CoRTP: Building sustainable supply chains with returnable packaging

© CoRTP

The Shanghai-based startup’s award-winning returnable transit packaging reduced carbon emissions in 2020 by 250,000 tons, and the figure is estimated to reach 8m by 2030 

Single-use packaging is a massive waste of resources and also a significant source of environmental pollution. In China alone, over 30m tons of steel, paper pulp, wood and plastics are consumed every year to produce single-use packaging, which generates around 16m tons of contaminated waste, and the numbers are growing. 

CEO and founder of CoRTP, Jacky Liao, wanted to make a change. A transit packaging veteran, who had led a company engaged in packaging R&D, design and manufacturing for over a decade, Liao started CoRTP (initially known as HOREN) in 2013 to focus on returnable transit packaging (RTP), which can be used repeatedly, and in CoRTP’s case, for 10 years. 

However, a high loss rate of about 20% and a low turnover ratio – only five times per year – hampered the widespread adoption of RTP. To solve the problem, CoRTP made RTP intelligent with the use of IoT technology. With GPS and a range of sensors for temperature, acceleration and gravity, operators can check the real-time data and monitor packaged goods to ensure the shipment is not in potentially damaging conditions and prevent package loss.

CoRTP has designed packages for bulk liquids, fresh produce, express mail, flowers, cold chain products and auto parts. Its smart, foldable cooler container for cold chain products, with a screen to display temperature and humidity, won the RedDot Award 2020. A 4:1 folding ratio and a flip cover that can be stored inside also minimizes the storage space needed on return. 

Since its establishment, CoRTP has also landed a growing list of clients, including Walmart, Alibaba’s Hema supermarkets, Wumart, one of China's earliest and biggest retailers, L'Oreal and Shandong Expressway Logistics Group. It also raised four funding rounds from investors, including China-US Green Fund, Lantern Venture, and Vertex VENTURES.

Package rental model

To facilitate widespread adoption of RTP, the company launched a platform in 2017, introducing a sharing model. With the platform, CoRTP’s business clients don’t necessarily have to purchase the smart containers. They can use its mobile app to place an order, and the platform will arrange delivery and collection of the containers using the company’s nationwide service network. 

CoRTP has over 2,000 such service locations in about 200 cities, with more than 200,000 returnable containers circulating within the network. Its own two factories, with an annual capacity of about 400,000 containers, laid the foundation for the rental model.

© CoRTP

“Although most businesses still prefer offline rental models, going online and digital is the general trend in the logistics industry,” Liao said. “What differentiates CoRTP from its peers is our emphasis on, and inputs into the effort for, an intelligent digital transformation in logistics.”

According to the startup, its returnable single-trip packaging costs at least 30% less than conventional packaging using cardboard or wooden boxes. The real-time data gathered from its IoT-equipped containers also enables the business clients to keep track of their goods and make more informed decisions. 

Through data analytics, the platform can also predict demand based on the idleness and utilization ratios of CoRTP’s containers. Such value-added services are currently provided to clients for free as CoRTP is still in the process of educating the market.   

“CoRTP’s digital platform can not only help manage assets in real-time and enable data-based rental business but also replace single-use packages with returnable ones to cut back on resource consumption and environmental pollution,” said Bai Bo, CEO of China-US Green Fund, which led CoRTP’s 9-digit RMB Series C funding round in 2019.

CoRTP claims that in 2020 alone its innovation reduced carbon emissions by 250,000 tons and the figure could reach 8m by the end of the decade.

Overseas expansion

As single-use packaging is a global issue, CoRTP has set its sights on overseas markets to make a bigger impact. In November 2020, it struck a partnership with DPD, Europe’s second-largest parcel service network. With more than 46,000 pickup outlets across the continent, DPD delivers more than 5.3m parcels daily.

Besides providing DPD with 25,000 containers, CoRTP spent two years on R&D and finally came up with a customized express packaging and AI-enabled dispatching SaaS for DPD. The new system, which went live before Christmas last year, enables operators to check information about locations, asset distribution and loss alert in real-time. It can also help with predicting demand and planning routes and transport capacity.

Since CoRTP put the system in place, packaging efficiency at each pickup point increased by more than 50% and the packaging loss rate fell from 45% to less than 3%. The partnership is expected to help DPD save about $5m in packaging costs each year. “CoRTP’s AI-powered dispatching system has significantly increased our delivery efficiency, especially during our holiday seasons. The cost-saving is beyond our expectation,” said Paul Herring, Waste & Resources Manager at DPD UK. 

Besides DPD, CoRTP’s overseas clients include global supply chain solutions provider CHEP, the US Postal Service, Sumisho Global Logistics in Japan and New Zealand’s returnable packaging solutions provider Viscount FCC. It has set up teams in over 10 countries, including the US, Japan and Germany, to bring CoRTP’s low-carbon logistics solutions to more businesses worldwide.

Edited by S. Mani

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