What Is Reusable Packaging?

Reusable Pallets and Containers Help Businesses Achieve Zero Solid Waste Targets

reusable packaging
Beer kegs are a well established example of reusable packaging. Sigrid Gombert, Getty Images

Reusable packaging is packaging that is used more than one time. Packaging can be designed specifically for reuse, or reuse can be of a more an unplanned nature, and referred to as opportunistic reuse. Reusable packaging is purposefully designed for repeated usage with through design attributes such as durability, ease of use, ease of cleaning, ease of repair, or collapsibility or nestable design to provide inexpensive return when empty.

Reusable packaging reuse can also be opportunistic, in terms of reusing packaging that is not necessarily designed for reuse such as lightweight plastic shopping bags or cardboard boxes.

Reusable packaging can include primary consumer packages, such as beverage containers, as well as transport and industrial packaging. The focus of this piece is on transport and industrial applications.

What Are the Main Types of Reusable Packaging Used?

There are several categories of reusable packaging typically found in industry. Examples of reusable packaging include:

  • Reusable pallets
  • Pallet collars
  • Reusable handheld containers
  • Reusable bulk containers
  • Reusable dunnage
  • Reusable wraps and straps

What Are the Benefits of Reusable Packaging?

The use of reusable packaging can be an attractive option in terms of positive economic, sustainability and social outcomes.

Economic benefits can include direct savings in packaging purchase and disposal as a result of repeated reuse.

Higher initial purchase price ends up translating into a lower cost per trip through repeated reuse. Other economic benefits can come through productivity gains where reusable packaging better addresses the needs of the work process, such as through design for better parts presentation. Reusable packaging is also associated with better protection of parts and reduced damage, as well as storage and transportation efficiencies due to collapsible or nestable design.

Sustainability is aided by the avoidance of expendable packaging, thus negating the need to dispose of it, or to divert it away from the landfill. Better product protection in reusable packaging also aids sustainability through reduction of damage and the investment of resources required to dispose of damaged product as well as to replace it.

In terms of social outcomes, reusable packaging can be designed to improve ergonomics, through the creation of handheld containers with handholds, for example, or drop doors that allow material handlers to work in closer proximity to items to be handled.

Under What Conditions Does Reusable Packaging Offer the Greatest Advantage?

When companies have conditions such as those listed below, they may be in a good position to take advantage of the savings offered by reusable packaging. Such conditions include:

  • High-volume shipments
  • Frequent deliveries
  • Shorter distances
  • Dedicated delivery provider
  • High volumes of solid waste
  • Frequent shrinkage or product damage
  • Expensive expendable packaging
  • Underutilized trailer space in transportation
  • Inefficient storage/warehouse space
  • Worker safety or ergonomic issues
  • Significant need for cleanliness/hygiene
  • Need for unitization

    What Industries Use Reusable Packaging?

    Reusable packaging is used in many industries, and in many points along supply chains. A list of industries where reusables are often used includes:

    • Beverage
    • Produce
    • General Manufacturing
    • Appliance
    • Automotive
    • Food/Grocery
    • Pharmaceutical
    • Electronics
    • Aerospace
    • Chemicals
    • Textile

    What Are the Concerns about Reusable Packaging?

    Worldwide, the supply chain is still dominated by expendable packaging. Reusable packaging is difficult to cost-justify where return logistics costs are high due to long distance or low volumes. Another issue of concern in some applications is pallet and container theft. Approaches for more effectively managing reusable packaging to prevent theft are becoming increasingly well understood. In the final analysis, reusable packaging presents an opportunity for many companies to help achieve their economic, ergonomic and environmental goals.

    For more information about reusable packaging, visit the Reusable Packaging Association website at www.reusables.org, or my website at www.packagingrevolution.net.