Breaking Down the Complete Costs of Disposable Packaging

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In any kind of business, it’s not always easy to understand all the sources of loss. When it comes to disposable packaging, however, you can literally see your money going into the garbage.

Disposing of corrugated boxes, damaged wooden pallets, plastic wrap and other forms of disposable packaging are obvious expenses. But are you cognizant of less-apparent associated costs disposable packaging can inflict on your grocery operation?

Disposable packaging accounts for a third of all solid waste that goes into landfills, according to StopWaste.org, which is a public agency in Alameda County, California that’s tasked with reducing the county’s waste stream. Curtailing the amount of packaging your grocery operation disposes of can positively impact your bottom line while benefiting the environment.

Out in the open

Let’s take a look, first, at the costs that are easy to spot, using a case spotlighted by StopWaste.org.

Organic produce distributor Veritable Vegetables, based in San Francisco, was spending approximately $40,000 per year for disposable packaging to manage 100 pallets of vegetables per day. This packaging included wooden pallets, corrugated boxes and plastic wrap to secure stacks of boxes on pallets for transport. In addition to the cost of the materials, the company also had to deal with the costs of disposing and/or recycling packaging materials.

Wrapping loaded pallets in plastic wrap required workers to do “multiple laps around the pallet, and that’s hard on your back,” one Veritable Vegetable employee testifies in an informational video sponsored by StopWaste.org. A supervisor estimated the company was using about 700 miles of pallet wrap per year.

Through a grant from StopWaste, the company was able to replace disposable wooden pallets with lighter, more durable plastic ones, and replace plastic wrap with reusable mesh wraps. The changes reduced material and disposal costs.

Also, the mesh wraps required workers to make fewer trips around a pallet and bend less to secure it. Using the wraps places less strain on workers’ backs.

Hidden cost-benefits

Mesh wraps and plastic pallets, of course, are far from the only kind of reusable packaging, but Veritable Vegetable’s experience illustrates some of the many cost-advantages of reusable packing materials like RPCs.

Converting to RPCs can eliminate stretch wrap or mesh wrap all together because of the cross stacking capabilities of RPCs. In addition to tangible cost reductions, companies that make the switch to RPCs often find themselves on the winning side of less tangible, but still measurable changes. A company that switches to RPCs may find workers experiencing fewer strain injuries — and taking fewer sick days. There can even be a morale element; workers feel more positively about a company that cares for their well-being and the environment. They may also feel like they’re wasting less time on processing tons of waste every month.

The numbers speak

StopWaste.org conducted a months-long study of the impact of RPCs in four grocery stores. They found RPCs delivered an average cost savings of $1,250 in labor costs and $500 in disposal costs. The RPCs eliminated the need to unpack shipping containers and hand stack produce in retail displays, and significantly reduced the costs of managing disposable packaging.

Comparative cost analysis is one of the key first steps Tosca takes when helping a new customer transition to RPCs. We repeatedly see customers realize significant reductions in labor time, materials costs and shrink by switching to RPCs. The difference in egg handling is one example; it takes just two minutes to stock a 4-foot shelf with eggs in RPCs, versus 8 minutes for eggs transported in corrugated cardboard. In addition, a substantial reduction in shrink/markdowns is another major benefit associated with shipping in RPCs.

At the end of the day, what will be in your organization’s trash bin? If your dumpsters are full of corrugated, plastic and other disposable materials, you might as well toss a bag of money on top of the trash. RPCs and other types of reusable packaging can help keep your disposal bins emptier and your organization’s bank accounts fuller.