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Returnable Packaging Education

Guide to Returnable Packaging

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The following is an overview of returnable packaging which highlights the benefits of returnable or reusable packaging versus cardboard or single trip packaging.

Depending on the shipping environment and products being shipped, you can expect to reuse returnable packaging anywhere from 20-100 times. We provide tools such as informative articles and a packaging calculator to help you determine the payback period that would apply to your business model if you were to replace your paper corrugated / single trip packaging with returnable / plastic corrugated packaging.

Background of Returnable Packaging

Returnable packaging, typically plastic corrugated containers such as totes, trays, boxes, or sleeves and bulk containers, are increasingly replacing paper corrugated cartons in a wide variety of manufacturing and distribution markets such as automotive, appliance, food and retail supply chains. In fact, over 70% of Fortune 500 companies now have sustainability mandates, many of which include the use of returnable packaging.

The North American "green" initiative has focused business on being environmentally safe and using recyclable materials for all aspects of business, including packaging. It is better to avoid packaging waste now than to dispose of it later. This has made for a steady move to returnable packaging. The lack of landfill space and steeply increasing costs of waste disposal are making payback periods shorter and adding to the benefits of returnable packaging.

Businesses that have made the move to returnable packaging early on had to still deal with cardboard and other "one trip" packaging on incoming goods. This entailed directing suppliers to use returnable packaging for their products. The next step was to get the suppliers to ship goods in the right specification of plastic containers.

Production Efficiency

Manufacturing businesses, which have suffered from paper cartons and packaging cluttering the shop floor, now find themselves with a cleaner, tidier, safer environments as plastic containers are introduced.

The result is a better-ordered production and warehouse area, with improved inventory control, better production flow and more efficient processes. Some companies use the change to returnable packaging as a way to reassess the process of getting products to the production area. This can and has resulted in the elimination of "In-Between Warehousing" and the adoption of Kanban and Just In Time packaging and shipping centered around a modular system of plastic containers or totes.

Fit for Purpose

Returnable packaging / reuseable plastic containers can be traceable and trackable. They can feature label holders, label placards for easy removal of temporary adhesive labels, and the provision for electronic tagging devices. All reusable plastic containers can be color-coded to identify destination or contents.

The rigidity of plastic containers helps to protect goods in transit against damage and are resistant to moisture and other contamination. Reusable plastic containers can have lids to offer extra protection and security.

Especially in the food, medical and pharmaceutical industries, the introductions of reusable plastic packaging has eliminated fibrous materials such as paper cardboard and wood from production areas, leading to better hygiene and cleaner products.

Corporate Image and Branding

There is one final case for plastic corrugated packaging: the publicity angle. Plastic corrugated packaging can be manufactured in the company's color and carry their name and logo by printing or labeling its side. Plastic containers are simple to keep clean and can carry a corporate message as well as its product.

Companies changing to reusable plastic packaging feel that the containers give them a more professional profile and they report improvements in customer satisfaction.

Advantages of Reusable Plastic Packaging

Grasping the need for returnable packaging has highlighted various advantages. The initial expense is soon absorbed, often ahead of projected times as companies find additional uses to their plastic containers. Furthermore, containers habitually out-live their projected life-span by many years.

The pressure to take the returnable packaging step continues to build. Managers can feel fiscally good about themselves with the prospect of a happier, smarter, and more productive workforce at the end.

Returnable Packaging – Advantages:

  • After initial “pay back” – more cost effective than one-trip packaging
  • Longevity
  • Constant tare
  • Purchase or rental as required
  • Secure stacking in storage and transit
  • Nests/folds for storage and to save on return transport costs
  • Protection of contents
  • Operator comfort & safety
  • Can be manufactured in corporate color and “branded” with owners logo & details
  • Traceability
  • Weatherproof
  • Retention of preserving agents
  • Non-absorption of contaminants
  • Hygienic & easy to clean by machine or pressure hose
  • Recyclable

Limited/One Trip Packaging Advantages:

  • Initially inexpensive
  • Lightweight
  • Ideal for non-return applications such as export outside Europe
  • Recyclable

Returnable Plastic Containers – Disadvantages:

  • Initially expensive
  • Weight
  • Cost, if not returned

Limited/One-Trip Packaging Disadvantages:

  • Cost of collection & disposal
  • Have to purchase in bulk
  • Storage
  • Offers limited protection to contents
  • Time consuming to assemble
  • Staples/splinters could damage contents or injure operator
  • Possible absorption of contaminates
  • Not weatherproof

Go to Returnable Package Calculator