Reusable transport packaging (RTP) is defined as a multi-trip packaging medium that can transport products and goods more than once. RTPs typically consist of durable containers like pallets, trays, totes, and racks, and are made from strong materials like wood, metal, and plastic. Reusable packaging’s capacity to be used many times offers major benefits in terms of sustainability, cost savings, and productivity. The RTP global market was valued at $103.7 billion in 2021 and is expected to have a compound annual growth of 5.9% between 2022 and 2030.
It is essential to note, reusable packaging is not about the product, but rather the system that moves the packaging through its intended purpose and then recollects and reconditions the packaging, enabling it to achieve another use. This system of recovery offers advantages for product manufacturers, primary or end user customers, and their supply chains.
As an industry, we need to take a serious look at material handling and reusable packaging in response to rapidly changing environmental climates and operating conditions. Over the last 50 years, the global economy has changed our earth’s natural systems at unprecedented speeds and impacts. The Great Acceleration outlines these trends in human behavior and the influence those activities have on the Earth’s natural resources and planetary responses. Factors such as population, waste, energy and water use, raw material consumption, real GDP, and transportation are all drivers prompting the accelerated change.
The World Bank estimates a global generation of 2.01 billion tons of solid waste annually with an expected growth rate of 3.40 billion by 2050, and an approximated 33% of the waste is not being handled in an environmentally appropriate manner. In the United States, for example, each person is responsible for 4.9 pounds of trash per day. The costs of waste inefficiencies and management will continue to stress company financials and profit margins.
With more solid waste, pollution, and carbon emission reduction initiatives being executed globally, and with greater consumer support behind sustainable actors, businesses are seeking out ways to play a more responsible part in understanding how their operations affect the environment. It is more vital than ever for supply chain operators to forecast the constraints on their business including inventory sourcing disruptions and understand how reusable packaging can meet the demands of today and the challenges of tomorrow. In a fast-paced business climate, it is essential for businesses to increase their resiliency in order to pull through disruption with minimal impact.
Economics of Sustainability
The ability for a company to do better and become more sustainable is not just for companies to deem themselves “green” in the eyes of customers. In the pursuit of becoming more sustainable, it is important for companies to stop viewing their sustainability efforts as a response to a situation, but instead, as a way to create a new value proposition or economic model that achieves growth decoupled from adverse environmental impact – while also positioning the company to better withstand disturbances. It begins with investing in a systems approach to managing resources and breaking the reliance on volatile commodity markets, and that is what is going to drive sustainable business operations and supply chain performance.
In a circular economy, resource inputs and waste are both lessened in an effort to reach supreme efficiency. Circular economies follow three main principles which include – designing out waste, keeping products and materials at their highest value of use, and the regeneration of natural ecosystems. This economic model achieves business growth while increasing a business’s ability to remain resilient during times of disruption – while protecting environmental and social conditions.
Reusable Packaging in the Supply Chain
The Covid-19 pandemic gave us wide-ranging insight into the fractures and vulnerability of supply chains throughout the world. We quickly saw how material shortages and price spikes had the capability to cripple many industries. Because RTPs are reusable, they are also predictable and offer supply chain’s a dependency and resiliency that is necessary to withstand such disruption.
The reusables industry has seen tremendous growth over the last several years, which can in part be credited to the food and beverage industry’s desire for more control and visibility into their processing equipment and transportation of products.
Key benefits of using RTPs in your supply chain:
- Quality – reusable packaging models allow for packaging to be inspected for quality and repaired and/or sanitized between uses, ensuring optimal functionality and hygiene
- Sustainability – Many RTPs are not only made from recycled materials, they are also recyclable or repairable at the end of their life cycle, offering durability over disposability and resource stability. Additional environmental benefits include:
- Less solid waste
- Lower carbon emission
- Lower energy consumption
- Lower water usage
- Lower product waste
- Cost Savings – With the exception of the initial cost of conversion to RTPs, supply chains can experience a reduction in erratic commodity pricing, and greater savings over time due to RTP’s sturdiness and steadiness – allowing for reuse and the ability to place more loads on trucks (shipping savings). Further cost savings can be seen through lower per-use costs, labor efficiencies and ergonomics, decrease in product damage, preservation of perishable food quality, and tech-enabled inventory management, precision, and warehouse automation.
- Increased Revenue – When using retail-ready reusables, retailers are able to place more product on the same shelf space or add additional SKUs to the same space to increase revenue, and reduce stockouts. With many supply chains struggling with increasing SKU proliferation, reusable packaging can optimize space while moving product more quickly and accurately through the supply chain – lowering cost and limiting downtime.
Tech-Enabled Reusable Transport Packaging
The reusable industry has decades of experience with reusable transport products and with the ongoing developments in technology, this will only get better. Due to its resilience, reusable packaging is the perfect platform to arm with devices for smart and connected products that provide case and item level tracking, predictive analytics, data sharing among partners, and interactive visibility into entire supply chains.
The partnership between RTPs and information technology is a game changer for supply chains – providing end-to-end visibility into the movement of goods. Asset tracking and IoT-enabled technology equip supply chains with the logistics and transparency to track the temperature and location of their shipments, in real-time. This type of quality monitoring and assurance is pivotal for the cold chain and perishable products, giving a deeper trust and awareness for the manufacturer and the consumer.
We will continue to see advancements in digitization for the supply chain. Because reusable transport packaging is made from tough, rigid materials, with longevity in mind, reusable packaging will stay a valued partner in the modernization of warehouse logistics, asset tracking, and supply chain management.
The Reusable Packaging Association is collaborative and welcomes companies in this space to come together and join the industry, allowing us to be bigger and better as a collective. We look forward to making an impact together, further advancing the education, resources, and technologies for reusable packaging and the modernization of today’s supply chain. If you would like to learn more about the RPA, please click here.