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FAQ: What does your supply chain gain from switching to reusable plastic packaging?

Reusable plastic pallets and crates can play a vital role in the supply chain of the future, enabling food sector operators to optimize efficiency, improve safety, and enhance sustainability. Constructed of durable plastic, reusable plastic packaging has several advantages over traditional materials, such as wood and corrugated. That’s why forward-looking companies are increasingly turning to reusables to reduce waste and drive new efficiencies. Here, Tosca, answers four frequently asked questions about reusables and looks at what benefits they can bring to businesses. 

Are reusable plastic assets more sustainable than corrugated and wood counterparts?

The clue is in the name: unlike wooden and corrugated boxes and pallets, reusable plastic containers can be used over and over again. Once they reach the end of their service life, they get recycled into new containers instead of ending up in the landfill. While wood pallets and corrugated boxes can, and should, be recycled, a significant amount still ends up as waste. In the US alone, around 12% of the municipal solid waste (MSW) in landfills consists of paper and paperboard – a figure that could be effectively reduced using reusable plastic packaging. Recycling corrugated and wood also requires more effort, with corrugated boxes needing to be cut down and baled and wooden pallets brown down, which takes up valuable staff time. On the other hand, recycling reusable transport packaging and pallets doesn’t require any effort from the business as the solution provider manages the entire process. 

Reusable plastic packaging and reusable plastic pallets also offer other advantages in areas that can directly impact sustainability, for example, loading efficiency and weight. Reusable plastic crates (RPCs), specifically, are robust by design and uniform in size, shape, and weight, thus can be stacked and loaded more efficiently, making better use of the storage and transport space. This results in fuller truckloads, reducing the number of trips needed, and saving fuel and CO2 emissions.  

Reusable plastic containers impact sustainability with their loading efficiency
Reusable plastic containers improve cube utilization with a smart stacking design that reduces shifting during transport.

Can reusables enhance efficiency in the supply chain?  

Introducing reusables can help unlock new efficiencies throughout the supply chain, from the suppliers to the production facility to storage and transport and even at the store, by improving productivity and cutting costs.  

Thanks to their durable construction, plastic crates don’t crush or tear like corrugated, reducing the loose bits of cardboard that could get jammed in machinery and cause downtime. The strong design also contains spillages and breakages that could seep through cardboard, damaging other products and the surrounding equipment and requiring staff to stop their core duties to clean up. 

The design and construction of reusables also allow for more efficient stacking, loading, and display, saving time and enabling operators to optimize their storage, transportation, and staffing resources. Reusable crates are designed to create strong stacks, so more units can be safely stacked without fear of the stack toppling over. In many supply chains this is a major cost-saving benefit. Fuller trucks equal better transportation efficiency, which translates into direct savings in fuel cost. Reusables are also lighter and safer to lift and designed with ease of use in mind, which speeds up loading activities. Some containers are display-ready so that store colleagues can take the container straight from the delivery truck to the shop floor without having to move products between containers, saving on time and labor cost. 

Tosca reusable plastic solutions, including pallets and crates
Tosca offers a full portfolio of reusable plastic crates, pallets, dollies, bulk containers and more.

How do reusable plastic crates and pallets contribute to the supply chains of the future? 

Reusables provide operators with a solution that lets them drive efficiency today and in the future. As the level of automation is expected to grow rapidly and demand requires precise tracking at every step of the supply chain, businesses need pallets and containers that are designed for the automated environment and able to accommodate the requirements of IoT technologies. Reliance on traditional materials, such as wood and corrugated, can present unexpected challenges with modern technologies such as robotics. While robot grippers can easily handle plastic crates thanks to their robust design and uniform size, corrugated can easily crush, damaging product or spilling their contents on the production line and risking damage to the equipment.  

Calibrating automated machinery used in product packing and loading can also prove problematic. Corrugated is a porous material, so any leakages from the products can soak into the container, altering its weight. This can result in miscalculations or even downtime and heighten the risk of contamination. Plastic, however, is non-porous, consistent in weight, and more hygienic by design.  

Reusable crates, particularly within a pooling model, can also help companies to leverage data to gain better insight into their supply chain. They are designed for use with advanced monitoring technologies, such as Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) and warehouse management systems (WMS), that allow managers to gain full visibility over each container and pallet as they travel through the supply chain. Solutions, such as Tosca’s Asset IQ, collect the data as the units move through the chain, displaying it on a dashboard where customers can easily access it via their laptops or mobile devices to track progress. The real-time data makes it simple to track shipments and keep customers and supply partners updated on progress. It also helps facilitate quick corrective action when a potential issue is identified, enabling businesses to address potential bottlenecks to streamline operation and increase productivity. Together, all these benefits enable stronger business insights with access to high quality data. 

Are reusable plastic assets more protective than traditional alternatives?  

Thanks to the durable material and streamlined construction, reusable containers are structurally stronger. The robust construction provides enhanced protection, safeguarding the products from damage during high-risk activities such as unloading and stacking. If there is a problem with one product, such as a faulty cork in a bottle or pierced plastic on a poultry tray pack resulting in purge, the leakage remains contained within the plastic crate. This helps eliminate any risk to surrounding products, whereas a similar incident could compromise the structural integrity of corrugated boxes or wood pallets and, as a result, other containers stacked nearby.  

RPCs and reusable plastic pallets are ideal for the needs of the food sector, where hygiene is paramount, as they simplify food safety management and product quality control. Plastic is easy to clean and sanitize, and as it is non-porous, it doesn’t harbor pests, fungi, or mold, that could damage or contaminate the products. Containers also feature inbuilt ventilation to help keep perishables fresh throughout the journey.  

The quality and hygiene of products can also be further increased by leveraging the latest monitoring technologies enabled by IoT tracking technologies. As well as location, they allow monitoring of other key variables, including humidity, temperature, and vibration. This real-time visibility over the condition of the products helps operators identify issues that could be putting the quality, or worse, hygiene, at risk. The insight helps provide the transparency needed for success in the food sector, giving businesses the means to safeguard quality, prove compliance, and protect operation against malicious claims. 

As these above answers demonstrate, there is a lot to be gained from switching to reusables. Sustainability is a major benefit of integrating reusables in your supply chain, but the advantages extend beyond that. The leading reusable plastic packaging solutions available today are already designed to meet the challenges of tomorrow, allowing businesses to optimize the available resources in terms of productivity and efficiency and futureproof vital parts of their operation. 

Reusable pallets positively effect food safety and encompass IoT tracking capabilities
Reusable pallets can be fitted with IoT tracking technology in order to deliver key supply chain insights.

To find out how reusables could help you optimize your business, visit