All About IBC Tote Reuse and Recycling

Think about drinking a plastic bottle of water. When you finish your liquid refreshment, you have three options. You can throw the bottle in a garbage can, where it is destined for a landfill. You can toss the bottle in the recycling bin, where it’s converted to a new plastic substance. Or, you can save the bottle, wash it out, and use it again.

If you decide to reuse the bottle, maybe the next morning you fill it with orange juice for your morning beverage, then refill it again with water later in the day. You’ll start to notice the quality of the bottle has quickly deteriorated. It’s crinkled up and gives easily in your grip, and now when you take a drink, the water tastes a little funny. You’re picking up hints of orange and an essence of plastic. Safe to say, it’s probably time to toss the bottle.

It’s easy to think the sturdy shipping and storage containers we buy will maintain their integrity indefinitely — unlike a flimsy water bottle — but the fact is that every container has a shelf life. However, more manufacturers and warehouse managers are maximizing their IBC totes by reusing them or selling them to collection services that resell to happy after-market buyers.

Shipping and storage containers can represent a large expenditure for some companies, and simply tossing them after one use bruises your bottom line and contributes to the ever-expanding waste stream. That’s why proper reuse and recycling are musts for any company making use of these common containers.

The nuts and bolts of reusing IBCs

Because IBC totes are among the most expensive shipping containers available, they are commonly reused and recycled. An intermediate bulk container is typically used to ship or store liquid and consists of a large plastic bottle secured inside a metal cage. The bottle is fitted with a specialized valve that allows the user to access the liquid inside in a way that best suits their operations. IBC totes are common in many industries, and are useful in holding milk, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, solvents and any other liquid or viscous material a company needs to move from one place to the next.

IBC totes are large, with a capacity to hold anywhere from 100 gallons up to 550 gallons. Because they feature metal and plastic materials, prices can range from $100 up to hundreds of dollars per container. Their cost and durability offer companies great incentive to reuse these containers, with some IBC totes even manufactured with reuse as the main goal.

For the most part, IBC totes are fairly easy to reuse. Typically they can be washed and refilled two to three times before they outlive their usefulness. Often, the determining factor in whether an IBC tote can be reused lies in whatever material was placed in the bottle initially. For example, the food industry finds much reuse capability with IBC totes. A tote bottle holding milk can be drained, cleaned, tested for leaks, and reused. On the other hand, a manufacturer receiving epoxy in IBC totes won’t be able to reuse the containers because he’ll never be able to completely clean them. Likewise, corrosive chemicals can degrade the plastic container, making the IBC tote unusable.
Some manufacturers receive product in IBC totes, but have no use for the empty tote once the material is removed. These companies often sell their used totes to reclamation companies, saving them the expense of disposal (because it’s not free to have these things hauled to the landfill) and giving them the satisfaction of being environmentally responsible.

Value of an IBC tote on the resale market

When an IBC tote enters the resale market, its value is determined by a number of factors:

The tote’s reuse potential: Did the tote first carry a chemical agent? If so, the buyer pool is limited to those who find this acceptable. Transporters of water, food products or other sensitive materials do not want to take the chance that their material could become adulterated by the last liquid to occupy the space.

Habits of the first owner: The way an IBC tote is treated by its first owner affects how attractive it will be in the resale market. Totes can be left outside and exposed to the elements, or could have been stacked too high, damaging their integrity. Companies that collect IBC totes for resale evaluate their durability and test the integrity of the bottle. When buying used IBC totes, it’s important to choose a trusted vendor, so you know the product you’re getting is safe for your use.

Movement of the petroleum industry: As the price of oil fluctuates, it affects the price of IBC totes because a good amount of them are made with petroleum-derived plastic. Higher oil prices drive up the prices of IBC totes, which helps invigorate the resale market. However, when oil prices drop, the resale market can dry up. Just like we see in the price of gas, the oil industry instigates significant volatility in the IBC tote market.
When an IBC tote reaches the end of its life, many reclamation companies will pick them up to be recycled for parts. With a good amount of metal and plastic, value remains in breaking down the container to be made into something else. It’s the environmentally friendly thing to do and, hey, it’s still probably cheaper than having a waste remover haul it to the dump.

Supply Pointe carries a variety of IBC totes, tank and containers. We buy IBC Totes, we sell IBC Totes and we Recycle IBC Totes. We can also remove them from your business!  Fill out the form for a free quote or give us a call at:

Midwest Region – Cincinnati (513) 403-4943

Southeast Region – Charlotte (513) 315-6307

Scroll to Top