Eco-Friendly Reusable Packaging: Robinson Industries’ Sustainable Approach in Auto and Retail Sectors

Thermoformed and injection molded plastics are versatile materials that can be used in many industries. Yet, like many Michigan companies, Robinson Industries Inc.’s business in reusable plastic packaging for components relied heavily on the automotive industry. The company’s niche is producing reusable packaging such as trays and pallets that companies use to transport parts and components, like transmissions, safely from one factory or supplier to another in the assembly of finished products, like automobiles.

When the components are removed from the packaging, the packaging is returned to the supplier to be refilled.

Robinson Industries has added packaging products for environmental industries, such as solar panel and wind turbine manufacturers, and retailers. “We’ve made a big effort to diversify, and that plus the U.S. automotive industry coming back has helped turn things around,” reports Ronda Robinson, marketing manager.

The company, which ships its products internationally, also is manufacturing returnable displays for retail in which a product sits on a pallet with a “sleeve” around it advertising the product. “The containers that are used for shipping are actually also used for display in the store,” Robinson explains.

Robinson Industries is producing reusable packaging to ship parts for military vehicles, advanced batteries and gears for wind turbines. It also is manufacturing the packaging and injection molding a component for a solar panel. The company created a double- walled, reusable container to transport used electrical transformers when they are removed from telephone poles.

The transformers had been leaking hazardous substances when shipped, thereby generating substantial fines from the EPA. But the leaks stopped when the transformers were placed in containers manufactured by Robinson Industries.

The company also manufactures plastic underground storm drains, a plastic ice fishing sled, wheelbarrows, modular desk furniture, a dog house shaped like an igloo and drip pans. “We do quite a bit of those drip pans,” Robinson notes.

The Green Choice

Robinson Industries vacuum forms, thermoforms, extrudes and injection molds polyethylene, polypropylene and structural foam. It also provides design and engineering, prototyping, tooling and research. “Most of what we do can be designed to be very strong and resilient,” Robinson explains. “I’ve been in plants before that have been using the same pallets for 15 years. They’re very durable.

“You might not think that plastic is the green choice, but evaluating all the information, it’s obvious that it is the environmentally friendly alternative for parts and packaging, because you can reuse it for years, and then when you’re done, it’s recyclable,” she points out.

“A lot of what we make is made with at least 50 percent recycled content based on customer specifications.”

Plastic also does not harbor insects or rodents as wood materials sometimes do. This makes it good packaging for export businesses. Some insects from other continents have caused tree blights in places where they have been transported inadvertently in wood packaging.

“Plastic passes through customs gates a lot better than wood does,” Robinson maintains.

Other new products are large reusable pallets contractors use to ship drywall sheets to construction sites. Some packaging now requires assembly work based on shake tests that are used to study the effects of transit on parts. Since its achievement of ISO 9001:2000 certification, Robinson Industries is continually improving its 100 acres of operations.

“If you’re being more environmentally conscious, you’re probably being more efficient, which makes us a better supplier,” Robinson points out. “A lot of things you do to be environmentally correct helps you bring down your cost.”