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Plastic in a sustainable food industry

12 July 2021

As celebrates 20 years in business, Jim Hardisty, managing director, reflects on how far plastic pallets have come in the food industry and how they can help achieve sustainability goals. 

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We have seen considerable growth in demand for plastic pallets from food suppliers and manufacturers. Go back 20 years and there was limited use of plastic pallets in the food industry – ingredients would be shipped on wooden pallets and then depalletised onto plastic pallets before entering the production area. 

However, more and more food manufacturers have switched from wooden pallets to plastic for distribution – a big driver behind this trend has been concern over product contamination.

Ten years ago, the safety of wooden pallets for transporting food was called into question in the US when the National Consumers League (NCL) found wooden pallets tested positive for several foodborne pathogens. The NCL examined 140 wooden and plastic pallets stored behind grocery areas and revealed 33% of the wooden pallets showed signs of unsanitary conditions where bacteria could easily grow, 10% tested positive for E. coli, which can cause food poisoning, and 2.9% tested positive for the potentially deadly bug, Listeria.  

Plastic pallets offer a hygienic solution as they can be easily cleaned and can tolerate weak acids and alkalis.

Another factor that has driven food manufacturers towards plastic is increased levels of automation. Growing pressure from retailers in recent years to process and deliver ingredients faster than ever means that any guarded attitude towards automation has had to change – and rapidly. 

Plastic pallets and boxes perfectly complement automated handling systems as they are 100% size and strength consistent. Their durability is also unrivalled as they are moulded under extreme pressure to form a solid loading platform – free from nails of splinters that risk jamming and stalling automated systems. 

Another factor contributing towards the shift to plastic pallets is sustainability. This last year the Covid-19 pandemic has intensified pressure on the food industry to strive for greater resilience and sustainability. Consumers are increasingly looking for brands and manufacturers that genuinely consider the environment in their operations and take actions for positive change.

According to a recent global analysis by Edelman Data & Intelligence looking at the environmental sustainability commitments of the food, beverage and agricultural sectors many consumers place a high value on sustainability. The analysis found that consumers recognise significant value in products that support sustainability initiatives, reportedly tolerating up to a 36% increase in the optimal price point over standard goods. 

Reducing packaging and ensuring it is recyclable has been a key focus for many food manufacturers in their mission to achieve sustainability goals. But creating a truly sustainable supply chain requires a business to evaluate their entire operations, including the pallets they use.

Plastic pallets for example can last up to 15 years without repair in some supply chains, and at the end of their life, they can be ground down and the plastic reused to create the next generation of plastic pallets. Their long-life and recyclability makes them a valuable asset, one that can contribute to creating a circular economy.

More than 96% of the plastic pallets supplied by are made entirely from recycled plastic. We also uphold a strong environmental policy; taking responsibility for the plastic pallets and boxes we supply is important to us. Indeed it’s the reason why we decided to launch our recycling scheme in 2019 and why we extended our promise last year to recycle all customers’ unused plastic pallets and boxes, regardless of who supplied them. 

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