Steve Millward, general manager of bakery equipment company Bakers Basco, explains why bread baskets now come with chips

Reusable transport packaging (RTP) doesn’t sound the most exciting of topics, but can be pretty dramatic, particularly when you’re trying to track down missing equipment in a field in the middle of the country.

RTP is, by its very nature, sturdy, well-designed, reusable and, to certain people, highly desirable so long as they don’t have to pay for them.

Take our bread baskets: we own and manage a pool of four million baskets on behalf of some of the UK’s biggest bakers, plus half a million dollies in order to wheel stacks of them around.

The baskets are made out of heavy-duty plastic so they can last up to eight years, at which point they get recycled and turned into something else.

One of our big problems, though, is when people decide to recycle our baskets before they have reached the end of their useful lives – so they can sell the plastic on as raw material. They only see the profit for themselves, they don’t see the cost to others. But there is a very real cost, which hits our members, retailers and, not least, consumers in terms of higher prices.

One way to stamp out this behaviour is old-fashioned detective work to track down people who are stealing these products in volume. But technology is a wonderful thing, and we’ve had some brilliant successes in the past year using GPS tracking. The latest generation of chips are so small, you can only spot them if you know they’re there.

So far, we’ve managed to bust a couple of operations, with tracking chips hidden inside some of our baskets leading us to recycling plants where they were stacked ready to be ground into raw plastic. Working with the police and other authorities, we’ve been able to reclaim our property, and some belonging to other people as well.

We’ve also used them to catch a number of food companies and retailers that prefer to ‘borrow’ someone else’s equipment. While this is not the same level of behaviour as the large-scale recycling gangs, it is illegal nonetheless.

In the grand scheme of things, our use of technology to stop people abusing our baskets is relatively tame – we’re not talking about the kind of gadgets that Q supplies to James Bond here. But we’re pretty proud of what we’ve been able to do so far, and while chips might just be the start of it, we are definitely looking at how we can deploy other high-tech gadgetry in defence of our property.