Fortune 500 companies such as Toyota, Kraft Heinz and Procter & Gamble are making headlines with goals to eliminate waste from their operations in the near future. Because sustainability is a growing public discussion, consumers are more aware of how a company’s internal and external business decisions impact them and the environment.
To maintain momentum, organizations are increasing sustainable practices throughout their businesses, looking beyond consumer-facing products and into their supply chains. But with such complex systems, some opportunities are overlooked. The material used to move goods throughout the supply chain, for example, can unknowingly have a major impact on sustainability. Reusable packaging — such as plastic pallets, totes, containers and dunnage — can increase operational efficiency, minimize packaging waste and reduce resource usage.
To dive deeper into reusable packaging’s sustainable benefits, here are four reasons why reusable packaging can help create a green supply chain:
1. Produces less waste and product loss
Manufactured to withstand harsh conditions, reusable packaging’s durable all-plastic construction reduces product damage and minimizes packaging breakage. Less breakage means a longer service life and repeat use, unlike what you get with one-time-use packaging. For example, a Virginia Tech Center for Packaging and Unit Load Design study found the useful life of plastic pallets is approximately 18 times longer than wood pallets. Reusable packaging also helps decrease more than just solid waste by streamlining workflows and eliminating excessive walk-time, rework and dwell time.
2. Recyclable at the end of its useful life
Reusable packaging can be fully recycled at the end of its service life and used in other useful products, including new packaging. This decreases packaging’s environmental impact, by reducing the natural resources and labor needed to dispose of one-time-use packaging. Reusable packaging also eliminates the need for plastic bags and wrap, paper and other expendable materials that are not recyclable or as re-purposeful.
3. Ergonomic, with consistent dimensions
Reusable packaging’s dimensions and ergonomic features make it a versatile and cost-effective option for supply chains. Reusable packaging can improve the flow of product along the supply chain to handle, store and move product in a sustainable and efficient way. Especially in a highly automated environment, reusable packaging minimizes downtime — due to unexpected shutdown or delays — because of its standard dimension and debris-free materials. When standardized packaging and automation are combined, it also helps optimize labor.
4. Allows active supply chain assessments
As companies search their supply chains for opportunities to reduce their environmental impact, a thorough environmental analysis can help determine the most effective packaging solution. Every supply chain is different, so understanding the entire system is imperative in deciding if reusables are the most sustainable and efficient solution for a company.
Some packaging suppliers offer an environmental analysis through services that measure the impact a company’s packaging has on the environment — greenhouse gas emissions, solid waste and energy usage. And despite large companies making sustainability improvements, only 25 percent of business leaders say their companies have a business case for sustainability.1 Therefore, an environmental analysis can help justify the need for reusable packaging.
1Corporate sustainability at a crossroads. MITSloan Management Review. May 2017