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Bulking up margins with reusable IBCs

06 August 2018

Is the re-use of intermediate bulk containers (IBCs) a real option within the food industry? Jason Waywell says that it is not only possible, but that it is essential, to negate the throw away culture surrounding industrial packaging. 

As margins get tighter within the food industry, it is essential that costs are controlled to ensure profitability when it comes to packaging materials. Organisations such as WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) are working with food manufacturers to get a commitment to reduce one trip packaging. One recommendation is for IBCs to be re used rather than being single use with the proviso that strict hygiene standards are adhered.

So, having stated that IBC’s can and should be reused, there are limitations and checks/balances that have to be put in place to ensure that any IBC’s that are to be reused within the food chain are both safe and hygienic – not every IBC design is suitable for reuse.

IBCs are employed in many industries for a wide variety of applications. They fact that they are deployed in so many different applications creates a problem for reuse within the food industry.

IBC’s utilised in the food industry have to be hygienic, they have to carry no risk to human health. It is therefore important that these IBC’s are fit for purpose. Imagine the scenario, an IBC is firstly used by a chemicals manufacturer. It’s delivered to its destination and its contents are discharged. It is then put back into the chain to be reused, but can you guarantee that it has been hygienically cleaned? Is there an assurance that all traces of the chemical are gone? And can you be certain that that IBC will only be reused within the food supply chain? No is the answer to all of these questions.

The fact is that once emptied IBC’s are not properly prepared for re use. They often sit empty until a non-approved dealer offers to take them away. Then they are probably cleaned using a solution and a power lance and resold on so there is a very real risk that IBC’s which have previously been utilised in hazardous industries could find themselves in the food chain supply. For this reason food manufacturer’s often only buy new IBC’s. So if you are a food manufacturer using reconditioned IBCs you need to ask yourself the following questions: Is your IBC supplier able to provide guarantees in terms of the original source? Is the wash out effective? Are you ignoring an obvious risk and a future food health scare?

A further consideration is that with constant use the seals on the IBC valves will eventually breakdown and will leak. Traditionally within the field of IBCs the valve is based around a butterfly design which tend not to have a long service life and are prone to leakage after a number of open/close operations. So, when an IBC is reused the butterfly valve should be replaced after a couple of uses and this adds to the cost. Unfortunately, this is often not done and so leakages occur.

An alternative solution is to fit a piston valve which delivers a clean and positive cut-off even when the IBC is re-used for several cycles. The design of the piston valve is very different to that of a traditional butterfly valve. When the handle is turned to the off position, the piston is pulled into the body of the valve to create a strong positive seal that prevents leakage. Any content in the IBC pushes against the piston to ensure the tightest possible seal. The piston valve has a double radial and axial seal, providing a belt and braces approach against leakage.

Steel cage technology
A stalwart of the traditional IBC is the steel cage. Essentially, this is designed to act as a protective shield to the inner bottle ensuring that it doesn’t get damaged. However, the design of the frame itself can have a major impact on re use. Traditionally the IBC has featured a cross bar design, but through discussions with customers, WERIT has identified that the contamination trays at each corner pose a problem. If the cross bar caged IBC’s are not washed to purge the contamination from the trays there is a real risk of cross contamination.

Hygiene has been optimised on all WERIT IBCs with a vertical bar construction on the cage which does not allow for the accumulation of moisture or dirt and so is less likely to result in the build-up of bacterial deposits.

BRC accreditation
According to the British Retail Consortium, the benchmarked Global Food safety Initiative (GFSI) helps the food industry meet legislative requirements of the EU General Product Safety Directive and the UK Food Safety Act. If a supplier gains certification against the BRC global standard it assures the customer that they are dealing with a company that reaches high levels of competence in areas critical to the delivery of products with food grade quality and integrity.

Because food and beverage production is one of the most legislated industries all stakeholders within the supply chain demand complete traceability from their suppliers so choosing BRC accredited solutions can help demonstrate commitment.

What to look for
Though the risk is relatively low, evidence is emerging that food can be contaminated through harmful chemicals utilised in some form of plastics. Plastics can contain small molecules that can ‘bleed’ or migrate into the food ingredients which is a defined risk to food products that may come into contact with it. This risk can be reduced through the use of IBC’s specifically designed for food use. If re use is a viable option then traceability has to ensured when it comes to the materials that IBC’s are manufactured from. For example Werit only utilises food grade polymer in the manufacture of its IBCs for the food industry, therefore if you are reusing then only applicable product should be put back into the food chain.

There is no doubt that cost savings can be achieved through the reuse of IBCs. However, caution has to be exercised and have to be asked of suppliers to give confidence that ingredients get delivered in containers that do not present a risk to health. With the current focus on the use of plastics in industry food manufacturers who are making a real commitment to the re-use of plastic product can gain significant public relations advantages.

Jason Waywell is national sales manager at WERIT UK.

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