Reusable Packaging 101

A stack of reusable knockdown plastic containers in various sizes in the AIM warehouse.

How does reusable packaging work?

According to the Returnable Packaging Association (RPA), reusable packaging includes pallets, racks, bulk containers, hand-held containers, and dunnage used to move products efficiently and safely. In a well-organized supply chain, with tightly managed shipping loops, manufacturers/processors and their suppliers/customers typically use reusable packaging. In a typical logistics system, returnable packaging is made from durable materials such as metal, plastic, or wood.

What does all this mean? The process starts with a ‘reusable pack’, which is a vehicle that goes to the destination and returns. A semi-truck, for example, is a reusable pack. Reusable packaging is broken down into small components — the containers inside a reusable pack and the dunnage inside the container holding a part.

Would your company benefit from reusable packaging?

With sustainability becoming mainstream, more companies are considering whether their operations might benefit from reusable packaging. Reusable packaging has already been discovered in several industries: automotive, aerospace, pharmaceutical, appliances, etc. Among reusable packaging are pallets, racks, bulk containers, handheld containers, and dunnage made from durable materials like metal, plastic, or wood. A cardboard box, although it can be used multiple times, is not considered reusable packaging.

Experts say reusables offer many benefits. Use of reusable packaging means a shipment’s environmental impact can be lowered. A reusable package is more cost-effective than a one-way or non-reusable package. Compared to single-use products, they are typically stronger and easier to clean. Lastly, there is the aesthetic appeal of the product. Since reusable packaging is usually stackable and collapsible, it looks better and takes up less warehouse space.

How does Work In Progress (WIP) packaging work?

The purpose of WIP packaging is to protect the product during internal transit as well as to improve workflow practices all around. Any closed logistics network is particularly suitable for transit reusable packaging (shipping back and forth between different locations). By identifying a regular route between a shipment location and a delivery location, reusable packaging can reduce expenses and improve profitability in the short- and medium-term. It is also known as “over the road” packaging. The movement of parts within a facility.

What is the environmental impact of plastic compared to paper?

There is a misconception among many people that paper is more environmentally friendly than plastic. In comparison to plastic, paper and cardboard emit far more greenhouse gasses during their entire life cycle. The production of paper products consumes a significant amount of energy. Wood pulp is crushed into small fibers, mixed into a slurry, and then passed through enormous rollers. This requires enormous amounts of power. Cardboard production is one of the world’s largest energy-consuming industries. Furthermore, many paper and cardboard products end up in landfills, where they rot down anaerobically, creating methane as a greenhouse gas. There is no rot in plastic, and it sequesters carbon indefinitely.

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