FAQs on Reusable Transport Packaging

What is reusable transport packaging?

Reusable transport packaging is wood, metal or plastic pallets and containers that can be used multiple times. Reusable pallets and containers are designed and built to last for many years of use and replace one-time or limited-use pallets and boxes. 

Is the reuse of transport packaging the same as recycling transport packaging?

No. The reuse of transport packaging reduces the overall amount of packaging waste generated because it is used multiple times. One reusable transport package may replace hundreds of one-time or limited-use packages until its end of useful life. The recycling of transport packaging, such as grinding wood pallets into livestock bedding or landscape mulch, temporarily postpones the management of waste. 

How does reusable transport packaging fit into Minnesota's hierarchy for managing solid waste: (1) waste reduction and reuse; (2) recycling; (3) composting; (4) resource recovery; and (5) land disposal?

Reusable transport packaging has elements of Minnesota's top two priorities for managing solid waste. It is a form of waste reduction and an obvious example of reuse. Depending on the materials used, it may be recycled at the end of its useful life.

Why do companies use reusable transport packaging?

Most companies switch to reusable transport packaging because it saves money. The primary cost-saving opportunity is to eliminate the purchase and disposal costs of one-time or limited-life packaging. These savings may be offset by other costs for reusable transport packaging such as return transportation, maintenance, tracking and asset depreciation. The number of times reusable transport packaging can be used offsets these costs and yields rapid return on investment. Secondary cost-saving opportunities include:

• Improved ergonomics and safety
• Reduced workers compensation claims
• Enhanced supply chain visibility
• Increased productivity
• Improved housekeeping
Who uses reusable transport packaging?

Reusable transport packaging is used by industry leaders in all major production and distribution sectors of the economy including manufacturing and retail and consumer product distribution

When does it make sense to use reusable transport packaging?

Several factors determine if it is beneficial for a company to make the switch to reusable transport packaging.

• Ability to create a closed or managed open loop shipping system so that empty reusable transport packaging can be repeatedly collected, staged and returned for reuse.

• Constant flow of consistent products in large volume to accurately plan for the correct number, size and type of reusable transport packaging.

• Products that require more expensive one-time or limited-life packaging such as large, bulky products and easily damaged products by shock, vibration or abrasion.

• Suppliers or customers grouped near one another with the potential to set up "milk runs" (small, daily truck routes) and consolidation centers (loading docks used to sort, clean and stage reusable transport packaging).

Where might reusable transport packaging be used?

A list of the areas along the supply chain that lend themselves to the use of reusable transport packaging follows. 

  • Inbound freight such as raw materials or sub-components shipped to a processing or assembly plant.
  • In-plant or interplant work in process such as goods moved between assembly or processing areas within an individual plant or shipped between plants within the same company.
  • Finished goods shipped to final end users either directly or through distribution networks.
  • "After market" service parts or repair parts sent to service centers, dealers or distribution centers from manufacturing plants.

How does a company start using reusable transport packaging?

Generally, a company will start using reusable transport packaging when it is less expensive than one-time or limited-use transport packaging. There are six steps in determining if reusable transport packaging will save a company money.

  • Identify potential products that are frequently shipped in large volume and are consistent in type, size, shape and weight.
  • Estimate the current costs of using one-time or limited-use packaging. Include the costs to purchase, store, handle and dispose of this packaging and the costs of any ergonomic and work safety limitations.
  • Develop a geographical report by identifying shipping and delivery points. Evaluate the use of daily and weekly "milk runs" (small, daily truck routes) and consolidation centers (loading docks used to sort, clean and stage reusable transport packaging). Focus on opportunities to implement just-in-time delivery strategies.
  • Review reusable transport packaging options and costs by investigating the various types of packaging and systems available to move them through the supply chain.
  • Estimate the cost of reverse logistics (defined below) based on the shipping and delivery points identified in the geographical report.
  • Develop a preliminary cost comparison between one-time or limited-use transport packaging and reusable transport packaging. If the preliminary cost comparison indicates that a reusable transport packaging system will save money, a company may want to seek outside assistance to design and implement a reusable transport packaging system.

What is reverse logistics?

Reverse logistics is the return transportation of empty reusable pallets and containers and is often the most expensive component of a reusable transport packaging system. It is very important to consider the logistics and costs of returning empty reusable transport packaging together with other cost-saving opportunities.

How can the cost of reusable transport packaging be compared to the cost of one-time or limited-use transport packaging?

To make an accurate comparison, all cost components must be estimated for both types of transport packaging. 

Does the high cost of initial investment make switching to reusable transport packaging difficult?

Reusable transport packaging generally has a higher initial cost than one-time or limited-use transport packaging because there are additional costs associated with reusable transport packaging. Examples include return transportation, maintenance, tracking and asset depreciation. However, the frequency of reuse drives the return on investment. The more times a reusable package is used, the greater are the long term savings. Over time, a reusable package may save a considerable amount of money compared to a one-time or limited-use package.

Is material handling equipment necessary to make the switch to reusable transport packaging?

It may or may not be necessary to purchase or modify existing material handling equipment to make the switch to reusable transport packaging. The type of material handling equipment needed is dependent on the type of industry and the specific application. For example, a company may make a significant investment in purchasing reusable transport packaging plus widen all of its conveyor systems to accommodate the new packaging. Because of the potential for long term cost savings, a company may be willing to make this larger investment.

How much change must be made to storage and distribution systems to accommodate reusable transport packaging?

It may or may not be necessary to change storage and distribution systems. For example, most companies have designed their systems to accommodate standard pallet sizes and standard footprints for containers. They may be able to design the reusable transport packaging system within the existing standardized system. However, this will be driven by return on investment. If it is important enough to switch to a given type of reusable packaging, a company may decide to modify its storage and distribution system to accommodate the new packaging.  

More Information

More information on reusable transport packaging can be found at Use Reusables