The Multiple Advantages of Reusable Containers in Transportation

Written By
CloudSort Staff

Adoption of reusable containers is trending higher within the transportation industry, primarily due to the numerous economic advantages for businesses. While the primary incentive for adopting reusable transport packaging tends to be cost savings related to reduced consumables spend, other factors such as defect reduction (customer experience)  and sustainability concerns, which might be dominating benefits, have also contributed to the increased adoption of reusable containers. 

The Cost-Saving Potential

The economic benefits of reusable transport packaging are often overlooked  and forfeited due to the higher upfront costs compared to disposable packaging. Simple math makes clear the  cost-saving potential with reuse. 

The number of trips a reusable container can withstand depends on various factors, including its durability, handling practices, and the specific application. For instance, at a distribution center, plastic pallets may cycle approximately twice per week, resulting in around 120 trips per year. With an attrition rate of less than 5% annually, the cost per use of these pallets becomes minimal. 

Studies have also highlighted the cost advantages of using reusable containers in specific industries. For instance, research comparing the cost of reusable steel drums to single-use drums found that reusable containers were three to four times more cost-effective. Similarly, the use of reusable containers for transporting LCD panels within the international supply chain was deemed economically beneficial. These examples demonstrate the potential for cost savings through the adoption of reusable transport packaging.

Reduction in Waste Generation

One of the notable advantages of reusable transport packaging is the significant reduction in waste generation compared to disposable alternatives. In sectors such as automotive, the elimination of solid waste has been a crucial consideration in the adoption of reusables. A life cycle analysis study conducted by the Reusable Packaging Association (RPA) found that reusable plastic containers (RPCs) produced 95% less solid waste than traditional single-use packaging in the produce market. This reduction in waste not only avoids disposal charges but also saves time and labor associated with handling and rehandling packaging waste.

Moreover, the use of reusable containers can contribute to a more sustainable supply chain by minimizing the environmental impact of packaging materials. Reusable containers typically have a longer lifespan and require fewer replacements, resulting in less material consumption per trip. Their durability and sturdier construction enable them to withstand the rigors of transportation and handling, reducing the need for additional packaging materials to protect the products. This reduction in waste generation aligns with the growing global focus on sustainability and corporate social responsibility.

Increased Productivity and Efficiency

Reusable transport packaging can also reduce cost by enhancing productivity and efficiency in various stages of the supply chain. In manufacturing scenarios, the precise orientation and design of reusable containers facilitates robotic assembly processes, improving productivity by reducing travel time and the risk of errors. Furthermore, reusable containers can be used to create assembly kits, assisting manual assemblers in streamlining their tasks. Automated order picking systems, such as Autostore and Cimcorp, rely on rigid and dimensionally accurate reusable containers, resulting in dramatic productivity gains and storage efficiencies.

Even in manual picking environments, standardized reusable plastic containers (RPCs) enable easier and more stable stacking of products for order selectors. When it comes to retail stocking, display-ready RPCs eliminate the need to remove products from cases to build displays, simplifying the process and reducing stocking time. A study comparing RPCs to one-way packaging found that RPCs were up to 53% more efficient in stocking, order picking, transport to the shelf, and folding, stacking, and baling. These efficiency improvements contribute to overall cost savings and increased throughput in the supply chain.

Minimize Product Damage and Theft

Reusable transport packaging offers superior protection for products during transportation, especially when the container is built-for-purpose.  Containers improve customer experience by reducing product damage and theft.  Unlike single-use packaging that can weaken over time, reusable containers are designed and constructed with sturdier materials to withstand the rigors of handling and transit. Some are equipped with locking mechanisms or other forms of security.  The container’s ability to withstand impacts, vibrations, and other forms of stress ensures that the products remain intact and undamaged throughout the journey.

In addition to their durability, reusable containers are often designed for efficient stacking. This not only optimizes space in vehicles but also adds stability to the load, minimizing the risk of tipping and subsequent damage. The ventilation features found in many reusable containers also contribute to improved product quality and shelf life by facilitating better temperature control.

Research conducted by the Stiftung Initiative Mehrweg (SIM) and the Fraunhofer Institute demonstrated the significant reduction in product loss when using reusable containers in the German market. By solely using reusable containers, only 1,100 tonnes of fruit and vegetables valued at two million Euro would have been lost. In contrast, if only single-use packaging had been used, the lost product would have amounted to 36,000 tonnes valued at 68 million euros. This highlights the substantial economic advantage of reusable containers in minimizing product damage and preserving valuable goods.

Improved Worker Safety

The adoption of reusable transport packaging can improve worker safety and overall job satisfaction in various ways. Firstly, the introduction of automation, often facilitated by the use of reusable containers, reduces the reliance on manual labor and minimizes the risk of accidents and injuries. By automating processes such as lifting, moving, and stacking containers, businesses can create safer work environments for their employees.

Reusable containers are also designed with worker safety in mind. Features such as handholds and multiple access doors improve ergonomics, supporting better posture and reducing the risk of strain-related injuries. Unlike traditional corrugated packaging that requires box cutting, reusable containers eliminate the need for sharp tools, eliminating associated safety hazards.

Furthermore, reusable shelves and straps can replace traditional stretch wrap and banding, reducing the risk of slip and trip injuries. By utilizing reusable alternatives, businesses can create safer workplaces while minimizing the potential for accidents and their associated costs.

Tracking and other Technical Options

The nature of reusable containers lends to affixing technology to support specific business needs. Tracking is a common add-on. Tracking goods as they move through a system enables leaders to adjust operations based on real-time conditions.  Also, cargo theft and loss are key issues that logistics companies seek to mitigate; containers plus technology can be a solution. Utilizing real-time tracking technology, companies can actively manage and oversee the protection of their assets by continuously monitoring their location, movement and status. This up-to-the-minute information enables proactive security measures without disrupting operations or workflows. In addition, this level of tracking gives customers a better experience through more accurate and up-to-date package tracking information. 

What are you waiting for?

The economic benefits of reusable transport packaging are multi-faceted and meaningful. With reusable containers, the cost savings over time, reduction in waste generation, increased productivity, minimized product damage, and improved worker safety make them a favorable option for businesses. By adopting reusable transport packaging, organizations can achieve long-term cost efficiencies, enhance sustainability efforts, and create safer working environments. With the increasing focus on efficiency, sustainability, and worker well-being, reusable containers have emerged as a strategic choice for transportation partners looking to optimize their operations and gain a competitive edge in the market.

Remember, investing in reusable transport packaging is not just a cost-saving measure; it is an investment in the future of your business, the environment, and the well-being of your employees.