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Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
Going Green (and Blue):
Three Lessons Learned from a Circular Partnership

As CHEP and Ice River Springs have worked together in pursuit of a stronger circular economy, we’ve learned a number of lessons. We want to share a few with you, in hopes that they’ll spark inspiration for your own operations.

As more businesses look to cut costs while improving sustainability, the circular economy concept is picking up steam. Consumers want the businesses they patronize to do good for society and practice conscious capitalism. Businesses want to reduce their dependency on virgin raw materials, in particular those that are non-renewable; and are increasingly turning to recycled and returnable goods — to positively impact the environment while keeping their supply chain moving.

A circular economy is a great idea in theory. But, what does it look like in practice?

To paint a clearer picture, CHEP — known for its trademark blue pallets — launched the Zero Waste World program, collaborating with companies to eliminate waste, eradicate empty transport miles and cut out inefficiencies. Zero Waste World is a natural extension of CHEP’s sustainability goals to achieve a better business, a better planet and better communities. While the program launched last year, CHEP had partnered with several businesses that have lived and breathed circular principles long before that.

Case in point: Ice River Springs — a private-label bottled water producer with operations in Canada and the US. The company’s sustainability philosophy is based on the three Ps: people, planet and profit; while consciously ensuring a purpose beyond profit. Water isn’t its only renewable resource — the business sells its water in bottles made of 100 percent recyclable material; even its caps are recyclable. Between 2010 and 2020, the switch to 100 percent recycled PET bottles has reduced energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by 78 percent. And by using CHEP pooled (shared and reusable) 48x40-inch block pallets, Ice River Springs has achieved environmental savings over the last nine years of more than 1,550,000 pounds of CO2. That’s equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions from 70 trips around the world by an average passenger vehicle.

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As CHEP and Ice River Springs have worked together in pursuit of a stronger circular economy, we’ve learned a number of lessons. We want to share a few with you, in hopes that they’ll spark inspiration for your own operations.

Lesson 1: Source locally and sustainably

Ice River Springs determined its best path toward sustainability was to produce recycled polyethylene terephthalate (rPET) bottles — but to build a closed-loop production process, it needed to break down the material in-house. In 2010, the bottler invested in vertical integration by opening its own plant, Blue Mountain Plastics (BMP Recycling), and purchasing waste PET from Ontario’s curbside recycling program. Today, Blue Mountain purchases approximately 80 percent of the PET collected by the program.

In addition, CHEP’s unique capacity and wide network across Canada and the US means Ice River Springs has quicker access to pallets — both for delivering product to stores and for moving goods around its production and distribution facilities. CHEP is able to provide pallets from among its more than 530 service centers in North America in order to satisfy customer needs.

Although sourcing locally has paid dividends for Ice River Springs over the last decade, it’s also been especially critical to the company’s operations as it works through the COVID-19 crisis. Ice River Springs was able to continue sourcing recycled materials and produce bottles without facing potential breaks in its supply chain — a possibility if suppliers outside of Ontario, or even Canada, were unable to provide PET.

CHEP’s circular business model is underpinned by sustainable sourcing of renewable and recyclable materials. By purchasing 100 percent certified wood, CHEP is reinvesting in natural capital — supporting the sustained regeneration of forests and providing the business with a reliable source of raw materials.

Lesson 2: Share and reuse

Peaks and valleys are inherent in our current, linear economy. Although you can be fairly certain you’ll have the raw materials you need to produce your goods, you’re vulnerable to supplier disruption. And without careful planning, you could be stuck with too much or too little of your critical materials.

By utilizing a circular model instead, both CHEP and Ice River Springs significantly extend the life of their assets, either by reusing or recycling. Ice River Springs combats waste by ensuring it has a home for the non-PET materials it collects at Blue Mountain. As part of its closed loop, it sends the high-density polyethylene (HDPE) it recovers through the recycling process to C.R. Plastic Products — a member of the Ice River Springs family of companies — to produce items such as high-quality outdoor furniture. Leave the cap on your beverage bottle when you recycle to ensure that the cap makes it to the recycling facility!

CHEP’s circular business model is based on “share and reuse,” called pooling. With the CHEP pooling system, customers get the pallets they need from CHEP on a rental basis, and pallets are regularly inspected and repaired to ensure longer life. CHEP manages retrieval and quality assurance of the pallets in a closed-loop system, allowing customers to focus on their core business. Over the last nine years, Ice River Springs has used more than 3,600,000 CHEP 48x40-inch block pallets throughout its supply chain.

CHEP aims to achieve zero product waste. At end-of-life, CHEP products are repurposed in the materials economy, avoiding landfill. The waste wood is used to produce particle board for use in furniture, mulch, animal bedding, fuels, etc. This demonstrates a best practice commitment to circular principles.

Lesson 3: Make sustainability a core tenet

In many companies, there is often a debate over whether sustainability and profitability go hand in hand. They can’t see how zero-waste initiatives lead to profitability.

Ice River Springs’ success proves that line of thinking wrong. Sustainability has become a calling card for the business, with its green water bottles becoming a symbol of eco-friendly bottling practices. The company is built around a sustainable framework, rather than trying to fit it in as an afterthought — all the way down to the LED lighting it uses in its facilities. Sustainability is an inherent part of every role across the company. And as other bottlers face increasing landfill fees, that’s a budget item Ice River Springs keeps at $0.

CHEP creates better supply chains by helping customers deliver life’s essentials, sustainably. It operates an inherently sustainable business, simpler and less wasteful. The company is on a mission to help customers build smarter, more sustainable supply chains through the Zero Waste World program — which has also provided CHEP an opportunity to encourage sustainability among its customers and employees. Participants are asked to come together regularly and share their ideas for reducing waste across the global supply chain. Sustainability is a goal we can only reach when we live it, especially in our partnerships and collaborations.

Reducing waste — one bottle (and pallet) at a time

Building a circular economy is no small feat — it takes time and careful consideration of how each material can be reused. Still, there’s no question that the benefits to both the consumer and the business outweigh the challenge.

If you’d like to join CHEP and Ice River Springs in building a Zero Waste World, we’d love to have you. You can learn more about the initiative and begin collaborating with us here.