Reusables 101: The Economic and Environmental Benefits of Reusable Transport Packaging (Part 2)

This is the second article in a three-part series by Jerry Welcome, former president of the Reusable Packaging Association. This first article defined reusable transport packaging and its role in the supply chain. This second article discusses the economic and environmental benefits of reusable transport packaging, and the third article will supply some parameters and tools to help readers determine whether it is beneficial to change all or some of a company’s one-time or limited-use transport packaging to a reusable transport packaging system.

Reusables 101: The Economic and Environmental Benefits of Reusable Transport Packaging

By Jerry Welcome


Although there are significant environmental benefits associated with reusable transport packaging, most companies switch because it saves them money. Reusable transport packaging can increase a company’s bottom line in several ways, including:

Improved ergonomics and worker safety

• Eliminating box cutting, staples and broken pallets, reducing injuries

• Improving worker safety with ergonomically designed handles and access doors.

• Reducing back injuries with standard packaging sizes and weights.

• Facilitating the use of merchandising racks, storage racks, flow racks and lift/tilt equipment with standardized containers

• Reducing slip and fall injuries through the removal of in-plant debris, such as stray packaging materials.


Reduced inventory and just-in-time delivery

• Standardized transport packaging components and ordering quantities improve ordering capabilities and inventory tracking, while reducing errors.

• More frequent shipments of smaller quantities delivered close to the time of usage help reduce the number of days that inventory and dollars are idle and nonproductive.

• Combining supplier pick-ups or customer deliveries in “milk run” fashion (small, daily truck routes) saves money.


Quality improvements

• Less product damage occurs due to transport packaging failure.

• More efficient trucking and loading dock operations reduce costs.

• Ventilated containers reduce the cooling time for perishables, increasing freshness and shelf-life.

Packaging material cost reductions

• Longer useful life of reusable transport packaging results in packaging material costs of pennies per trip.

• The cost of reusable transport packaging can be spread over many years.


Reduced waste management costs

• Less waste to manage for recycling or disposal.

• Less labor required preparing waste for recycling or disposal.

• Reduced recycling or disposal costs.

Local municipalities also gain economic benefits when companies switch to reusable transport packaging. Source reduction, including reuse, can help reduce waste disposal and handling costs because it avoids the cost of recycling, municipal composting, landfilling and combustion.



Environmental benefits

Reuse is a viable strategy for supporting company’s sustainability objectives. The concept of reuse is supported by the Environmental Protection Agency as a way to prevent waste from entering the waste stream. According to, “Source reduction, including reuse, can help reduce waste disposal and handling costs because it avoids the costs of recycling, municipal composting, landfilling, and combustion. Source reduction also conserves resources and reduces pollution, including greenhouse gasses that contribute to global warming.”

In 2004, the RPA conducted a Life Cycle Analysis study with Franklin Associates to measure the environmental impacts of reusable containers versus the existing expendable system in the produce market. Ten fresh produce applications were analyzed and the results showed that reusable packaging on average required 39% less total energy, produced 95% less solid waste and generated 29% less total greenhouse gas emissions. To read the complete study, visit the RPA’s website at Today, Wal-Mart is driving an initiative to better measure environmental impacts through its Product Sustainability Index effort, and I expect that the industry will see further use of the LCA methodology in the years to come. However in general, in most applications reusable transport packaging systems results in the following positive environmental impacts:

• Reduced need to build expensive disposal facilities or more landfills.

• Helps meet state and county waste diversion goals.

• Supports the local community.

• At the end of its useful life, most reusable transport packaging can be managed by recycling plastic and metal while grinding the wood for landscape mulch or livestock bedding.

• Reduced greenhouse gas emissions and overall energy consumption.

Whether your company’s objectives are to reduce costs or minimize your environmental footprint, reusable transport packaging is worth checking out.

Click here to read Part 1 of Reusables 101

Click here to read Part 3 of Reusables 101

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