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By Pat Reynolds, Editor/VP
Packaging World

Reduce, reuse, recycle. These have been the three legs of the stool called sustainable packaging for about as long as I can remember.

But these days it seems that only two of the three—reduce and recycle—are talked about all that much. So it’s refreshing to see recent reports confirming that reusable containers are alive and well.

At Pack Expo Las Vegas, for example, three prominent CPG companies—Coca-Cola, Ghirardelli Chocolate, and Alpha Baking Co.—presented their successes and challenges with reusable packaging in the conference sessions organized by the Reusable Packaging Association. Alpha Baking’s asset tracking pilot was especially interesting because it included the use of RFID. I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that RFID as it relates to packaging has gone quiet the past few years. Not long ago, I was awash in press releases touting the wonders of RFID in packaging. Most of them included the prediction that as soon
as functioning RFID tags could be made available for a nickel or less, the use of RFID in the packaging arena would become wildly popular. But the tags never did make it down to a nickel each. Moreover, the use of less costly 2D bar codes caught on and made the need for RFID a little less critical.

Alpha Baking’s use of RFID involves reusable assets, so the need to have RFID tags costing a nickel or less is not as essential as it is when dealing with, for example, one-way corrugated shippers. Partnering with Alpha on its pilot were Orbis Corp., injection molder of Alpha’s nestable high-density polyethylene reusable bakery trays, and The Kennedy Group, the supplier of a reusable asset tracking application called ePReusable.

Phase one of the pilot involved tagging and tracking 8% of Alpha’s 350,000 bakery trays as they moved from the bakery’s production plants to its individual ship points. The ePReusable solution allows the bakery’s logistics team to generate reports with tray destination points, trip duration time, and the average turn duration per destination. On top of gaining all this added visibility into its system, the bakery also was able to see loss patterns, develop corrective actions, and implement new processes to mitigate tray loss and better utilize existing trays in the future.

“We know as an industry that we are all experiencing a great deal of tray loss, but until now, we have been unable to measure and understand those losses,” says Bob McGuire, vice president and director of logistics for Alpha Baking and chairman of the American Baking Association Fleet and Distribution Committee. “The use of RFID has quantified and defined the root of the problem and helped us take corrective action to better control and utilize our bakery trays at Alpha Baking.”

McGuire says the pilot program is now onto Phase Two, which means putting RFID tags on more trays and gaining more familiarity with remaining hurdles that may need to be overcome. Judging by these comments he delivered in a video presentation that was part of the Pack Expo Las Vegas conference session (, McGuire sounds pretty sold on this combination of reusable packaging and RFID technology: “We send out hundreds of thousands of dollars in reusable assets every day not knowing if these assets will ever return or how long they’ll be out there. One day we’ll look back and wonder why it took us so long to figure out how to let technology help us in this area of our business.”

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