With the launch of Dora, the reusable IFCO Plastic Pallet, we are taking the logical next step in our mission to transform the fresh supply chain into a more sustainable operation overall. It’s been an interesting journey, and this stage is all about improving the pooling of reusable pallets.
The wooden pallet ecosystem needs a profession reboot
What came first, the pallet or the forklift truck? In a way, the answer doesn’t really matter. Their history is so closely intertwined, that one would be useless without the other, and the supply chain would be at a loss without them both. Undeniably, they are indispensable links in the fresh food supply chain.
But while the original forklift truck has generated more eco-friendly spin-offs, including vehicles powered by clean energy, conventional wooden pallets seem to be stuck in the past.
With the launch of the IFCO Plastic Pallet and our own pooling service for reusable pallets, we have made it our mission to upgrade reusable pallets and take the whole pallet ecosystem into a new era. It’s time for a new industry standard.
“We’re making the pooling of pallets for fresh products more sustainable in the most cost-efficient way for our customers.”
At the outset, pallets were cobbled together out of cheap lumber. Wooden pallets were reused and repaired as needed. And typically incinerated when they were too damaged or broken to be of use any more. Since the first patent for pallets was filed in the 1930s, this approach to the pooling of reusable pallets has changed very little in scope. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t.
"Since 1992, IFCO has been committed to making the whole food supply chain more sustainable," explains Tarun Patel, Director Service Innovations Sales at IFCO. "In 2023 alone, for example, we succeeded in eliminating 1.6 million tonnes of single-use packaging waste across the fresh food supply chain."
As our IFCO ESG 2023 Report highlights, the unique IFCO SmartCycle closed-loop pooling system has enabled 627,978 metric tons CO2e emissions saved across the supply chain in 2023. "Just imagine what a difference our circular model approach to the pooling of reusable pallets will make over the long term," Patel adds. "The potential savings and environmental impact should not be underestimated. By bringing our circular business model to the world of pallets, we are modernizing a long-neglected part of the fresh grocery supply chain."
To put the potential impact into context, it’s useful to take a step back and look at the fresh grocery supply chain seen from the IFCO perspective. For instance, the pool of IFCO RPCs extends across all fresh products categories, with specialist models for baked goods, eggs and dairy, meat and poultry. Each IFCO RPC is designed, used and recycled according to the key principles of the circular economy. Currently, there are over 370 million IFCO RPCs in circulation.
Circulation and circularity are key pillars at IFCO.
This has been independently verified. Our European Lift Lock RPCs, for instance, are Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM Silver, which means their design and production processes meet the strictest international benchmark for the circular economy set by the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute.
In 2022 alone, over two billion shipments were made with the IFCO RPCs. As they are transported on pallets, by making this chink in the supply chain more sustainable by introducing reusable plastic pallets, we expect to make a huge positive impact on the carbon footprint of the supply chain as a whole.
"The ideal pallet is one that is shared and reused considerably more times than a traditional wooden pallet. It also must be recycled at the end-of-life as part of a continuous process. The key is to keep the plastic in the recycling chain," says Marco Geremia, Sales Director Plastic Pallet Europe, who has been involved in the innovation process for the IFCO Plastic Pallet and has overseen the development of the pooling system for the new pallets, which is based on the established IFCO SmartCycle.
As IFCO tracks and monitors the pooling of our reusable IFCO Plastic Pallets, we ensure that none of our material escapes from the recycling chain.
The durability of IFCO Dora pallets allows customers to maximize their service without requiring pallet sorting or repairs.
IFCO pallets are engineered to endure numerous cycles within the supply chain.
At the end of a long life – which is many times more than a traditional wooden pallet – IFCO ensures sustainable recycling by reclaiming 100% of the scrap materials. These materials are then reused in moulding new pallets. This is something that IFCO already has extensive experience and expertise in. With IFCO RPCs, for instance, we divert the useful waste from landfills and incinerators, ensuring that the IFCO RPC material is kept in the IFCO closed loop, granulated and then made into new IFCO RPCs.
Our service revolves around the pooling of reusable plastic pallets, enhancing our established IFCO SmartCycle system. Customers can opt for pallet delivery or have suppliers collect inspected pallets. This process effectively eliminates inefficient transport routes, ensures prompt pallet supply for producers and growers, reduces unproductive stock, and consequently minimizes the resources required for the entire cycle.
A complete overhaul of the entire food supply chain is not an option, as our modern-day logistics system has evolved into a complex, intricate and deeply interconnected set-up.
"We have extensive experience of working and innovating within the constraints of the existing system. We work hard to make the supply chain more sustainable, by reducing the environmental footprint as we advance in our mission. One chink in the chain at a time," says Patel. "And the latest innovation milestone is the launch of our IFCO Plastic Pallet. The benefits to switching to the IFCO Plastic Pallet are felt throughout the fresh grocery supply chain."
"We are able to advise producers, warehouse operators and retailers on how best to improve their operations within the constraints and evolving demands of today’s fresh grocery supply chain," adds Patel. "The reusable IFCO Plastic Pallet,which goes by the name Dora, is central to a more cost-efficient, high-tech and sustainable pooling system for pallets. This is the solution we need right now."
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