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Reuse, reduce, and reap rewards: Is reusable packaging the key to the supply chain revolution?

By Contributing Author | 11/25/2019 | 5:37 AM

By Bob Petersen, Vice-President of Marketing and Product Management, ORBIS Corporation

The consumer-packaged goods (CPG) supply chain is always evolving. From the storage and shipping of olives and wine during Roman times to the mass production that was possible because of the Industrial Revolution, the way we stock and deliver goods has adapted and evolved throughout the years.

Much like the changes that came before, it’s clear we are experiencing another supply chain revolution. With reusability on the top of the consumer’s mind, increasingly stringent food safety standards, cost-driven automation, instant-delivery options and the unrelenting rise of e-commerce, the supply chain hasn’t simply evolved — it’s been turned on its head.

With so much to consider, how can today’s CPGs who are pushing reusability in their consumer packaging, embrace reusability throughout the entire supply chain? The answer is simple: they must find new ways to innovate and adapt their operations to support reusable pallets, totes and other packaging. By incorporating these types of solutions, they can cut costs, decrease system downtime, optimize freight, reduce waste and decrease product damage to meet the supply chain revolution head on.

The new supply chain must be reusable …

More than anything, CPG supply chain professionals should look to reusability as a source of sustainable, measurable returns. Reusable packaging allows companies to store, move and distribute product within a single operation or entire supply chain, offering flexibility that single-use packaging cannot offer. By design, it is ideal for both closed-loop environments and well-managed open-loop systems, with reverse logistics in place to return empty containers and pallets for re-use.

In addition to versatility, reusable packaging is available in a variety of forms that meet demanding supply chain needs. Pallets, hand-held containers, bins, boxes, totes, bulk containers and protective dunnage are revolutionizing the longevity of material handling while reducing packaging waste and costs. These containers also provide a crucial advantage over single-use storage systems: standardized sizes that ensure more product per packaging and more packaging per truck load, resulting in more efficient transportation and cost savings.

… because reusability means repeatability….

In the supply chain, reusability can equal repeatability, which is good for plant operations and distribution centers that are eager to reduce variability. In fact, reusable packaging can have approximately 18 times the life span of limited-use packaging. Testing done at the Virginia Tech Center for Packaging and Unit Load Design found that a 40-by-48-inch plastic pallet can complete a 10-step handling sequence up to 200 times without failure, while a 40-by-48-inch whitewood stringer pallet failed after approximately 11 cycles. In addition to reusability, reusable packaging is standardized, meaning better interface with automation, easier warehousing, more accurate picking and better truck utilization.

Automated picking systems work best with standardized reusable packaging. Single-use boxes made from limited-use materials such as corrugated can tear, become wet or get crushed, making it difficult for automated systems to properly move product along the supply chain. Plastic boxes hold their shape over time, so sensors and equipment can get consistent reads that ensure movement through the system without jams or delays.

In warehousing and distribution center environments, standardized packaging stacks and racks more efficiently to save on floor space. Automated or manual picking and fulfillment rates rise with standard totes and hoppers. Furthermore, combining mobility and reusable packaging will take precedence at distribution and fulfillment centers by seamlessly connecting the picking and delivery stages of the supply chain. The mobility of carts and pallets can accelerate picking, improve order accuracy and meet omnichannel fulfillment demands.

When it comes to distribution and when packed on trucks, standardized reusable packaging can mean more product per shipment, as well as quick unload at its destination, which reduces driver dwell time. Mobile reusable packaging increases efficiency during delivery as loads can be rolled off the truck and placed directly in the aisle, eliminating down-stacking and increasing one-touch merchandising and replenishing speeds.

The supply chain is the ideal place for reusables, with known return loops. With trusted supply chain partners, packaging is easily returned for replenishment. Additionally, packaging management services are available for the cleaning, tracking and managing of these packaging assets, so CPGs can focus on their core business.

… which leads to sustainable results …

It’s true that sustainability solutions have become buzzwords in many industries, and they impact the CPG supply chain as well. However — unlike other industries — making the transition to reusable packaging in the supply chain business isn’t simply environmentally friendly, but it’s also good for growth and consumer confidence, which will lift sales.

For instance, reusable packaging offers easy cleanability and, unlike other materials, does not absorb water, odors or bacteria. At the end of its service life, it is recovered, recycled and reprocessed into usable packaging again, without going into the solid waste stream. Lastly, these products come in a wide variety of colors and offer various identification options, ensuring their success in warehouses and retail environments alike. These advantages are aesthetically pleasing and address cleanability requirements while also increasing the service life of totes and pallets to more than 200 trips throughout the supply chain.

… and ultimately creates supply chain success and consumer loyalty

Arguably, no reaction to the changing CPG supply chain — not investing in the needs of tomorrow — could limit success. As reusable packaging in the CPG industry increases, so should reusable packaging throughout the supply chain. Considering both will help implement sustainability throughout an entire business. In a world where automation, e-commerce, omnichannel delivery and food safety tactics are simultaneously becoming more and more complex, single-use storage containers and delivery systems aren’t going to cut it.

Instead, by investing in innovative, reusable supply chain solutions such as reusable packaging that embrace the principles of mobility, ease of use, sustainability and more, companies can meet the challenge of increasing demand head-on, ensuring future growth, customer confidence and continuous improvement.

To learn more, visit www.orbiscorporation.com.

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Welcome to "One-Off Sound-Off," a blog page devoted to guest commentary on all things supply chain. This is a space where industry leaders can share their opinions and expertise with the logistics and supply chain community. If you have an article or commentary you'd like to share, please consider sending a guest blog proposal to feedback@dcvelocity.com.



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