Milk crates, plastic pallets and other containers made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and polypropylene (PP) that are not recycled cost retailers and CPG manufacturers approximately $500 million annually, according to estimates. The dairy industry alone loses roughly 20 to 25 million crates valued at $80 million to $100 million each year. Ultimately, this results in higher prices that are pushed through to the consumer. (View an infographic that illustrates the magnitude of the problem.)

To educate and increase awareness about reusable asset loss and theft in the dairy industry, Rehrig Pacific has written a white paper titled “Going Green Without Going into the Red.” The Los Angeles-based supplier is a manufacturer of plastic pallets and containers for the dairy, beverage and bakery industries, among others.

Brian Lindell, vice president of the company’s beverage division, told Dairy Foods contributing writer Erika Flynn that both retailers and manufacturers need to take a more active role in reducing loss and theft.

“Here in the U.S., most reusable containers and packaging is owned by CPG companies,” he said. “It’s incumbent upon them to ensure they are coming back to be reused.”

Lindell acknowledged that CPG delivery personnel are not paid for returning empty assets but rather on delivery of finished goods.

“There’s a bit of an incentive misalignment from that standpoint, and not a lot of discipline regarding this issue,” he said.

Training drivers to realize that tracking containers is part of their job description can be one step in the solution. Grocers themselves need to be educated on the best methods to prevent abandonment and protect and store reusable assets, because theft of reusable packaging has become a national issue with illegal recycling operations across the United States, he said.

And while some have suggested integrating technology including RFID and GPS, Lindell said tracking technology is not necessary.

“It’s simple: I dropped off x-number of finished goods last time so I need to collect x-number of empty assets back.”

Working with retail partners to ensure good communication is key because both sides know the environmental, economic and sustainable benefits that come from using reusable containers.

“Retailers need to acknowledge a responsibility to hold and protect idle containers until the right delivery person collects them,” said Lindell. “And CPG companies need to do a better job of collecting all the idle assets. If those things work in unison, that’s all it takes. It just requires discipline of doing what’s right and what needs to be done each and every time you do your job.”