Plastic pallet specialist marks major milestone

The firm’s range of stock has grown exponentially over the last 20 years is celebrating 20 years in business this year. Here, MD Jim Hardisty tells Packaging Scotland about the firm’s proudest achievements and ambitious plans for the future.

Q) What’s the history of the firm?

A) It all began in 2001, which actually marks the first of many firsts for as we were the first – and only – wooden pallet supplier to successfully transition to plastic pallets. It was me and Chris Adam, our operations director that started the business. We both had a long history of working in the logistics sector and with wooden pallets through our partner company All Pallets Ltd. We set up to facilitate the supply of plastic pallets to businesses in the UK, which at the time were not widely available from UK suppliers.

We started with a team of just five; me, Chris, Emma in accounts, adam in our warehouse and a van driver. Emma and Adam are both still working with us today. In 2006 we signed our first sole supplier agreement with top Belgian plastic pallet manufacturer Innova Packaging Systems (IPS), now CABKA-IPS. This gave us UK exclusivity to their 50-strong product range. It was also a turning point for us as plastic pallet experts, paving the way for four further exclusive partnerships with Q-Pall, SmartFlow, Gamma-Wopla and JCO Plast.

Our range has grown exponentially; we now stock in excess of 160 different styles of plastic pallets, 27 different sizes and styles of plastic pallet boxes and a comprehensive range of smaller plastic containers, crates and trays. Our team too has grown significantly. Today we employ 16 members of staff, who between us boast a total of 155 years’ service.

Q) What are the biggest challenges the business has faced and what are your proudest achievements?

A) A big challenge and one we continue to face is the myth that all plastics are bad. A few years ago, a mass of negative media coverage about plastic appeared following David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II documentary, which exposed the destructive effect plastic pollution is having on our planet. But this misinformed commentary did little to distinguish between the bad ‘single-use’ plastic – we all know we need to use less of, and good ‘reusable’ plastic items – like our plastic pallets.

96% of our plastic pallets are made from recycled plastic and can be fully recycled at the end of their long working life, which leads me to one of our proudest achievements. Two years ago, we pioneered the UK’s first plastic pallet recycling scheme committing to collect and recycle each and every plastic pallet and box we supply. Recently we expanded the scheme to take back and recycle any plastic pallets and boxes regardless of who supplied them. You could say we’re on a mission to clean up the nation of old or unused plastic pallets and boxes – and take responsibility where others are not!

Another achievement that stands out is our first overseas project. In 2004 we were approached by Qatar’s largest warehouse equipment company who was looking for pallets to help store and replenish duty free stocks at the new Hamad International Airport in Doha. It was a hugely important project on a gigantic scale that saw us supply 10,000 plastic pool pallets; the new airport when complete was expected to occupy 29sq km – roughly a third of Doha itself – and have an annual capacity for 50 million passengers!

portrait Jim Hardisty
Jim Hardisty

Q) What are some of the changes you’ve seen since starting out?

A) Plastic pallets are continuing to gain market share year on year. A recent report by Grand View Research Inc. predicted the global plastic pallets market to be worth USD 10.4 billion or approximately 7.5 billion GBP by 2028. The wider adoption of plastic pallets is considered to be due to the low cost per trip long term compared to counterparts, as well as their durability, reusable properties and superior hygienic performance. 

Customers are increasingly looking for solutions that work seamlessly in automation – everything from automated conveyor systems and shuttle systems to advanced robotics. Here plastic pallets and boxes excel as their consistent dimensions mean they move seamlessly through the automated warehouse, with no sharp edges, nails or splinters to cause disruption.  In 2004 we also saw the launch of ISPM15 – the regulations that require wooden pallets to be kiln dried, heat treated and stamped to certify they meet global safety standards. India, Nigeria and Sri Lanka were among the first to adopt the regulations, but the list of countries now exceeds 48 including the UK, since post-Brexit trade rules require all wooden pallets carrying goods between the UK and EU to be ISPM15 compliant.

Q) Two years since the launch of your plastic pallet recycling scheme, what scope do you see for expanding this further?

A) We’ve had tremendous support and praise from customers, yet uptake remains relatively low, at just 0.56% of our customer base. I think this is a clear sign of the durability and long lifespan of our plastic pallets and boxes. 

When customers buy our heavy-duty plastic pallets for instance, they know they’re investing in a reliable product – one that will withstand the harshest working environments and last up to 10 times longer than a wooden pallet. Despite the tremendously challenging year we’ve all had, we’ve upheld our Responsibility Policy and not lost sight of our recycling goals. With this in mind we’ve set an ambitious recycling target for 2021 of more than 260 tonnes of plastic waste.

In our first two years we’ve collected back and recycled more than 474 tonnes of plastic waste from customers’ used plastic pallets and boxes – that’s a total of 77 full truck loads. Each truck load sent to CABKA-IPS’ recycling facility is returned to the UK with a full truck load of newly recycled plastic pallets and boxes – ready to support a new application.

Q) What recent trends are you seeing? 

A) I think we’re going to continue to see huge growth in warehouse automation but also the digitisation of the warehouse. Take the Internet of Things (IoT) for example, last year it was predicted that 35 billion IoT devices will be installed worldwide by early 2021. 

Since the first lockdown we’ve experienced a huge uplift in enquiries from pharmaceutical companies and their suppliers for both distribution and production applications. One of these enquiries saw us supplying plastic pallets to a leading international pharmaceutical provider to help transport one of the vital ingredients that makes up the second-approved Covid vaccine.

Q) Any recent additions to your product portfolio or team?

A) In November we welcomed Steve Penney, our new UK key account sales manager. In his three decades working in the pallet sector Steve has been involved in many high-profile projects specifying and supplying plastic pallets and containers for end users in the food, pharmaceutical, automotive, packaging and consumer retail sectors. 

In terms of products, we will soon be introducing a new product to our folding large containers range, so watch this space!

Q) What can you reveal about your future plans for the business?

A) We have ambitious growth targets; our aim is to achieve 20% growth year on year for the next five years, which we feel is achievable with the support of our manufacturing partners and of course, our loyal customers.

Our recycling scheme will continue to be an important part of our offering, but this is just one part of our Responsibility Policy; we remain committed to helping create more sustainable supply chains, providing long lasting, reusable, recyclable plastic pallets – products that help protect our planet.

Whilst we’re seeing increased adoption of digital technology in the warehouse, we’re also continually looking at ways we can evolve our offering. Last year we transformed one of our meeting areas into a product demonstration room, where our plastic pallet experts can give live, virtual product demos so customers don’t have to leave their workspace.

We’re increasingly relying on digital technology more to communicate with our customers and our manufacturing partners too, where we’re looking into solutions that will see our plastic pallets becoming more digitally ‘connected’ than ever before.

The firm is looking into solutions that will see its pallets become more digitally ‘connected’