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Last Updated 21st August 2019
Posted In: Efficiency & Productivity | Guides & Advice

Reduce Costs, Environmental Impact & More.

How returnable transit packaging can provide tangible benefits to your business

Returnable transit packaging (RTP), such as plastic crates, totes and shipping boxes, are already widely used in many industries. This includes automotive and aerospace, amongst others. But it is fast becoming a viable option for other businesses too.

This guide highlights 17 compelling reasons why your business should move away from high volume corrugated packaging, and begin to use RTP instead. It covers:

The various ways it can reduce costs
The environmental benefits
How it can improve transit protection
Plus much more

Alternatively, please also see below for a free guide detailing the 7 signs your business could benefit from switching to returnable transit packaging.

What is returnable transit packaging?

A brief overview of reusable packaging systems

In simple terms, returnable transit packaging can take the form of crates, boxes, totes, pallets and other multi trip products manufactured from a durable material (such as plastic) and intended for use over multiple trips.

This extended lifecycle when compared with single trip packaging (such as corrugated cardboard packaging) essentially means that they can offer a lower cost per trip.

17 reasons to switch to returnable packaging
There are (at least) 17 strong reasons why you should consider switching to returnable transit packaging

However, they can offer a much wider range of benefits. This includes improved environmental impact, efficiency gains and even branding options. Using a returnable packaging system does have its challenges and considerations however.

GWP are able to offer a number of returnable transit container options, including the brand new Rapitainer, as well as custom Correx® totes and moulded plastic options.

We also offer single trip corrugated packaging – and recognise that different applications call for different solutions. Please click here for a full analysis of single trip vs returnable packaging.

Why Switch to Returnable Packaging

17 reasons to switch to returnable transit packaging

So what are these potential benefits of switching to reusable packaging? Well, in no particular order, here are 17 ways in which your business could benefit:

Lower unit / lifetime costs
Minimise secondary packaging
Reduce labour costs
Lower disposal costs
Return journey savings
Increased transit protection
Protection for neighbours in transit
Hygiene / cleaning
Reduced shedding
Enhanced stacking ability / strength
Reduced storage requirement
Tracking of containers
Bespoke sizes / options
Branding potential
Environmental benefits
Energy conservation
Improved company perception

The remainder of this guide provides a brief summary of each one, along with examples of how these can be translated into success for your business.

01: Unit / Lifetime Costs

Long term cost savings for your business

Whilst the initial, upfront cost of buying returnable packaging is higher than for an equivalent number of corrugated boxes, this is soon recovered. With a longer lifespan, the cost per trip falls significantly, making a reusable packaging setup much more cost effective in the medium to long term than its single-trip counterpart.

Using the Rapitainer system as an example, a single container might cost (for example) £15.00. This is compared with £1.50 for a standard corrugated shipper.

However, over 50 trips the cost of the Rapitainer solution drops to just 30 pence. And across 200 trips (which are more than achievable, depending on handling methods) this figure falls to just 7 pence per trip.

In fact, one early adopter of the Rapitainer system is now saving approximately £120,000 per annum having replaced single trip corrugated packaging.

Rapitainer returnable transit packaging
Rapitainer returnable transit packaging can deliver some truly eye opening cost savings in the mid - long term

02: Secondary Packaging

Further minimise costs and improve productivity

Single trip corrugated packaging will often require secondary packaging – most typically in the form of tape, strapping or other methods of closure.

Plastic totes or boxes with integrated lids and bases that do not require tape eliminates the cost of purchasing this additional inventory.

It also prevents one of the main barriers to recycling (i.e. having to separate tape from corrugated boxes once they have been used).

Similarly, greasy or moist items would need additional papers, plastic linings or bags to prevent to corrugated material of the outer packaging being damaged.

As plastics are resistant to this, they won’t necessarily require these additional items.

03: Labour Costs

A more productive workforce...

Secondary packaging can also increase labour costs, as it effectively adds another process to the assembly.

In fact, single trip packaging requires considerably more manpower at the beginning of its journey (assembly, closures, potentially placing items in bags / liners etc.) and the end (collapsing, removing tape, bundling ready for recycling etc.).

Therefore, returnable packaging can improve the productivity of your staff too.

A final point to add here is that returnable transit packaging also has a wide range of “dunnage” options – effectively inserts, dividers, layer separators, vac formed trays and so on.

These can further increase the efficiency of your staff (and product protection too). These can often be folded flat or nested for return transit.

04: Disposal Costs

Benefits for your customers

With single trip corrugated, there is often a cost of disposal once they have completed their (one and only) journey.

Whilst a lot of this burden will fall on the recipient of the cardboard packaging, there are costs for your business in terms of buying PRNs under the Packaging Waste Regulations.

Returnable transit packaging will eliminate the need for your customers to dispose of / recycle large volumes of corrugated boxes and the associated costs. Instead, your customers can simply collapse them and send back to you as a return load following their next delivery.

And don’t forget – the majority of RTP containers can be recycled at the end of their serviceable life too.

Stackable material handling containers
Returnable packaging containers will take the burden of recycling high volumes of single trip packaging away from your customers

05: Return savings

Efficient return transit of your containers

One criticism of returnable packaging – and specifically moulded totes or containers – is that it can often result in very inefficient return journeys. This is because, as the containers do not fold flat, they still take up a whole vehicle load.

Essentially, you are paying to ship fresh air inside your containers.

Whilst this is fine in scenarios where goods may be delivered, finished or have some other process applied and then returned, it can make it uneconomical for a one way trip (unless that trip was going to be empty anyway).

An easy solution to this however is to use collapsible transit packaging. This can, after use, be folded down and returned without taking up much space on the return trip.

One assembled Rapitainer, as an example, can typically hold 10 collapsed units for the return journey.

Collapsible transit packaging
Reusable packaging that can fold flat for the return journey can help with efficient return transit

06: Protection

Minimised damage during transit

Whilst corrugated boxes are surprisingly tough and durable, there are certain environments where they will not perform at their best. For example, if they get wet, their strength is compromised significantly.

This can ultimately lead to items becoming damaged in transit. Expensive and time consuming returns processes. Organising replacements and disposing or reworking of damaged items.

Perhaps even a loss of confidence in your business if it happens too often.

Both Correx® and moulded plastic totes avoid this by being resistant to moisture, as well as offering much greater rigidity, strength and overall performance.

07: Leakage

Additional protection if shipping liquids

A point which is often overlooked is what happens if liquid containers become damaged within their transit container.

Using an obvious example, if a container with liquid in (think paint tins) bursts or leaks when inside its outer transit packaging, this liquid would be able to leak into and through a corrugated box and cause damage to the surrounding items.

Plastic returnable containers can generally avoid this, with the material typically being resistant to liquids, chemicals and other substances. This can mean containing the spill, preventing damage to other products within the shipment.

08: Hygiene / Cleaning

Enhancing the longevity and specialist applications

Returnable transit containers usually have smooth sides due to the nature of the material.  This, when combined with plastics resistance to water, provides a couple of benefits.

Firstly, it means that plastic containers can be used for clean room applications, or markets that require strict hygiene (such as fresh produce delivery).

Secondly, it also means that, if the totes become dirty, they can be easily cleaned, further enhancing their lifespan.

Easy clean returnable boxes
Plastic totes and containers have smooth sides, making them easy to clean

09: Shedding

Prevention of contamination through fibres

Shedding is the term used to describe small fibres or particles (effectively dust) being lost from the surface of a material. This happens with a number of materials during transit, while being handled or as it degrades over time.

As corrugated cardboard is likely to shed and create dust, this can make it unsuitable for specific applications. And even if it is not specifically a problem, it can lead to significant dust and cleaning requirements over time.

Plastics such as Correx® or moulded polypropylene avoid this issue.

10: Stacking Ability / Strength

Maximise load space (safely)

The added strength and durability of plastic returnable packaging means that it can usually be used more efficiently on pallets.

Plastic boxes will, if engineered correctly, have higher burst and edge crush limits. This allows them to be stacked higher and / or with increased weight inside.

This efficiency can actually lead to the need for fewer trips, in turn reducing both costs and environmental impact.

Stacking totes
Stacking totes and returnable packaging can help maximise loads and make efficient use of storage space

11: Storage

Minimise space required when not in use

Whilst moulded returnable transit packaging will take up a large amount of space when not in use, collapsible plastic containers can offer the same benefits as corrugated cardboard in that they can be stored flat.

A further benefit however, is that if you are not using a just in time supply agreement for your corrugated, you will need to keep large amounts on site.

But, whilst you will need some reserves of transit containers to meet peaks in demand, storage will generally be reduced once a successful return loop has been established (a quantity of your totes will be stored throughout the supply chain, rather than filling your warehouse).

12: Tracking

Know exactly where your returnable transit packaging is

With modern technology advancing at a rapid pace, it can even be possible to track your totes or containers by using web based online tracking systems.

This can not only help you locate where your goods are in your supply chain, but can also help to prevent loss and / or theft of the returnable packaging containers themselves

13: Bespoke Sizes / Options

Returnable packaging tailored to your exact requirements

Whilst this isn’t really a benefit over corrugated packaging, which can also be manufactured to any size, many people believe that returnable transit packaging is only available in specific sizes (i.e. to fit standard pallets, racking etc.).

This isn’t the case at all. Correx® totes and boxes (including Rapitainer) are available in custom sizes (and strengths).

This means the performance and costs can be tailored to your specific requirements.

Custom rtp options
Returnable transit packaging can be tailored to your product or application, improving performance further

14: Branding

Advertising and awareness throughout your supply chain

As with bespoke sizes, it is of course possible to brand corrugated cardboard boxes. In fact, printing cardboard boxes arguably offer much more versatility that when looking to brand plastic items.

So why is this listed as a benefit?

Well, if using single trip corrugated, having to pay extra to add logos and text to your boxes can soon add up. However, with returnable transit packaging, you pay for your branding to be added once and there it will remain for the lifespan of the container.

Plus, if your containers will be seen at various points in your supply chain, this provides a great opportunity to increase your brand awareness.

Printed totes
Printed totes allow you to add branding, logos, part or batch numbers, handling instructions and other useful information

15: Environmental

Minimising the impact of your packaging

Although the environmental benefits are listed towards the end of this article, they should not be underestimated. In fact, this is one of the key reasons so many businesses are switching to reusable transit packaging.

Thousands, perhaps millions of tonnes of perfectly good corrugated boxes are effectively baled, pulped and turned back into… cardboard boxes. This is essentially using a lot of energy to re-produce the same product you started with.

And of course, this isn’t taking into account the amount of cardboard that unintentionally ends up in landfill too.

Returnable transit packaging prevents all of this.

16: Energy Conservation

Minimising the impact of your packaging

Besides reducing the amount of waste in landfill, returnable transit packaging can conserve energy in other ways too.

For example, cleaning totes for reuse uses vastly less energy and resources than those required to recycle corrugated packaging.

Besides this, if your returnable loop is setup to operate efficiently then it also reduces the number of miles driven by your fleet with empty loads (as return journeys will be used for returning your containers).

17: Company Perception

Improving the opinions about your business

Finally, it should be noted that company perception is hugely important.

And whilst many people without specific knowledge of returnable transit packaging may simply assume plastics are bad (as per media portrayal), by educating your customers on the benefits of RTP it can highlight your environmental concerns and policies.

Couple this with the reduced costs, minimised burden of disposal on the end users and reduction in transit damage and this can result in increased customer satisfaction.

Returnable packaging
All of the factors listed above can result in an improved perception of your brand / business

Summary

Should you switch to returnable transit packaging?

There is a wealth of cost, environmental and usability arguments for switching to reusable supply chain containers.

However, these benefits must be weighed up against the resources required to setup a returnable packaging logistics system and the suitability of single trip containers the for your business or specific application.

If you require any assistance with regards to making a decision is best for you, or sourcing returnable transit packaging products, we would love to help.

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Ian Cook, Managing Director of GWP Correx & GWP Conductive

[email protected]
01793 754 457

About the Author: Ian Cook

Managing Director | GWP Correx®

Ian heads up GWP Correx®, having outstanding knowledge and understanding of supply chain, reusable packaging & handling products. [Read full bio…]

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