The Case for Reusable Packaging

This article was previously published on EBN.

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.