The Daily Grind
James Dudlicek
(847) 405-4009
“Just one word … Are you listening? … Plastics.”
— Mr. McGuire, “The Graduate”
A crime wave is sweeping the dairy industry. No, it’s not product sabotage or espionage for proprietary processes.
It’s milk crates.
You know that resin that goes into your plastic milk bottles? The resin that’s hideously expensive because oil prices continue their upward spiral? The same stuff goes into plastic milk crates.
Apparently thieves are snapping up the crates and selling them to plastic recyclers for top dollar, according to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal. With resin at around 70 cents a pound, recyclers are selling their ill-gotten regrind in at least five states to manufacturers of plastic goods.
And, apparently, some processors aren’t taking this lying down. In California, where at least one dairy reports losses of $1.6 million worth of crates (another reports losing up to 1,600 crates a day), legislation is pending that would require recyclers to provide proof of ownership for any milk crates and plastic bakery trays they buy, WSJ reports. In Florida, where two processors last year split the fee for a private investigator to crack down on escalating crate thefts, support is growing for a law requiring grocers to pay a deposit on milk crates in an effort to ensure their protection.
Funny things, milk crates. Once, during a plant visit, I suggested that a milk crate be tracked to see if it ever came back. I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a cooler with crates from fewer than six or eight different processors — competitors’ crates freely mixing to keep product moving.
My idea — meant to be tongue-in-cheek, of course — was met not just with laughter, but the revelation that the company only expects to get a fraction of its crates back — less than half. At the time, the theft-recycling scenario didn’t dawn on me, but it makes perfect sense.
So here’s yet another layer of expense that perhaps processors didn’t expect when grappling with the high cost of energy. Certainly none of the honchos in this month’s executive Q&A mentioned it.
Wow, just imagine how many milk crates all the companies in our Top 100 have. It’s got to be in the tens of millions.
Now I just hope I don’t get busted for that Hawthorn Mellody crate full of college textbooks I still have in my garage.  
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