Careers Business Ownership What Is Reusable Packaging? What You Need to Know About Reusable Packaging Share PINTEREST Email Print Sigrid Gombert / Getty Images Business Ownership Operations & Success Sustainable Businesses Supply Chain Management Operations & Technology Marketing Market Research Business Law & Taxes Business Insurance Business Finance Accounting Industries Becoming an Owner Table of Contents Expand What Is Reusable Packaging? How Does Reusable Packaging Work? Advantages of Reusable Packaging Disadvantages of Reusable Packaging Who Should Use Reusable Packaging? By Rick LeBlanc Rick LeBlanc Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Consultant and news editor in the supply chain pallet and packaging trade Simon Fraser University Rick LeBlanc wrote about sustainability and supply chain topics for The Balance Small Business. He has been covering the pallet and packaging industries for 25 years. Learn about our Editorial Process Updated on 12/05/20 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 shipmentsFrequent deliveriesShorter shipment distancesA dedicated delivery providerHigh volumes of solid waste that must be disposed ofFrequent product damageExpensive expendable packagingUnderutilized transportation trailer spaceInefficient storage or warehouse spaceWorker safety or ergonomic issuesSignificant need for cleanlinessNeed 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: BeverageProduceGroceriesGeneral manufacturingAppliancesAutomotivePharmaceuticalsElectronicsAerospaceChemicalsTextiles 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.