Reusable packaging companies have been around for while, but with more and more companies concerned about climate change, reusable packaging appeal is growing throughout the U.S. Reusable plastic containers are now used at companies like Pepsi, Walmart, Safeway, Ghirardelli Chocolates and John Deere to protect and transport everything from tractors to fresh vegetables with great success.
The 2008 “Choose Reusables!” Education Forum sponsored by Reusable Packaging Association (RPA) and StopWaste.org highlighted these success stories this past week. The forum covered many aspects of reusables such as the EPA’s support of reusables, a life cycle analysis of boxes vs. plastic containers, and the challenges encountered by customers implementing reusable packaging.
“Waste is a missed opportunity.” said Tom Huetteman of the San Francisco EPA to the forum attendees. “We need a new way of thinking about waste.” Packaging makes up 31% of the waste stream and it is extremely important to reduce waste at the source and look to recycling and waste treatment as last resorts. Tom cites single use items and planned obsolescence as the two main issues with our current waste practices. He believes reusable packaging is a key solution and that potential legislation for Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) will drive the change for reusable packaging.
The RPA forum also highlighted a life cycle analysis of reusable versus disposable packaging by Beverly Sauer of Franklin Associates. Her analysis revealed that plastic boxes vs. corrugated cardboard boxes yielded 39% less energy use, 95% less solid waste and 29% less GHG’s in fresh produce packaging. In a comparison of break-pack boxes the reusable version yielded 57% energy savings, 71% less solid waste, and 67% lower GHG’s. However, Beverly was quick to point out that a life cycle analysis can’t ever say one material is better than another in general; it will always depend on the application of the material. The numbers above illustrate the results of a specific example.
What is reusable packaging?
Reusable packaging eliminates one-time use shipping supplies. For example, instead of using wooden pallets to stack and transport products, companies are switching to reusable plastic pallets. Another common reusable packaging option are plastic boxes made from recycled plastic in place of corrugated cardboard boxes.
But they’re made out of plastic, how can that be sustainable? Bascially, most damaged wooden pallets end up in landfills after far fewer uses than is possible with the plastic alternative. And while not all plastic reusables are made from recycled material, most are 100% recyclable and the companies will take back any damaged or unwanted pallets to make new pallets. Other companies do have a fully closed loop system. They make the initial product out of recycled materials and the final product is itself 100% recyclable. Make sure to choose this option for your company if you are looking for a true cradle to cradle packaging solution.
Challenges and Benefits
The main benefits of reusable shipping containers are lower packaging costs, reduced transportation costs and increased performance. The plastic boxes are designed to be more ergonomic and include features like handles to protect workers while lifting them. They also provide better protection for the product due to the durability of the box and the items don’t need foam peanuts, or plastic air bags to keep them from getting crushed. Ghirardelli Chocolates uses these in their production facilities and have received very positive feedback from employees. They were also able to increase their pallet density and their chocolate was no longer crushed in transport.
The benefits of the plastic pallets are more consistent sizing, no missing boards or nails, and a cleaner working environment due to less wooden debris. Gatorade switched to plastic pallets when their customers were rejecting their deliveries because their wooden pallets were in such bad condition. Once they implemented the plastic pallets, they had fewer spills on the factory floor and no rejected deliveries.
By Shana Gillis