Tracking and managing the use – and reuse – of your plastic containers can get you the insights you need to save money. Knowing who has your reusables, where they are, and how long they’ve been there is actionable data you can use to make decisions about improving efficiency.

But when it comes to the adding more technology and more work for shipping agents, just how specific do you need to get? Does every container need a serialized ID, or can a single bulk label for multiple containers achieve your goals? Individual label tracking and bulk labels – often called “aggregate tracking” – both have their merits. Which option is best can depend on the compliance regulations you’re required to meet, as well as the inflexibility of your supply chain processes.

Aggregate tracking systems track many containers with a single label ID – capturing a single barcode or QR code representing a truckload of hundreds or thousands of reusable containers. While this means we lose specificity of the individual containers sent (or if a thousand really were sent), shipping information is still generated and recorded – namely, the number of containers that were sent, and the receiving party. Bulk tracking systems are most often used when there is a strong trust relationship between both parties, and their shipping processes don’t allow for serialized transactions.

Several metrics cannot be measured when using bulk tracking. Dwell time (how long a reusable container has dwelled at a location) and cycle time (how long it takes containers to pass through a complete cycle) cannot being captured accurately. There is no chain of custody. And since transactions cannot be individually identified or verified, using bulk tracking may cause friction between the billing party and the end user.

However, these systems do provide several benefits. Bulk tracking systems are easier to implement, as each reusable container being tracked does not require its own unique tag, which is an additional savings of the time and expenses needed to undertake such an effort. This can be significant, depending on how many reusables your enterprise works with.

Reusables tracking is becoming more and more common, as enterprises realize that the most successful environmental programs are those that make economic sense. Whether by bulk tracking, or serialized tracking, even a small effort put forth toward management can affect a large return on investment, and give you critical insights you need to improve your bottom line.

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