‘With multi-use Euro Plant Tray, the industry can move away from single-use, throwaway plastic’

Euro Plant Tray is arguably the industry’s largest collaborative project to boost multi-use plant trays.

The European cooperative Euro Plant Tray eG is a cross-industry initiative that brings the entire horticulture community together to significantly reduce the number of single-use plant trays in the sector. It started with Germany and the Netherlands and is now developing into a truly European endeavour, taking bold steps. Euro Plant Tray’s boss Dirk Bansemer and Euro Plant Tray board member and VGB (the Dutch Association of Wholesalers in Floricultural Products) representative Flora Späth strongly believe in the long-term impact of a more eco-friendly and reusable plant tray but candidly admit that Euro Plant Tray’s success and tangible results will not happen overnight.

Euro Plant Tray’s ‘Improve together for more sustainability’ tagline leaves little room for misinterpretation. The multi-use Euro Plant Tray is here to reduce the ornamental plant sector’s environmental impact and increase loading efficiency.

DUH (German Environmental Agency aka Deutsche Umwelthilfe), the Berlin-based Stiftung Initiative Mehrweg SIM (Reusables Initiative Foundation), growers, wholesalers, garden centres, and the wider industry have been working since 2021 to tackle plastic pollution.

All production and trading have an environmental cost, and the growing and marketing of ornamental plants is no different. It is safe to say that plastic trays (and the pots that sit in them naturally) have become a serious waste problem.

If the multi-use Euro Plant Tray were rolled out on a European scale and backed with sufficient funding, quality trays, and a willingness to collaborate, it would ultimately be a win-win for all stakeholders.

But even if it is widely accepted that standardising plant trays and switching from single-use to multi-use trays is a common-sense change, the challenges involved in developing and implementing the Euro Plant Tray are not something to sneeze at.

FCI magazine discusses the roadblocks to the Euro Plant Tray: defining the problem and the solution, the need for sustained engagement with stakeholders and users, prototyping/piloting the solution and planning for implementation.

At the same time, two models of the EPT 400 series made their debut. These and an additional two models of the EPT 200 series -approved by Euro Plant Tray members in the early weeks of 2024 – are currently available for supplies from the producer via wholesalers to garden centres, DIY stores, and the retail trade.

FloraCulture International: First, it is important to understand the numbers. On average, how many single-use plant trays does the industry use?

Flora Späth: “The DUH estimates an average use of 300 million trays annually in Germany alone, 500-700 million in Europe. In this context, it is important to note that Germany imports a sizeable number of potted plants from the Netherlands. According to our information, around 90 to 95 per cent of total used plant trays are single-use ones.”

Euro Plant Tray board member Flora Späth.

Single-use plant trays are not all the same. However, a big portion of these represent the Normpack brand, am I right?

Flora Späth: “There is no doubt that Normpack is the best-known and most widely used. Previous reusable systems like Floratino or Palletino (both not water-holding like the Euro Plant Tray) have only been established in very small numbers and are being traded locally.”

Ultimately, what is the goal behind the Euro Plant Tray?

Flora Späth: “Job number one is to reduce one-way plastic packaging in our industry and thus save up to 40,000 tons CO2 equivalent per year – based on the estimated use of one-way trays from DUH. Equally important is the cross-supply chain cooperation to be done across Europe to ensure that the new system is embraced as a standard industry solution, adding efficiency for all. Working together with partners from the whole supply chain (growers, wholesalers, retailers, auctions, branch organisations), all input is valued and considered in tray design and services, ensuring the best possible product fit for all stakeholders.”

‘Euro Plant Tray, the industry’s largest collaborative project to boost multi-use plant trays, launched before the regulatory framework was in place. Consider it as a declared war on plastic waste’

Within the Euro Plant Tray organisation, what has been the role of the Berlin-based Stiftung Initiative Mehrweg (SIM), established in 1996 under German civil law as a legally responsible foundation?

Dirk Bansemer: “After DUH (Environmental Action Germany) invited around 80 parties to discuss ‘how green the green industry is’, the group decided to look into establishing a company producing a reusable tray in the future. This was the so-called Flower Tray Project, started in 2021. It evolved into the Euro Plant Tray, launched in August 2022. SIM has led the Flower Tray Project as a neutral coordinator, and SIM people are still involved in moderating Euro Plant Tray work.”

Dirk Bansemer, CEO of Euro Plant Tray.

As SIM was among the driving forces behind Euro Plant Tray, green professionals would easily tout it as a German initiative, while the plant trade is mainly a European affair. How European is Euro Plant Tray, and are countries such as the UK and France also involved?

Dirk Bansemer: “Today, the 30 members of Euro Plant Tray come from Germany, Austria, Switzerland, The Netherlands, France, and Norway. Talks are ongoing with potential partners also in other countries. The UK is indeed a bit special even though it is closely connected to the Netherlands via trade. We have one member from France right now, but the interest in Euro Plant Tray is considerable, and several talks are ongoing, as well as some testing of our trays, so we trust we will welcome more French and Scandinavian partners shortly.”

Many regulations and action plans exist for plastics, such as Plastic Pacts. What regulations, (EU) laws, and action plans have urged the sector most to launch the Euro Plant Tray?

Dirk Bansemer: “Euro Plant Tray, the industry’s largest collaborative project to boost multi-use plant trays, launched before the regulatory framework was in place. Consider it as a declared war on plastic waste. Meanwhile, new rules to dramatically reduce packaging waste have become relevant, proof that with Euro Plant Tray, the industry is heading in the right direction.

“I believe we have to look at two things. EU-wide, the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR) is to be finalised in Brussels within the next couple of weeks. It will have the biggest impact as this will tell us which share of reuse transport packaging has to be used by all of us — not just in the flower and plant industry — latest as of 2030. Secondly, we have local laws. Germany, for example, is introducing a one-way plastic tax at the beginning of 2025, which will make the use of existing one-way trays 10-20 cents more expensive – depending on their weight. Spain has been handling such a tax for years already. Here, a one-way tray can be up to 45 cents more expensive. So, from a financial point of view, the move to reuse also depends on the market you are active in – not even considering your moral compass to avoid single-use plastics for the sake of a more sustainable planet.”

In August 2022, wholesale trade bodies VGB en BGI, floral wholesalers FleuraMetz, Markenverband Bremen and Sagaflor and retailers OBI, BAUHAUS and Hornbach put their signatures to the founding act of the European cooperative Euro Plant Tray eG. In 2022, the Austrian garden centre chain Bellaflora, Vahldiek and Royal FloraHolland joined Euro Plant Tray. At the recently held IPM Essen, you showcased test trays for different pot sizes.

Flora Späth: “As we speak, we have 30 members. Our website, Euro Plant Tray eG – Improving Together for More Sustainability, provides a comprehensive overview of members and company profiles. During IPM Essen, we showcased four models: size-wise and comparable to Normpack 400 (five per CC Euro Container layer), we have EPT 775 carrying pots from 10.5 to 13cm, and EPT 777, which carries ten 12cm pots. The latter has been developed especially in association with orchid and Bromelia growers. These represent a very large group in potted plant sales, accounting for an estimated 200 million plants per year. As these plants are relatively tall and have a very high centre of gravity, they would not be 100 per cent stable in the multi-use trays carrying pots up to 13cm. One could argue that the pot hole is “too big”. Yet, this category is so important that it deserves a special tray ensuring safe transport and point-of-sale presentation. Next, two sizes are matching Normpack 200 series (six per CC Euro Container layer): EPT 769 carries pots from 9-10.5cm, and EPT 568 carries pots from 10.5-13cm. We aim to have as few trays as possible and use them efficiently. So, these multi-use trays fit that goal perfectly. They can be used for different plant types. A grower potentially needs one tray size to fit his year-round production in different pot sizes.”

How would you describe the current state of the Euro Plant Tray?

Dirk Bansemer: “Its commercial launch happened last autumn, with the very first decision of members to launch the two models of the 400 series. Production will start this summer, so from autumn 2024, you should find the first Euro Plant Trays in the stores….with increasing numbers obviously in the spring season of 2025 and the time after that. Production for the 200 series should start shortly afterwards. We are currently collecting the respective orders.”

‘Production will start this summer, so from autumn 2024, you should find the first Euro Plant Trays in the stores’

How many Euro Plant Trays do you actually need?

Dirk Bansemer: “It is not what we need but what the market needs. We have first confirmed the need for five million trays in the currently existing sizes, but these are indications of members who are obviously the front runners of the introduction. This said, ordering Euro Plant Trays is open to everybody, independent of membership, and non-members will for sure make up another big part of users in the future. We expect the pool to ramp up to at least 10-20 million units in the next two, three years.”

The Normpack single-use trays are produced by a consortium comprising Bachmann, Desch, Modiform and Teku Poppelmann, of which Royal FloraHolland granted a license. Which company produced your first two Euro Plant Trays, which were shown at IPM Essen?

Dirk Bansemer: “We work with different producers for different models; we speak with three right now. This ensures production capacity and the independence of Euro Plant Tray from just one producer.”

It is safe to say that Normpack has extensive expertise and experience in plant trays. Will the same four packaging companies produce the future Euro Plant Trays?

Dirk Bansemer: “There is definitely a lot of expertise in the Normpack group, and we are in contact with most of the companies you mentioned. However, we produce injection mould trays, while the mentioned companies have a big/biggest production in thermoformed products.”

I am unfortunately old enough to remember how, in 1994, Bloemenveiling Aalsmeer and Bloemenveiling Holland teamed up in SIVEPO, a packaging scheme partially based on a deposit return for plant trays and boxes. Launching the same year was the auction line of terracotta-coloured multi-use trays. These trays never really carved their place in the market.

Flora Späth: “Yes, local schemes never really established. That is why we took an international approach, covering all steps of the green supply chain. On what authority do we believe the Euro Plant Tray will be more successful, and what are the lessons learned from other multi-use trays? Vital is the support of members from across the supply chain and the willingness to work on a solution that is supported and accepted by all. The retailer plays a major role in the acceptance, especially as they are the ones requesting certain packaging at the end. And if they all request the same, this makes life much easier for wholesale and growers as they only have to stock one item! This is certainly a lesson learned from the past, which led to the common approach – more efficiency within the chain also saves costs and is more sustainable in the production and use of any material.”

Next to Royal FloraHolland multi-use trays, there are Floratino trays (also owned by RFH) and Palettino and Floritrays. How do we get all these different brand names in the same Euro Plant Tray row if every tray and the owners behind them have a business model relying on it?

Flora Späth: “FloraHolland is a member of Euro Plant Tray and brings their knowledge and experience to get a common system on its way. Floritray is a product of Landgard, one of our members. Landgard has transferred the Intellectual Property rights of Floritray to Euro Plant Tray to support a quick introduction without a long development phase and to work together for one established system.”

There’s a Dutch saying that you cannot build Aachen and Cologne in one day (in the UK, they say, ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’); in other words, what plant category would be the ideal candidate for the inaugural Euro Plant Trays?

Flora Späth: “As Euro Plant Tray is versatile, you cannot say there is one plant to start with. It is rather up to the different supply chains: When do I want to start? What is my assortment at that time? Where are my growers/wholesalers? How big are my stores, and what is my experience with reusing items?

“If you have a small store, informing all your employees that trays must be collected for re-use will be easier. Suppose you have only one or a few suppliers. In that case, it will be easier to set up a joint return system than to inform multiple suppliers and start with all of them simultaneously. Regular supplies from one or two parties, even different assortments, are a good way to start building experience and learning for your rollout with others. The same goes for the regional setup of stores. My advice would be to focus on one or two regions in the first place and see how it goes, how employees react and what goes wrong. Learn from this and improve your introduction scenario and training for the next step.”

Phalaenopsis could be a good product to start with as it is available year-round, enabling indoor plant department staff and suppliers to learn together.

It is safe to say that for a successful rollout of Euro Plant Trays, you should start with higher-value plants such as Phalaenopsis. What is your opinion?

Flora Späth: “Phalaenopsis could be a good product to start with as it is available year-round, enabling indoor plant department staff and suppliers to learn together.”

What would you say are the main obstacles to overcome for Euro Plant Tray?

Flora Späth: “Within the green industry, we tend not to work ahead a lot. Day-to-day business often takes all our attention and is weather-sensitive, putting high pressure on all involved. However, the changes set in the EU’s 2030 Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR) are underway, and no one should wait until the very last moment to order their Euro Plant Trays. You will need time to establish your setup, your IT system, and your transport, with much ‘last minute demand’. If you want to work efficiently, you must start thinking about this now.
“All Euro Plant Trays will also be equipped with RFID (radio frequency identification) next to the barcode and 2D Datamatrix Code. This gives you additional opportunities for automated processing in handling and registration. However, setting this up will also require time-consuming IT adjustments.”

Critics (read plant retailers) say that they have no space to stock Euro Plant Trays. Also, the open structure of Paletinnos, for example, facilitates easy watering in supermarkets, DIY stores, and discounters. How do we counteract these critics?

Flora Späth: “Well, it is up to the retailer to agree with their supplier when items shall be returned. Today, CC Containers are also returned regularly. You can decide to return any number of Euro Plant Trays as soon as they are empty at the store, which increases the rotation per tray per year. Or you can return only full CC Containers with full stacks of Euro Plant Tray. This depends on the size between 300 and 400 Euro Plant Tray and it takes longer to collect that many empty Euro Plant Trays, hence lower rotation per year. But it is more efficient in terms of return transport space and costs involved. Making this call highly depends on the distance between retail and supplier and delivery frequency. If a supplier delivers regularly, say once or twice a week, but is quite far away, you will probably go for full-stack Euro Plant Trays on a CC Container. If you are a once-off supplier with a special promotion, you probably already want to swap one-by-one upon delivery, as it would not make sense to come only to pick up empties a few weeks later.

“Regarding watering… during the Flowertray project, 350 parties have been interviewed. The bottom line was they prefer a closed watering system. It allows for a better supply of plants during transport and presentation, greatly increasing the plant quality and reducing product shrinkage. Also, open systems produce unwanted dirt in the stores.”

The success of Euro Plant Trays will depend highly on its deposit scheme. How ready is it?

Dirk Bansemer: “From Euro Plant Tray, we will not charge a deposit. Users pay rent to use the item for the time they want to use it, one, three, five, or ten years. We keep the contracted quantities on our systems and expect these to be returned to us should the contract not be prolonged after expiry. In the case of shortfalls, we have agreed on a loss fee with members/tenants. However, members have agreed on a common deposit fee should they want to use a deposit in addition to balance registration with their partners.”

How much rent would traders pay for Euro Plant Trays, and how does this relate to the rent for single-use trays?

Dirk Bansemer: “The hire rate differs for the 400 and 200 models as well as the duration of hire. Another difference is that members get a discounted price compared to non-members, with a price advantage of 10 cents per tray per year. Giving a complete rundown of price options is too complex – especially when compared to single-use. More generally speaking, one can say that the price for a 3-year contract with an annual payment is 69 cents/year/tray. This means that even without taking into account legal requirements and new taxes, at least three to four cycles are enough to be economically more favourable than with disposable trays.”

How important is it that Euro Plant Trays rolls out in tandem with the Hortifootprint calculator?

Flora Späth: “It’s not important. Transport is only a part of a plant’s footprint, which the Hortifootprint is looking at. Yes, using reused plastic makes a difference, but the influence on the total is limited. Plenty of research shows that reuse has a lower footprint when rotating at least five times per year. It all depends on the specific setup.”

This article was first published in the April 2024 issue of FloraCulture International.

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