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Reusable Pallet and Container Coalition Holds First Meeting
Wal-Mart executive addresses first annual meeting of the new Reusable Pallet & Container Coalition; he forecasts explosive growth for RPCs.
By Staff Writer
Date Posted: 11/1/1999
Washington, D.C.—Remember the famous New York City garbage barge? Ever since then citizens have been more aware of RECYCLING. However, the concept of REUSE typically doesn’t register on the awareness scale. Reuse requires an adjustment in mindset of what we buy and how we live our lives. The pallet and container industry can build reusable products if customer systems are setup to use them. There has to be a change in mindset to recognize the economic benefits of reusable pallets and containers. The Reusable Pallet and Container Coalition (RPCC) association was formed to promote this line of reasoning.
The new RPCC held its first association meeting in Washington D.C. on September 22. Almost 50 people attended this first event, not bad for a new organization. The meeting contained several presentations about RPCC’s legislative efforts, not surprising since promoting the reusable concept is the major reason they formed the RPCC. Key presentations included a talk on the successes of Wal-Mart®’s new RPC (reusable produce container) program, an outline of the research being conducted at the Virginia Tech Center for Unit-Load Design, a talk of how important the pallet and container industry might be in helping the federal government reach its solid waste disposal goals, and a panel discussion of standardization.
A lot was packed into a single day. Judging from the committee reports and the presentations by high ranking Congressional aids, RPCC is making major strides delivering its environmental message on Capital Hill. The association focused heavily on the 3 Rs - reduce, reuse, and recycle. It has found that our legislators are relatively uninformed on the benefits of reusing products; most of the limelight and glitz has focused on recycling.
The RPCC has worked to gain recognition in both the U.S. Congress and state legislatures. Bob Reivik, RPCC president, stressed the importace of "getting the word out."
The reusable pallet and container industry has been growing in produce, food, and automotive markets, but according to the speakers at this meeting the future certainly doesn’t stop with these industries. A significant portion of meeting attendees came from either the unit-load/third-party management industry or the plastic pallet and container industry.
Bob Reivik’s priority is membership; he recognizes that the RPCC will need to grow if it is to develop the financial muscle and dedicated people required to meet the challenges of the next century. Bob said, "I want to make sure there is a level playing field. I have learned a new term – "political capital." Getting the attention of legislators and making them aware of the importance of reuse is a big challenge."The Sky Is the Limit for Reusables
Bruce Peterson, vice president of perishable foods for Wal-Mart®, gave a presentation that hit at the core reason the RPCC exists - promoting reusable pallets and containers and their many benefits. Wal-Mart® has been pilot testing reusable product containers at some of its grocery stores. Bruce was so enthusiastic about using RPCs that he said, "RPCs will be the logical conclusion in produce and many other areas as well."
Why do RPCs make sense? According to Bruce reusables will be a logical necessity of the consolidation that is taking place in our society. An on-going ergonomics test at Wal-Mart® is showing the benefits of RPCs. The shrinking labor force is moving people in the direction of RPC types of products that move from the beginning to the end of the distribution system. Globalization will encourage standardization which supports reusable products such as RPCs and reusable pallets. The environmental issues in waste management encourage reusable concepts as well.
Bruce believes that in the future RFID (radio frequency identification) will begin to change the dynamics of unit load movement. The cost of RFID is coming down closer to the point of practicality.
Since RPCs are competing directly in a huge corrugated box market, any benefits of reusable containers over single-use containers plays directly into the hands of RPCs. Four RPC advantages that Bruce listed were standardization, display ready, maximum air flow and maximum strength, and allowing for the use of RFID tracking technology.
If RFID technology is accepted in RPCs, it is likely to gain acceptance in pallets as well. The technology, benefits, and challenges are very similar. Bruce said that successful applications of RFID technology will require the use of read-write tags, not read-only. Intelligent chips lend the versatility that users will ultimately need. He put it this way, "The real area of discussion will be information management, instead of information retrieval."
Corrugated has promoted its strengths as standardization, a case ready option, flexibility of colors, and possibly food safety. There is some concern that the corrugated industry may make a big case out of the food safety issue this fall. While it may be difficult to thoroughly clean RPCs and guarantee their sanitation, it is also difficult to guarantee the sanitation of corrugated as it moves through the distribution system and endures its hazards. If the corrugated people decide to focus on this issue, it could easily impact just about every kind of unit load product. Certainly wooden pallets could draw fire for their absorbency. This is potentially a time bomb that may explode in the future on wooden pallets and containers.
If the association succeeds in getting the government to encourage reusable options, then RPCs stand to gain in the produce market against corrugated boxes. The splash over should affect all reusable unit load products.
Although a concept may look almost like "no brainer" to some people, industry can be slow to embrace a new strategy. Bruce gave several reasons that RPCs may not catch on as fast as he believes they should – there is a very high resistance to change; certain companies hold profit and loss accountability differently; relationships with box companies run deep; high capital costs for merchandising fixtures; and the lack of sophistication in management techniques. Many of these same reasons appear any time that a major change is being considered in almost any materials handling system including pallets and containers.
Bruce left no doubt about where he stands on Wal-Mart®’s RPC trials. The company has used both CHEP and IFCO plastic containers. He believes that within five years, Wal-Mart® will have expanded its RPC program into every Wal-Mart® grocery store, but it will take some time to implement these changes. Bruce believes that meat products and produce will both move in RPCs.Standardization
The conversation tone during the meeting and informal exchange times suggested that standardization is a very important issue to the RPCC members. The panel discussion on container standardization was exceptionally interesting and active. Each of the four panelists gave some of his insights, and then non-stop questions and editorializing from the audience took place.
Questions they considered included: who determines standards, who benefits from them, who pays for them, why have standards, how are they implemented, and what happens to those who don’t implement the standards? The feeling was that RPCC should take a leadership role in setting standards for reusable pallets and containers. Education is at least part of the key to the success of standards. In the long run the system will pay; the end user ultimately pays for everything. The consumer is the one who determines whether or not standards are beneficial.
The standards committee reported its objectives — To provide a mechanism for promoting standards and guidelines in the design of pallets and containers, as determined by the various sectors and users of the systems. Its short term steps to standardization include: endorsement by the California Grape and Treefruit League; petition California to approve reusable plastic containers as standard shipping container for grapes; and promote sanitary guidelines for all reusable shipping containers. Long term standardization steps include determining the process for standardization of commodities, brand identity, transit/cooling efficiencies, load unitization, and standardization of other reusable pallets and containers.Solid Waste
Elizabeth Cotsworth, director of the Office of Solid Waste, was the luncheon speaker. The federal government is aiming for 4.3 lbs. of solid waste going to landfills per person per day by the year 2005. She singled out the pallet and container industry as offering a significant opportunity to help achieve this 4.3 lb. goal. Elizabeth stated, "We could meet our national goal if wooden and corrugated were reduced by 11% by 2005.Center for Unit-Load Design
John Clarke, director of the Center for Unit-Load Design, gave some attendees their first look at the Center. He talked about some of the elements that can cause product damage – shipping vibrations; stress concentrations; excessively heavy loads; load bridging variations; and the lack of high quality, consistent pallets in automated materials handling systems.Rest of the Meeting
In many ways this first meeting of the RPCC was exceptional. It had better committee reports that most meetings. For the most part they were professionally done and showed a true dedication by some committee members. While the number of RPCC members is limited, the level of dedication seemed high. Some member employees have probably made active participation in the organization’s effort a high priority. The RPCC was formed by a small number of reusable pallet and container companies to achieve results. This will not happen unless some people are truly dedicated. If the founding companies do not take their commitment seriously, then why do it in the first place? This level of dedication is rare in the forest products industry because so many forest products associations have many independently owned entrepreneurial companies that simply do not have enough management level time to spare.Facts about RPCC
The RPCC is an association representing pooled and reusable pallet and container companies in North America. The Coalition advocates the use of reusable pallets and containers as a way to reduce the volume of the waste stream and improve the system-wide productivity of industries employing these products and services.
Six committees provide the platform for RPCC members to work towards its objectives. They include legislative action, government procurement, public relations and marketing, industry standards, membership and administration, and strategic partnerships. Since the RPCC started in February 1999, six charter members has grown into 12 members, one associate member, and five advisory members.
RPCC member companies include Cookson Plastic Molding, CHEP, IPL Products, Ltd., Macro Plastics, Inc., Rehrig Pacific Company, Linpac Materials Handling, Perstorp Plastic Systems, and Pallet Management Systems. A. Duda & Sons and Tanimura & Antle are produce grower/shipper members.
One of the main functions the RPCC pursues in promoting reusable pallets and containers is representing this reusable concept on Capital Hill.
RPCC has three membership categories - regular membership includes companies that manufacture reusable pallets and containers; associate membership includes companies that are consultants, suppliers, and service providers; and user advisory council membership includes users of reusable pallets or containers.
Staff members for the new organization include executive director Jeanie Johnson, coordinator Cyndi Peterson, and lobbyist Del Smith. For more information on RPCC, its programs, and membership, call 202/554-7722.