What Is Reusable Packaging?

What You Need to Know About Reusable Packaging

Brewery worker carrying barrel

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Reusable packaging is packaging that is used multiple times, often for the purpose of transporting products. It is typically designed for durability, ease of use, ease of cleaning, and ease of repair and is ideally collapsible or nestable. All of those characteristics make it easy to return to the original user, which can utilize it over and over again.

For small businesses, reusable packaging may consist of industrial-size containers, such as drums, or smaller, consumer-size packages, such as kegs or plastic bottles. For consumers, reusable packaging can be opportunistic in nature, such as reutilizing cardboard boxes, water jugs, or glass bottles.

In this article, you will learn more about the transport and industrial applications of reusable packaging.

What Is Reusable Packaging?

Several categories of reusable packaging are found in widespread use. Examples include:

  • Pallets
  • Pallet collars, which enclose items on a pallet
  • Handheld containers
  • Bulk containers, such as drums, totes, and tanks
  • Boxes
  • Dunnage (material used to hold cargo in place during transport)
  • Wraps and straps

These packages may be made of stainless steel and other metals, plastic, wood, composite, or other materials.

How Does Reusable Packaging Work?

Setting up a logistics process is crucial to making the reuse of packaging feasible. Businesses must set up a system with end-users of their products to get their packaging returned to them.

Reusable packaging is designed and built to last for many years. It should ideally be recyclable when it can no longer be used effectively—once again preventing waste from going into a landfill.

Advantages of Reusable Packaging

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

Economic Benefits

Businesses that invest in reusable packaging can see direct savings in packaging purchase and disposal costs as a result of repeated reuse. A higher initial purchase price ends up translating into a lower cost per trip through repeated reuse.

Other economic benefits can come from productivity gains when reusable packaging better addresses the needs of work processes. An example of this benefit would be a design for better parts presentation to assembly line workers. The improved presentation can result in faster production, as well as improved ergonomics, which reduces the risk of workplace injury.

Reusable packaging is also associated with better protection of products and reduced damage. And cost-saving storage and transportation efficiencies are achieved because of reusable containers' superior strength for stacking when full and through a collapsible or nestable design when they're empty.

Sustainability Benefits 

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 through efforts to recycle. Better product protection in reusable packaging also aids sustainability through reduction of damage and the investment of resources required to dispose of the unsaleable product as well as to manufacture and ship the replacement merchandise.

Social Benefits

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

Disadvantages of Reusable Packaging

Reusable packaging is difficult to justify in situations where long distance, low volume, or both make the cost of returning containers too high. Another issue of concern is pallet and container theft, though a deposit system can help reduce losses.

Worldwide, the supply chain is still dominated by expendable packaging. As of June 2019, 35% of transport packaging was reusable.

Who Should Use Reusable Packaging?

When companies meet one or more of the business conditions listed below, they may be in a good position to take advantage of the savings offered by reusable packaging.

  • High-volume shipments
  • Frequent deliveries
  • Shorter shipment distances
  • A dedicated delivery provider
  • High volumes of solid waste that must be disposed of
  • Frequent product damage
  • Expensive expendable packaging
  • Underutilized transportation trailer space
  • Inefficient storage or warehouse space
  • Worker safety or ergonomic issues
  • Significant need for cleanliness
  • Need for unitization, the consolidation of orders into a single unit

Reusable packaging is used in many industries, and in many points along supply chains. Some industries that commonly take advantage of reusable packaging include:

  • Beverage
  • Produce
  • Groceries
  • General manufacturing
  • Appliances
  • Automotive
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Electronics
  • Aerospace
  • Chemicals
  • Textiles

Key Takeaways

  • Reusable packaging is used multiple times, often for the purpose of transporting products, over the course of several years.
  • It is designed to be durable and easily repaired and cleaned.
  • Categories of reusable packaging include pallets, handheld containers, drums, tanks, boxes, and straps.
  • Those companies that utilize reusable packaging must have a system in place that allows customers to return the packaging.
  • Reusable packaging should ideally be recyclable once it is no longer usable.