The planet’s resources are dwindling, and waste continues to pile up. By applying the circular economy concept of sharing and reuse, IFCO reduces throw-away packaging while preserving valuable raw materials.
As environmental consciousness and a global sense of urgency begins to rise, consumers increasingly value sustainable products and business practices. As one consequence of China’s restrictions on imports of recyclable solid waste, millions of tons of cardboard, mixed paper and plastics from single-use packaging are piling up in landfills elsewhere or polluting the oceans. This means that industry, as well as individuals, all have to maximize their efforts to reduce waste and to preserve the environment through more conscious behaviors – and there is no time to lose. One step towards accomplishing this aim is to apply the concept of circular economy.
This concept is based on the principle of retaining as much value as possible from products, parts and materials. Products and services are traded in closed loops or cycles. "The concept is designed to decrease waste as much as possible along each step of the supply chain," explains Pierre-Olivier Blanchard, Vice President Southern Europe at IFCO. "The circular economy is necessary to satisfy the demand of an increasing number on inhabitants on our planet while at the same time reducing the consumption of natural resources needed to do so," adds Blanchard. "This concept helps everyone to minimize their usage of limited fossil energies, to mitigate the risk of climate change, and reduce the pollution of the air, earth and water."
The circular economy is regenerative by design. It goes beyond recycling to provide a more efficient way of reducing packaging, maximizing the efficiency of their reuse. Recycling processes are cost intensive and complex, and the materials are often downgraded and less robust than virgin resources. In comparison, sharing and reusing products is simpler, saves costs and has a lower environmental impact.
IFCO’s pooling system is a prime example of this resource-saving concept of sharing and reuse, and demonstrates the circular economy every day. A pool of 314 million Reusable Packaging Containers (RPCs) circulates continuously around the globe – rigorously washed and sanitized before each new delivery. "Used by more than 300 retailers and 14,000 growers around the world – our RPCs help avoid packaging waste at each step of the supply chain," states Pierre-Oliver Blanchard. In contrast to "make, use and dispose" single-use packaging – which generates huge amounts of waste – pooling keeps resources in use for as long as possible, extracting the maximum value from them, then recovering and regenerating products and materials at the end of their service life. "IFCO RPCs are used between 30 and 120 times – with many of the containers lasting more than a decade," adds Blanchard. After being used multiple times, IFCO RPCs are granulated to create new RPCs – making the need for virgin material marginal.
From the environmental perspective, reusable packaging containers have been proven to provide a more sustainable alternative for the fresh supply chain than single-use packaging solutions. Using RPCs reduces solid waste and environmental pollutants dramatically, while generating significantly lower levels of greenhouse gases, using less water, and requiring less energy. IFCO applies the concept of the circular economy on several levels.
The IFCO SmartCycle™ is a well-established example of a circular economy model that is applied to create a more sustainable supply chain while maximizing its efficiency. Products are kept at their highest utility and value at all times. IFCO RPCs are shared among many parties to maximize use, while IFCO manages users’ pooling processes. We were the first company to develop an outsourced RPC pooling system for fresh fruits and vegetables, back in 1992. "Today, our customers are extensively demanding other applications beyond fruit and vegetables, such as for meat, bread and bakery, eggs, fish and convenience," states Blanchard.
IFCO’s SmartCycle™ provides added value within the food supply chain, in addition to reducing solid waste. For example, IFCO relieves our clients of investment in inventory, and saves customers time and money by providing pooling asset management, including recollection and highly automated, monitored and validated cleaning of RPCs.
Our commitment to a more sustainable supply chain drives all our operations. IFCO’s wash systems are designed to reduce water consumption and to allow energy recovery and water reuse. In some of our wash centers, water and steam recovery and regeneration processes have been implemented – a technology that will be extended to other wash facilities in the future. Thanks to this innovative approach, IFCO has reduced its water use by nine percent, while washing more RPCs than in 2017.
Also, our robust IFCO RPCs provide additional advantages. Their sturdy construction and superior ventilation reduce product damage and extend shelf life, which lowers food waste. Adding to the social and economic aspects of food waste is the environmental concern. Thrown out food usually ends up in landfills, where it emits methane and carbon dioxide, two greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.
IFCO, as the leading international pooler for fresh produce, clearly demonstrates that the use of reusable packaging creates a more sustainable supply chain, decreases overall costs and improves customer experience.
Taking all these measures into account, IFCO has received the award as "Best Performer of the Circular Economy" by CONFINDUSTRIA, the main association representing manufacturing and service companies in Italy. It acknowledges our tangible commitment to sustainability that has always distinguished us – not only in Italy, but around the globe. "We have the tools to make supply chains more efficient, reduce waste, and optimize transport flows worldwide," Blanchard sums up. "We guarantee maximum functionality and hygiene throughout the complete fresh foods supply chain. In addition, IFCO RPCs are foldable, which reduces bulk and optimizes transport and storage for an additional positive impact on the environment," adds Blanchard.
At IFCO, we do business without compromising our responsibility to the people and the communities we serve – and to the planet we all share. We place this vision at the center of our business practices, because sustainability is the core concept that drives everything we do.
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