EGHAM: Building materials provider CEMEX has 20% of its cement pallets returned under a retrieval scheme it launched a year ago.

The scheme was the first of its kind in the cement industry and aimed to recover as many as possible of the 250 000 CEMEX pallets distributed annually to about 600 different builders merchant outlets. The alternative is for the pallets to be thrown away or shredded.

Over 10 million bags of CEMEX Rugby cement are sold every year and transported on pallets. "In the UK, the cost of pallets has escalated with prices rising by 15% in 2007 and 20% in 2008," explained Graham Russell, vice president commercial, logistics and building products.

"For economic reasons as well as environmental, it made sense to find a way to prevent all those pallets going to waste."

The simple system recovers the pallets – a stringer style measuring 120cm by 92cm – which are reconditioned and recycled back into the system, minimising waste and offering a service to the company's customers.

"For builders' merchants, with land scarce for storage and landfill tippage charges always increasing, the scheme relieves them of the financial and physical burden of disposal," said Mr Russell.

The recovery operation is run in conjunction with European Logistics Management (ELM).

"We get excellent data about who is and who isn't returning the pallets and we take every opportunity to show the merchant that the pallets have a value, they aren't free and it is in their interest to return them," Mr Russell said.

"The first year has been successful in keeping pallets in the system for several repeated shipments, though repairs and quality control become of increasing importance the longer they are in the system."