickly cooling and maintaining refrigeration are key variables which RPCs are designed to meet. Additionally, the strength of RPCs allows better protection of product when stacked, and is not susceptible to moisture which can compromise the performance of fibreboard containers. One major attribute of RPCs is there utility for merchandising. The stocking of fresh produce is very labor intensive work. When shelving is designed to accommodate direct placement of RPCs, they can be placed directly on the shelf, negating the time to remove products from boxes and build displays. While this was seen for a time as an advantage of RPCs versus corrugated packaging, it should be noted that the tray pack is now commonly offered for many fresh produce items as well.
Carbon footprint has emerged as another important consideration. Safeway, a major North American grocery retailer, cited the following advantages of using RPCs in a recent press release:
Purchase or Rental
RPCs can be purchased for internal use. Suppliers of RPCs include companies such as IPL, Rehrig Pacific and Orbis Corporation in a range of sizes to address the requirements of specific sizes.
As well, RPCs can be rented by shippers for domestic and international deliveries. The leading provider of such rental services in the US is IFCO Systems. Georgia Pacific also participates in this sector. IFCO has recently developed specialized RPCs to meet the needs of shipping such commodities as bananas, eggs and fresh berries.
To be sure, RPCs represent just a very small share of the transport packaging market for consumer goods. Having said that, this segment continues to grow, and may represent emerging opportunities for businesses to provide services in the area of reverse logistics, washing and repair. This is something you may wish to consider keeping on your radar over the next few years.