Sustainability, Circularity and Reusable Packaging

  • Customers willing to pay more for eco-friendly products
  • Reusable packaging pairs perfectly with circular economy aspirations

The role of reusable packaging in supporting sustainability was front and center at MODEX 2020, held March 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Samantha Goetz of ORBIS Corporation defined reusable packaging as reusable assets that move, store, stage, and handle products throughout the supply chain. Reusables, she said, are designed to travel in a loop and pair perfectly with the aspirations of the circular economy. Goetz’ presentation, Reusable Supply Chain Packaging and the Circular Economy, explored the relationship between reusables and circularity. 

The circular economy is based on the principles of designing out waste, keeping products in use and remanufacturing, Goetz continued, citing the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. “All the things that we’re doing in the reusable packaging industry line up really well with the circular economy,” she continued. “That’s what we’ve been doing for many, many decades.”

The circular economy challenges society to manufacture, consume, reuse, recycle, and remanufacture with little or no impact on the natural ecosystem. The goal for reusable packaging, Goetz said, is to use it throughout its entire lifecycle. At the end of its useful life, the material can be reprocessed and remanufactured into new reusable packaging so it can continue to serve in the supply chain. 

ORBIS tote life cycle

With increasing consumer interest regarding sustainability and the circular economy, Goetz believes that the time is right for highly sustainable solutions such as reusable packaging. As CPG manufacturers and retailers serve younger shoppers, they are finding that the newer generation is asking for products that are made sustainably. 

“Not only do they want shampoo bottles, toothpaste, all their household goods coming in sustainable packaging, they also want the company to be sustainable and the entire supply chain,” she stated. “So that’s where our reusables come in.” 

According to research, over 6 in 10 consumers aged 16-35 would pay more for a sustainably produced product, she noted. “People want to buy from companies that are socially responsible, and care about the environment,” Goetz said. “We’re seeing that more and more in our business. And we know our customers are seeing that as well.”

The presentation also included case studies involving reusable plastic totes and reusable plastic pallets. Both showed marked environmental impact improvements versus previously used alternatives. In the reusable plastic tote case study, energy usage was reduced by 31%, solid waste reduced by 79.5%, and greenhouse gas emissions by 38.3%. The summaries are shown below. Life cycle information is based on work by Franklin & Associates.

ORBIS Tote

ORBIS pallet case study

While customer conversations often start with a problem being experienced in a certain application in part of their supply chain, ORBIS helps provide a broader perspective.

“Once you look at the entire supply chain, you realize that maybe one application here will very much impact another application far down the road,” Goetz said. Optimal design for the plant also must be optimized for transportation, and for delivery.  If a packaging system isn’t optimized for retail delivery, you might be losing all of the savings generated at the manufacturing plant, she continued. “Those are the types of things that we work on and try to help people understand.”