Returnable containers are valuable assets. Unfortunately, they're not top of mind among many supply chain workers. Some see very little value in them and equate them with any other transport packaging commodity. Others recognize not only their value as containers but also the value of their base materials on the open market—and therefore may be tempted to find ways to extract that value through illegal means. 

See Also: Global Supply Chain Logistics Management

What's needed in any supply chain flowing with returnables is accountability at every level in the organizations throughout that chain, whether at the supplier, a distribution center, a carrier, a transportation provider, a logistics service provider or anyone at the final destination. It's everyone's responsibility. 

Tracking: An Automotive Priority

Players in the automotive industry learned the importance of shared responsibility long ago, thanks to organizations dedicated to helping it improve its supply chain productivity and security. The Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG) is one of those organizations, and it has a position on its staff dedicated to "supply chain program development" to support those causes. As AIAG's manager of supply chain program development, Jim Zamjahn follows trends in the use of assets like returnable containers. Once in a while he'll be surprised by what he learns in his research.

"There's always been theft of returnables, but what has surprised me is the rise in reporting of those thefts," he says. "In some cases it's organized. Organized theft rings profit from trafficking in these containers. Crooks will take advantage of situations where there is vulnerability, whether it be at a DC or carrier yard. If there's no tracking program associated with them they become fungible assets." 

Thanks to the Sarbanes Oxley Act, more companies are paying attention to the value of all their assets. Where returnable containers were once the tip of the iceberg, they're quickly becoming the whole iceberg for many shippers.