Driving Sustainability: Reusable Packaging Systems Impact

The impact of reusable packaging systems on sustainability, automation, and beverage trends. Discover how these systems drive circular packaging models and enhance supply chain efficiency.

Driving Sustainability: Reusable Packaging Systems Impact

In the videogame series Guitar Hero, the Rock Meter uses a needle to show how well the user is playing. The needle will move in the meter’s three regions: green, yellow or red, with green being the best. It is up to the player to keep the Rock Meter’s needle up in the green area for the entire song. If the player lets the needle drop to red, the crowd will boo them offstage before the song concludes.

While it’s not always used in terms of rocking, the idiom to “move the needle” describes how a certain action has a measurable outcome.

Andrew Resler, head of special projects operation at Rehrig Pacific, Los Angeles, notes that reusable packaging systems help operations to “move the needle” in terms of sustainability initiatives. This is because it is built to live and cycle within a supply chain for years, he notes.

“It displaces one-way packaging and improves life-cycle metrics compared to one-way packaging with every use,” Resler explains. “It also allows companies to improve the recycled content of their packaging and recycled material goals or goals aimed at reducing virgin plastic/raw materials.

“Well-designed reusable packaging offers improved protection of the product being shipped and can reduce or eliminated damaged products,” he continues.

Further, when products have little to no damage, users can reduce the amount of solid waste generated within their supply chains, Resler says. He suggests that reusable packaging provides the best opportunity to create powerful and lasting circularity models.

John Rader, product manager for retail supply chain pallets at ORBIS Corp., Oconomowoc, Wis., also notes the many ways in which reusable packaging systems can help operations achieve sustainability goals.

“Consumers are focused on increasing sustainability in the supply chain, and this preference is pushing companies to reevaluate their current supply chain packaging and explore reusable packaging solutions,” he says. “Reusable packaging solutions, like shells and pallets, are more durable than a corrugated pad, tray or wood pallet. In better protecting the product, manufacturers can minimize loss and, as a result, further reduce their waste.”

Rader explains that reusable beverage shells have a long service life and provide brands with a fully reusable option for shipping bottles into retail. Companies can save money over the life of the packaging because of its reusability when compared with single-use corrugated packaging.

“This also eliminates the disposal of the single-use corrugated packaging and wrap at retail,” he says. “Reusable packaging can help operations of all kinds optimize for automation, eCommerce fulfillment, transportation and storage.”

Rader goes on to mention that reusable packaging supports the “three Rs in the environmental hierarchy:” reduce, reuse and recycle. He adds that some reusable packaging providers might take sustainability a step further by offering alternative material streams that increase the amount of recycled content in packaging.

Impacts and influences

Many factors weigh on the reusable packaging systems market.

Rehrig Pacific’s Resler describes automation as being “everywhere these days,” and notes that it can be finicky depending on the system.

“Today’s high-speed and high-volume production lines and fulfillment centers are built to very specific standards and require well-engineered and high-quality reusable containers to keep the operation running predictably and at high efficiency,” he explains. “The push for more automation also creates a demand for this type of packaging and manufacturers that can engineer and integrate containers into these highly sophisticated systems.”

ORBIS’ Rader says that, as more companies turn to automation solutions, they need products that will interface with such systems. And in the same way that automation addresses the labor shortage, he feels that it can help companies eliminate human error to improve accuracy.

Rader notes that, because reusable packaging solutions are dimensionally consistent, they create a smooth interface between automated systems and product loads, resulting in reduced system downtime while driving repeat performance.

“Other advantages of reusable packaging that make these solutions fit for automated environments include good cube efficiency, associate-friendly features like fingertip handles, the ability to incorporate detailed features like drain holes and automation locators, significant use cycles and more,” he says.

In the automation space, Rader states that ORBIS introduced the 40 x 48 Odyssey Low Profile (LP) pallet, which is a reusable pallet designed to provide repeatable performance with automated equipment. Being a LP pallet, it “aims to bring the added benefit” of seamlessly fitting in with alternate pallets in existing pallet pools.

The Odyssey LP improves load stability with its steel reinforcements and molded-in frictional elements to minimize load shifting, product load damage and pallet slippage off fork equipment, Rader explains. It’s designed to carry edge racked loads of more than 2,800 pounds, he notes.

Beverage trends, such as SKU proliferation and varying pack sizes, also are impacting reusable packaging systems.

Rader states that plastic reusable packaging has been “embedded” in the inbound beverage market for quite some time because it is an ideal application with a closed-loop system. In recent years, the market has grown, as at-home consumption has increased.

“The increase in the number of SKUs and co-packers building variety packs have added complexity to the returnable packaging supply chain,” he says. “The additional suppliers have caused packaging to turn at a slower rate and have put more uncertainty on the container manufacturers. In turn, it has driven up inventory builds to offset and keeps packaging tied up for longer periods of time.”

Rader notes that varying sizes of packaging, such as sleek cans, means that plastic packaging can be specified for each application. He points to the ORBIS 37 x 37 BEV FG pallet as being “fully compatible” with all shell types, which can help customers keep up with beverage market trends.

Rehrig Pacific’s Resler notes that large beverage companies, primarily those with national bottling and distribution networks, “still have tremendous opportunities” to highlight circular packaging models for small and large bottle containers and reusable pallets.

“Shifts to smaller volume bottles in multipack configurations can present compatibility challenges to reusable packaging (shell) when packaging is not considered in the upfront design of the bottle,” he explains. “Not every beverage distribution channel and package type is ideal for reusable packaging. Regional bottling and distribution networks present big opportunities to introduce reusable packaging and promote strong reusable/circular packaging models.”

Additional aspects to consider

Aside from automation and beverage trends, more components should be considered when improving existing products and creating new ones, experts note.

ORBIS’ Rader notes that, as eCommerce operations continue to expand, it’s imperative to focus on efficient and safe movement


Keywords

Reusable packaging , Sustainability initiatives , Automation , Beverage trends , Circular packaging models

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