The Case for Reusable Packing

Looking for a way to make your supply chain more efficient? You might want to consider reusable packaging.

Reusable packaging includes pallets, racks, bulk containers, bins, dollies, handheld containers, and dunnage typically made from durable materials such as plastic, wood, and metal. Traditional packaging solutions are designed for one-time use, but reusable packaging can withstand the rigors of the supply chain for five years or more.

Using reusable packaging can make your supply chain more efficient from both an operational and environmental standpoint.

Operationally, reusable packaging can help you reduce overall packaging costs, product damage, labor cost, required warehouse/transport space, costs per trip, energy usage, and the number of trips you make. It can improve workplace efficiency and workplace safety. Studies have found that, on average, reusable packaging generates 29 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions and 95 percent less solid waste than single-use packaging, and it consumes 39 percent less energy.

Let's look at a couple of examples that offer lessons for the electronics supply chain.

ANG Newspapers (ANG) in California has the largest daily circulation among newspapers in the East Bay and the third largest in the San Francisco Bay Area. Facing the high costs of wooden pallet breakage and waste removal (wood waste) and seeking to improve its distribution system, ANG made the switch to reusable pallets. The switch has reduced annual labor costs by $46,000 and prevented 37 tons of wood waste per year. Additionally, less space is needed to store pallets, and the company has improved operations and worker safety. It realized a return on investment (ROI) of 125 percent.

Another example: Ghirardelli Chocolate Co. was spending $520,000 a year for 580,000 cardboard boxes for internal distribution. The boxes tended to collapse when they were stacked. This damaged the product and generated $2,700 of disposal costs for soiled cardboard. To reduce packaging costs and cardboard waste and to improve its environmental performance, Ghirardelli invested in reusable totes. The investment will provide the company with a net savings of $1.95 million, eliminate 350 tons of cardboard waste per year, and decrease repetitive stress injuries. What's more, the company has realized an ROI of 325 percent.

Though reusable packaging is generally better suited for closed-loop systems, it is possible to increase your supply chain efficiency by using reusable packaging and working with third-party poolers.

Want to learn more about reusable packaging? Jerry Welcome, president of the Reusable Packaging Association, wrote an article for Packaging Revolution on how to determine if reusable packaging can boost your profits. Also, the Reusable Packaging Association provides calculators to help companies estimate the environmental and economic differences between one-way and reusable packaging systems.

The US market for returnable transport packaging (RTP) is estimated to exceed $1.1 billion. The Priority Metrics Group projects that the RTP market will grow at a compound annual rate of 6.1 percent over the next few years. By 2017, it expects the global market to reach $6.75 billion.

Reusable packaging may not be right for everyone, but the industry is growing, and the benefits can be large.

11 comments on “The Case for Reusable Packing

  1. SP
    October 25, 2013

    Wth amount of ewaste and dry waste being generated in this age, reusable packing is what is most desired.

  2. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    October 25, 2013

    Reusable packaging seems like such a good choice from the standpoint of cost, corporate citizenship, marketing opportunity and the rest, i find it suprising that it is not more common. Is it a lot more costly? Are there other concerns? What's holding folks back?

  3. prabhakar_deosthali
    October 26, 2013

    In my opinion, wherever the health issues are not concerned, such as medicines, health supplies, fruits & vegetables , the reusable packaging can be harmlessly used.

    Since any packaging gets all kind of abuse in the hands of the people, machines , the vehicles in which the goods are transported – its oginal shape, strength may get affected.

    To reuse such packaging, some validation of the original strength characteristics may be in order.

  4. Taimoor Zubar
    October 26, 2013

    While I do agree that using reusable packaging inside factories for pallets and boxes is a good move to prevent damage to the environment, I'm not sure if it's a good enough effort. The actual waste is related to the product packaging directly and that has a much higher impact on the environment compared to pallets or similar items that are only used in smaller quantities.

  5. Taimoor Zubar
    October 26, 2013

    “Is it a lot more costly? Are there other concerns? What's holding folks back?”

    @Hailey: I may sound very cynical but for most companies, concern for environment comes under CSR which is just a way of getting public attention and becoming favorable in front of people and authorities. When companies conduct any environmental protection activities, they want these to be noted. Something like using reusable packaging within factories might not have that much recognition and impact.

  6. _hm
    October 26, 2013

    @Prabhakar: I also think on same line as yours. There are many consideration to be evaluated for reusable packaging material. Yes, it can be good practice and should be used.


  7. Himanshugupta
    October 26, 2013

    reuseable packing kind of exist today but it is an expensive alternative. I think government intervention can help the resuable packing industry. Just as the ban on plastic bags, the reusable packing is not in vogue but people might also be not aware of the potential problems of normal packing material.

  8. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    October 27, 2013

    @prabhakar, I hear what you are saying but i don't think that reusable necessarily means less robust. Think about the metal pallet above–i bet it has much better strength than its coutnerparts. Sometimes, single use packaging is what leads to quality problems. Although not an electronics examples, i think of water bottles that are getting increasingly thinner… better for the enfiroment but i had one crack in my bag recently. Not good.

  9. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    October 27, 2013

    @Taimoor…what  you say is sad but true.

  10. SunitaT
    October 27, 2013

    Reusable packaging was a term introduced many years back, and now it is being incorporated in the supply chain. Manufacturers are growing tired from all the hassles they have to endure from environmental activists, which actually do harm their sales and does not generate interests from mass media. Adopting reusable packing will not only benefit the environment or reduce their wastes and increase their savings, but also shut the environmentalists up. This is actually favour market growth.

  11. Taimoor Zubar
    October 29, 2013

    @Himanshugupta: I think the only time you can ban plastic or non-reusable packaging is when you have an alternate that's as good as the the non-reusable one. Right now, I see paper packaging being used but that's not an equal alternative. You need more innovation in this area before you can put up a ban.

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