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BRUSSELS, BELGIUM — European resin suppliers are preparing to introduce reusable plastic pallets for resin shipments, as part of a regional pallet recovery system.

The addition of plastic pallets marks the next phase of a Pallet Return System, launched in January and devised and coordinated by the Association of Plastics Manufacturers in Europe, a Brussels-based trade group for resin suppliers.

Initially, the system involved shipping resin to plastics processors on wooden pallets. The empty pallets then were collected at no cost, repaired, and returned to the resin suppliers for reloading.

PRS, a subsidiary of Faber Halberpsma Group of Gendt, Netherlands, head the operation. PRS, which owns the pallets, also collects them from processors to inspect, clean and repair them at its 20 depots across Europe, before they are returned to the participating resin producers.

So far, seven APME member companies have contracted PRS to return pallets from processor customers. A total of 30 resin plants from Norway to Switzerland and all European Union nations except Greece are served by the operation.

Resin groups participating include Borealis AS of Lyngby, Denmark; Dow Europe of Horgen, Switzerland; DSM NV of Sittard, Netherlands; LVM of Tessenderlo, Belgium; and Montell Polyolefins, Fina Chemicals and Exxon Chemical Europe, all from Brussels.

Marc Vanhoudt, PRS general manager, said some German resin producers have shown interest and may join the project.

The APME project already reports that about 2 million pallets are being reused an average of four times, before being disposed of because they are too badly damaged, according to APME coordinator Anne-Marie Hamelton.

In 1994, plastic resin transport in Europe was improved when more than 150 different pallet types used were standardized to just nine by APME members. The new pallet return system now covers just four of the types most commonly used.

The resin producers pick up the tab for pallet delivery, rental, retrieval, inspection, repair, replacement and disposal. Molders are saved the cost of pallet storage and disposal and, according to APME, see improved handling efficiency.

APME adds that the system helps the environment by reducing packaging entering the waste stream and cuts the use of natural resources.

The project was prompted by discussion following the introduction of Germany's Packaging Ordinance concerned with improved recycling of packaging waste.

``We were looking to promote mechanical recycling,'' said Fred Mader, APME deputy director general. ``The applications are limited, like garbage bags.''

``Then we came on the idea of industrial pallets. ... [We decided that] they should be used by our own member companies to transport their goods using a product made from recycling their own raw material,'' he said.

Three years ago, APME launched a project with several molders of plastic pallets to develop a plastic reusable pallet, and to define what recycled resins should be used for the product.

The first pallet prototypes have now been produced and are being tested, with a commercial product slated to be available in the second half of 1997, Mader said. The pallet will be produced using polyethylene and polypropylene from used film and some bottles.

``But the plastic pallet can only make sense if it is circulated and reused through a pooling system. Then it will pay off because you can certainly use a plastic pallet more often than a wooden one,'' he added.