The topic of reusable packaging programs has been widely discussed in recent years, but in practice, efforts have barely scratched the surface of its true potential. Executed properly, reusable packaging provides benefits ranging from increased sustainability and improved productivity to increased product quality and, perhaps most importantly, cost savings. Well-integrated reusable packaging programs help industries optimize the use of critical resources and minimize the waste associated with traditional packaging methods.
Applications for Reusables
Many packaging elements throughout the supply chain can be converted from single-use materials to reusables. Everyday items used in the manufacturing, packaging and distribution of goods, including durable handheld and bulk containers, pallets, shipping racks and dunnage, are often made for single-use or limited-use applications, but brand owners can find a lot of value in converting them to reusable items.
Reusable packaging can be used for shipping both inbound goods such as raw materials and outbound finished goods. While they are in the manufacturing facility, goods can be transported from one department or stage of the manufacturing process to another in durable packaging that lasts for many cycles before it needs to be replaced. Recyclable materials can be returned in reusable containers and replacement parts and other after-market goods can be distributed in reusable packaging that customers return for repeated use.
Planning for Reusability
The first step to a successful reusable packaging program is a thoroughly researched and well thought out plan. Brand owners need to solicit input from customers to find the best opportunities to incorporate reusable packaging downstream. Thorough analysis of current packaging systems provides opportunities to identify ways in which reusables will generate cost savings, and a well-researched list of suppliers will reveal sources to produce the items and materials you’ll need to implement a reusable packaging process throughout the supply chain.
Designing Reusable Solutions
While the planning stage provides an important overview of the process used to convert to reusable packaging materials, packaging engineers and sourcing experts need to adhere to a diligent design process to create a successful program. The new system must be designed for consistency with existing standards, such as pallet size, as well as take into account logistic needs. Equally as important, the new reusable system must provide protection for components that is on par with or better than traditional packaging to earn buy-in from stakeholders. Perhaps most importantly, reusable solutions must integrate seamlessly with the customer’s supply chain for the program to succeed.
While those considerations are integral to buy-in from external stakeholders, design needs to account for additional considerations for internal stakeholders to understand reusables’ value. A successful program must balance durability with weight and easy of handling to control costs and ensure reusable solutions last long enough to generate savings. The new system must comply with health & safety standards and free up space that was previously used to store traditional packaging components for productive use. To prevent loss, an integrate a tracking system that monitors the location of reusable packaging as it moves through the supply chain can be incorporated. This allows for creation of a plan for storing the physical elements of the reusable program at each stop along the supply chain.
Prototyping and Testing
Because implementing reusable packaging involves an overhaul of so many pieces of your packaging process, it is important to make sure every element integrates seamlessly within the system before implementation. For this reason, a thorough testing process involving prototypes of each physical element is integral to the process. Many of the same suppliers identified during the planning stages can be leveraged to produce prototypes.
When it comes to package testing, there are a variety of options to consider. Consulting engineers and other high-level technical experts with knowledge of the product and its distribution provides valuable input to narrow down the list of standards to use for packaging tests. Testing standards that apply to reusable packaging include:
- ISTA-3A: Packaged-Products for Parcel Delivery Shipment
- ISTA-3B: Packaged-Products for Less-Than-Truckload (LTL) Shipment
- ASTM D7386-16: Single Pack Performance Test
- ASTM D4169-09: Performance Testing of Shipping Containers and Systems
- FedEx 6A: Packaging Testing Under 150 Lbs.
Once the planning, design, and testing are completed and approved, a well-executed integration process will ensure the reusable packaging program gets off to a successful start, which is important for the longevity of the program. Proper introduction of the new reusable solution is also valuable to ensure that everyone who will handle the reusable packaging understands the new system. This will encourage correct use of the system, so that reusable items can circulate properly and return to their starting point after they are used.
Completing the transition from single-use packaging solutions to a true reusable packaging program can be a complicated process requiring a high level of input from technical experts. For brand owners who lack the resources or the manpower to complete the transition, Adept Packaging can help. Our team of Loop-certified packaging engineers have guided many brands through the transition. Our global network of suppliers enables our engineers to design, develop and qualify innovative reusable packaging solutions. Additionally, our sustainability team collaborates with our value optimization team to analyze opportunities for cost savings via transitioning to reusable packaging. They build the plans, design the details, manage the prototyping and testing process, and oversee integration to provide a smooth transition to a reusable packaging program that will save on costs and increase a brand’s sustainability efforts.
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