The Reusable Packaging Association has embarked on an ambitious agenda for 2011.

Reusable Packaging Association maps 2011 goals

In a move aimed at creating more value for members and promoting reusable packaging, the Arlington, Va.-based association’s board of directors has approved a list of goals for the coming year.

The agenda does not, however, reflect a change in strategy, said Jerry Welcome, association president.

“I would say we’ve been quietly aggressive, but we now have more things to talk about,” he said. “For the last couple of years, we’ve been trying to build up our services so that we can talk about RPA as an organization, about our members and what we’re doing in the marketplace.”

The dairy, bakery, beverage and automotive industries have been long time users of reusable containers, Welcome said, but other industries are showing increased interest and use.

“More and more companies are looking at reusable options,” he said. “When you analyze costs in the supply chain, any time you can take expendable packaging out of that mix, you can save money.”

Reusable Packaging Association maps 2011 goals

Welcome

The fresh produce industry is something of a newcomer to reusable containers, Welcome said, but is beginning to expand use. As a result, manufacturers are developing new products specifically designed for producers. Among them, he said, are containers for bananas, watermelons and strawberries.

“Part of that process is really educating people about the products, the different capabilities and the benefits, and that’s where RPA has been very active,” Welcome said.

Among the RPA board’s tasks set for 2011 are:

  • Complete the second of a four-phase Reusable Packaging Curriculum;
  • Update a strategic plan to better reflect the changing industry;
  • Strengthen work on legislative regulatory issues and standards that could affect members’ businesses; and
  • Begin compiling a database about the industry.

Another area of focus for the association is to streamline the process for smaller growers.

“Where the challenge comes is when you have the smaller growers,” Welcome said. “Being able to recoup the packages and get them back to the growers is always going to be a challenge if they’re low-volume users, especially when distributing to smaller stores.”

The association is working with logistics providers to more efficiently return containers to the poolers to be cleaned and repaired, Welcome said.

Large grower-shippers rarely experience return problems, he said, and are well served by poolers, such as IFCO Systems N.A., Houston, Georgia Pacific LLC, Atlanta, and Polymer Logistics, San Antonio, who Welcome said have built their businesses around the produce sector.

“The first time a pooler goes to a producer and doesn’t have containers for him, the producer is not going to use that pooler again,” he said.

An emerging change in the reusable container industry is that materials other than plastics also are being used by manufacturers. The association does not represent only plastic reusable products. It is what Welcome calls a “material agnostic organization.”

“We don’t really care what it’s made of,” he said. “What we care about is that it’s reused and that is has multiple turns.”