The 4 Rs - Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and RFID

Posted by Ken Lynch on Tue, Jan 24, 2012 @ 03:34 PM

Tags: Recycling, RFID, Waste Management, Smart Packaging

Sustainable PackagingThe next time you walk through the office, take a count of how many of those blue recycling bins you see until you reach your destination.  Chances are, you’ll be running out of fingers and toes before you reach the other side of the building.  The reason I point this out is because of the three proverbial legs of the recycling stool – reduce and reuse being the others – recycling is by far the most popular and easiest to implement.  This holds true across office environments and the shipping world.

While there have been some interesting developments on the reduction front in recent years with companies finding new and innovative ways to make packaging smaller, reusable packaging has been an area that has evaded progress; until now anyway. During Pack Expo Las Vegas 2011, several prominent consumer brands, including the likes of Coca-Cola, Ghirardelli Chocolate and Alpha Baking, presented case studies on the topic of reusable packaging.

There had been a lot of talk in the past about implementing RFID into packaging, yet the cost continued to be an inhibitor.  However, what is gaining steam in the shipping world is the use of RFID tags in reusable assets such as trays, crates and pallets where there is cost incentive for companies to find and reuse the shipping assets. 

In the case of Alpha Baking, they have introduced a test program where they have implemented RFID tags in 8% of their estimated 350,000 reusable trays.  The company uses RFID readers to obtain valuable data that helps improve shipping processes and prevent losses of these reusable assets. You may recall the blog we did on container tracking to prevent fraud. Now RFID brings about another benefit to the distribution market – enabling sustainability.

The key to making sustainable packaging successful is to have all three elements working effectively.  If one of those areas is neglected, it has a negative impact on the entire process.  One could easily make the case that reusable packaging is the most important of the three and yet perhaps the hardest to implement. RFID allows companies to track these important assets, saving them money and greatly reducing the number of units needed, and ultimately discarded. We all know that creating waste is counter to the philosophy of three Rs. Four Rs gets us even closer to the sustainability goal.

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