Single-use packaging is subject to volatile raw material sourcing, commodity markets, and manufacturing capacities.  Reusable packaging breaks the dependency on incessant resource supply and production means, offering product inventory stability and cost control.   Businesses are encouraged to future-proof and build resiliency in operations by transitioning to a reusable packaging system.  Today’s predicaments in the supply chain demonstrate the competitive advantage of reuse models in practical, real-world terms.

The well-publicized global supply chain crisis is impacting the availability and cost of packaging.  It is reported that the U.S. is running out of corrugated cardboard boxes, and retailers are battling for disposable packaging materials.   Producer price indices for corrugated boxes and plastic resins continue to push record prices up, increasing cost-of-goods and piling on inflation concerns.  Meanwhile, low value material scrap intended for recycling struggles to find a home.  Recent accounts from India reveal an even more dire situation there, for example, labeling the corrugated industry in deep trouble with survival at stake.

Reusable packaging is not a cure for the ailments of this crisis.  Reusable packaging inventories are also adversely affected by unexpected swings in demand and unmanaged supply.  However, reusable packaging lessens the problem by reducing the dependency on material sourcing for product availability.  Reusable products have already been manufactured, and any draws on resources are only needed for incremental inventory replenishment and increases to meet new demand.  Reusable packaging removes material supply as a requirement for every product use. 

The world economy needs a different balance in the relationship between resource consumption and product availability.  Circular economy practitioners seek to shift the balance in which waste is designed out, product utility is always maximized, and natural ecosystems are regenerated, leading to a decoupling of economic growth from resource consumption and related environmental deterioration.  This explains why a reusable packaging system is the preferred arrangement in a circular economy, replacing a linear model of single use where waste is always created and new or recycled material is always needed. 

While researchers and academia debate the capabilities of decoupling at scale, whether circularity can produce both lasting economic growth and meaningful environmental sustainability, a different decoupling – operational resiliency from resource consumption – may be a more immediate and critical step in the path to growth, namely the ability of a business to survive when sailing against unprecedented headwinds. 

By any measure the pace of change in the relationship between human endeavors and planetary boundaries has never been greater.  The data behind The Great Acceleration notion is a compelling case of being in unchartered waters today, and in the future, when it comes to Earth’s response to human activities including natural resource mining and associated environmental outputs.  Further triggering change and testing business resolve, the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated trends putting a premium on resilient business models.   

There are countless reasons to adopt a reusable packaging system for the distribution of goods in supply chains.  Operational resiliency is one reason that has made a substantial move up the list in just under two years.  By adopting a reusable packaging system, a company can transform its operations from linear to circular, from waste-managing to waste-preventing, from lowest cost to value creation, from consumption to conservation, and from rigid unpredictability to flexible certainty.  The latter may be a central condition for businesses to survive and thrive in today’s resource-stressed global economy.

Tim Debus
President & CEO
Reusable Packaging Association

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