Circular by design

Metal and plastic drums, as well as a wide range of rigid intermediate bulk containers, are nearly perfect examples of environmental circularity.  Tens of millions of these containers are produced annually all over the world, filled with a variety of products, including dangerous goods, transported safely to a user who, after emptying, arranges with a reconditioner to have them collected, reconditioned, tested for safety and then reused.

Containers found to be no longer fit for their original intended purpose are professionally scrapped, after which the raw materials begin a new life. 

This extraordinarily global system of packaging use, reuse and eventually recycling has been in place for centuries, starting with wooden barrels and which, today, includes dozens of different industrial packaging designs made primarily from steel and high density polyethylene (HDPE).  Industrial packaging reuse saves energy and significantly reduces carbon emissions through repeated reconditioning and reuse – which requires significantly less energy than recycling single-trip containers.  Best of all, industrial packaging reuse has a proven global safety record.  

The chart below shows the life cycle of an industrial packaging, from production all the way through to reuse and, eventually, recycling.

Upstream Processes

Our contribution

ICCR members operate industrial packaging reconditioning facilities all over the world.  A steel drum filled in Europe, for example, may be safely transported all the way to South Africa where, after emptying, it will be collected by a container reconditioner who will clean, recondition and test the container, and then find a customer who is able to use it again.  This process can repeat itself many times for the same container, saving energy, reducing waste and greatly limiting the production of carbon and other greenhouse gases (CO2e).  

Exemplary CO2e1 Reduction

Industrial packaging reuse saves large amounts of CO2e when compared to a single-trip packaging of the same design.2  For example:

  • Reconditioning an IBC using a wash process can save nearly 70% of the CO2e emissions associated with manufacturing a new IBC.  Other forms of IBC reprocessing save between 25% and 40% of CO2e.
  • Reconditioning a 220 litre HDPE drum reduces the amount of CO2e emitted by about 27% when compared with a newly manufactured plastic drum.
  • Reconditioning a 220 litre open head steel drum instead of using a newly manufactured drums lowers the carbon emission footprint by about 66%. Similar CO2e savings are obtained when reusing a 220 litre tight head steel drum.

1 The term “CO2e” includes carbon and other greenhouse gases. To take into account the emission of other greenhouse gases when calculating the level of greenhouse gas emissions, scientists have devised an equivalent measure – CO2e (which literally means carbon dioxide equivalent). CO2e allows other greenhouse gas emissions to be expressed in terms of CO2 based on their relative global warming potential (GWP).

2 Life Cycle Assessment of Newly Manufactured and Reconditioned Industrial Packaging from

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