Efficiency first

Norsk Lastbærer Pool operates a pallet return system between Norwegian manufacturers and wholesalers that aims to encourage the adoption of sustainable measures across the country’s grocery industry

Heated debates around how pallets should be dealt with, gave birth to Norsk Lastbærer Pool (NLP) in 2006. Numerous discussions between grocery suppliers and wholesalers in Norway led to the conclusion that they should join forces and work together, in order to make the use of pallets more efficient and environmentally-friendly. Having come to an agreement, NLP was set up with two organisations sharing its ownership equally – DLF (the non-profit association of the grocery suppliers of Norway) and DMF (a trade organisation in the country).

The company’s Projects Manager, Kim Louise Soleng, takes us through the milestones the business has achieved since its inception. “NLP was founded around the time plastic pallets were gradually beginning to supplant euro pallets across the industry, so the focus for us in the first couple of years was the development of plastic pallets; the first kind of which became a reality in the spring of 2010. I think today there is an equal use of wooden and plastic pallets across Norway’s grocery industry, although it is obvious that more and more businesses are looking to move to plastic products,” she observes.

Triangular model
Drawing inspiration from the work Svenska Retursystem was undertaking in neighbouring Sweden, NLP then started its co-operation discussion around a common pallet. This in turn helped the Norwegian company to continue with the active launch of new items, and in 2010, it released its free-standing plastic crates. “We have been growing rapidly since then and have introduced several new types of pallets in quick succession, including the plastic half-pallet and the one-third pallet,” Kim explains.

From its onset, NLP’s pallet return system was viewed as a means to supply the industry with efficient and environmentally-friendly items that can be reused as many times as possible. Hence, the company began to produce its pallets in plastic, which can be recycled and then put in rotation once again. What Kim calls ‘a triangular model’ works as follows: NLP sends its goods to the wholesalers, who, in turn, transfer them to the retailers, and the latter return the used pallets to NLP, which washes them, subjects them to quality control and then sends them back in circulation. “We have almost a million pallets that are constantly being moved between the wholesalers and the retailers, some of which are almost ten years old, which speaks volumes of their durability,” Kim points out.

The administrative headquarters of the company in the village of Langhus, in the south of Norway, is also the location of NLP’s operational facility, measuring 20,000 square metres. Kim tells us more about it: “We currently have four washing lines there, one of which is a state-of-the-art machine, where we wash and control all three types of pallets we handle. The remaining washing facilities are for washing the crates. All the lines are equipped with quality and vision control systems, as well as with RFID (radio-frequency identification).”

Due to its geographical location and the length of Norway, NLP is in the process of building a new facility in the northern part of the country, which is scheduled to open in the early months of 2019. “The distances here are big, so it is worthwhile trying to shorten lead times for our customers, by reducing the miles that pallets have to travel. Needless to say, this is also going to reduce transportation costs and the environmental impact we have,” Kim maintains.

She claims that NLP has always been very clear and specific about its long-term vision of where it wants to be within the grocery industry, and in 2017, the company directed its attention primarily to enlarging its presence in Norway’s food and beverage supply chain. It placed special emphasis on ensuring the efficiency of its crates and the lower environmental impact they have, compared to other existing options. “We did some research last year that allowed us to back our proposition with some solid data, which confirms the environmental-friendliness of our products,” Kim highlights. “For example, we found that if our customers were to switch from cardboard to reusable plastic crates, that would reduce their carbon footprint by 56 per cent, which is a considerable figure that can really boost sustainability.

“Similarly, we studied the effects our pallets have on the environment, and, according to our findings, if businesses replace standard euro pallets with NLP pallets, they would reduce their CO2 emissions by 31 per cent. Having done this research, our goal from now on will be to continue promoting the values of our products, and look to make our operations even more environmentally-friendly,” Kim enthuses.

She elaborates on the plans NLP has laid out for the rest of 2018: “We are eager to introduce a process that will allow us to reuse some of the plastic from those pallets that can no longer be repaired. We do not want to waste the material, so we are looking at ways to recycle it in-house and use it the production of new NLP products, which will further decrease our own carbon footprint.” Kim is also confident that NLP will have presented a new type of pallet by the end of the year – a ‘smarter pallet’ with a temperature sensor and NB-IoT that will enable the customers to track the behaviour of some of the supply chain aspects. “All of our items already feature RFID, the information of which can be used by the industry as a form of internal control of their operations,” she explains. “I think that a lot of the companies in Norway have reached the limit of what they can do internally, whilst pursuing their own CO2 reduction goals. This is where we want to step up and provide them with accurate data and a cust mer support service that will help them meet their targets.”