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How to setup and manage a reusable packaging system

Ian Cook: Last Updated 17th February 2022
Posted In: Efficiency & Productivity | Guides and Advice xx 31616

Aid the Productivity of Your Manufacturing Operation

Surprising ways in which plastic tote containers can help your business

Whilst reusable packaging won’t be right for every business – and for many single trip packaging will be the better option – it can have significant benefits if used in the correct application / industry.

But… getting a reusable packaging loop set up and operational requires planning, and that is in addition to initially winning support from key members of your business, customers and suppliers.

This guide provides a number of answers however:

  • Part 1: how to get backing for reusable packaging system
  • Part 2: How to implement and manage your returnable packaging setup

Please continue reading for further information, or download the free guide highlighting the 9 commonly overlooked signs you should be using returnable transit packaging.

Quick Reference / Contents

Reusable Packaging: The right choice?

Why you should be considering reusable packaging

Before detailing key areas to focus on and tasks that need to be tackled, it is first important to briefly summarise the reasons why you should be considering switching to returnable packaging.

Arguably, the biggest reason is one of cost.

Take a standard reusable container that costs £15. With a regular corrugated cardboard shipper costing approximately £1.50, this instantly results in 10 times greater outlay. However, after 10 trips (and overlooking cleaning and maintenance costs), the reusable option has broken even. At 50 trips, the cost per trip is down to 30 pence…

After 200 trips, the cost is just 7 pence – a massive saving on the £1.50 cost of an equivalent cardboard box!

Setting up reusable packaging loop
Setting up a reusable packaging system / loop at your business could yield significant cost savings

Another key reason however is to limit your business’ environmental impact. The resources (and costs) of maintaining reusable containers is considerably less than the recycling of a high volume of cardboard cartons.

Add in increased protection for specific applications, strength and so on, and there is a compelling argument for switching.

Saying that, there are applications, markets and industries where single trip is still the best option. Please see here for a full, unbiased appraisal (GWP manufacture both single and multi-trip packaging) of whether you should use single use of returnable packaging.

01: Reusable Packaging Proposal

17 reasons to switch to returnable transit packaging

The first part of this article covers how to go about analysing whether you could benefit from reusable packaging, what you need to put in place, and how to win approval for the scheme from the necessary stakeholders in your business.

It covers:

  • Winning support / initial review
  • Internal teams and coordinators
  • External support
  • Collating data on packaging use and disposal (Waste Regs)
  • Creating KPIs
  • Producing an action plan

So without further ado, let’s detail the steps required to get a reusable packaging system agreed and supported by your business.

Management buy-in / initial review

The first stage of any project to try and implement reusable packaging is to gain the buy-in and support of senior management, directors or relevant stakeholders within your business.

Whilst this will need to include key stakeholders, getting employees and colleagues who will be tasked with running the system once setup is also critical to help avoid friction and objections. Keeping all parties informed will foster a sense of inclusion and shared targets.

Reusable packaging proposal
A reusable packaging proposal can succeed or fail depending on how successful you are at gaining management buy-in

In order to win this support, it is wise to conduct an initial review. This will be used to obtain the required evidence for supporting your business case.

This could – and should – include identifying opportunities, current problems with excessive waste and areas of your packaging that could see potential savings.

Wherever possible, try to put realistic estimates of these alongside your findings (including figures on potential cost savings can help win over even the most cynical of management).

Whether to appoint a coordinator / project team

As mentioned above, getting the right people on board from the start can make a significant difference.

Staff members that should be involved will likely include, but not be limited to:

  • Buyers / procurement teams
  • Logistics managers / teams
  • Manufacturing coordinators
  • Environmental / waste management officers
  • Marketing / product development staff

It is also a good idea at this stage to identify and appoint a manager for the project (if not yourself) in order to champion the project and drive it through to completion.

Setting up reusable packaging system
Appointing a project manager when setting up a reusable packaging system can be invaluable

External support

Another key element of successfully moving to a reusable packaging setup is to involve key individuals and organisations from outside your business.

This could include your existing packaging supplier or, if they do not offer multi trip packaging containers, carefully selected suppliers who can offer their expert input (and who will be able to design and manufacture the new containers or packaging you will need).

It is also critical to speak with your customers. If they do not buy in to the idea – or there are genuine insurmountable obstacles as to why they cannot switch to reusable packaging – then this must be identified early on the process.

Collating data on packaging use / disposal

The Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) regulations will require you to report on how much packaging you use and dispose of.

This includes accurate information on the weight of packaging you handle, including imported packaging if you are the end user.

Knowing the knock on effects to your responsibilities under the packaging waste regulations will save a lot of work later in the process, as well as providing further ammunition in terms of any reduction in PRNs (Packaging Recovery Notes) you will need to purchase.

Creating KPIs

At this stage you should be able to come up with a list of key performance indicators (KPIs) – effectively your targets and goals – that you can use to review the success of your reusable packaging implementation.

This can cover anything from overall spend, to cost per trip, amount of waste produced per item / shipment and so on.

Setting targets and benchmarks will help to show progress and highlight any other areas which still need to be improved.

Reusable packaging KPIs
Deciding on the key performance indicators - KPIs - that your reusable packaging should achieve, provides an ultimate goal to aim for

Producing an action plan

The final step is to produce a detailed plan of action for your returnable packaging implementation.

This should contain details on who is responsible for which elements, timelines for specific actions, as well as working in the KPIs highlighted in the previous stage.

It is also crucial to set out how and when you will review progress and performance against the KPIs (for example every 6 months). This will allow you to continue to move the project forward and ensure any potential obstacles are being dealt with.

02: Reusable Packaging Implementation

Considerations for successful implementation and management

Although the above section may seem like a lot of work, this can pale into insignificance when compared to the actual implementation itself. However, having a detailed plan, timelines and KPIs can lay the groundwork for success.

Whilst the use of reusable packaging can result in significant cost savings, there are areas that must be considered in order to maximise this.

Poor implementation can lead to inefficiencies, as well as failing to reap all of the potential environmental benefits.

Implementing reusable packaging
Even with the most detailed on planning, implementing reusable packaging into a business can still be difficult

As such, the second part of this guide covers the 8 key points to address when implementing your returnable transit packaging,and for its ongoing management.

  • Management of the scheme
  • Type of reusable packaging to use
  • Volume of units required
  • Transport / logistics considerations
  • Scale
  • Tracking
  • Managing loss
  • Cleaning / refurbishment
  • Review progress

Management of the scheme

Depending on the scale of your reusable packaging setup, it may be wise to appoint a dedicated manager with no other duties.

As this does obviously incur additional costs (which will be offset over time by the reduced costs of the packaging itself), you may need to consider who currently in your business can take responsibility of this (e.g. Logistics or Manufacturing Managers).

Type of returnable containers

There is a surprisingly large range of different multi trip packaging options. This includes everything from Correx® totes and boxes, through to moulded Euro containers and the new Rapitainer solution.

You will need to analyse any specific properties you require from these (e.g. ability to fold flat, stacking strength, branding etc.) before making a decision on the most suitable option for your application.

GWP will be more than happy to help in providing advice on this.

Returnable packaging options
Choosing the wrong type of returnable transit packaging can prove a costly mistake

Quantity required

Once you have decided on the type of returnable packaging containers you are going to use, you also need to work out the correct number that you will require.

This is particularly important as there will be containers located at your site(s), at your customer’s premises, and in transit, at any one time. The delays between sending and returning containers – and the overall volume of product you ship – will play a role in making this decision.

Transport / logistics

The ideal scenario would be for your reusable packaging to be collected as you deliver new product, with the empty totes / containers then being back-hauled.

This can become more difficult if multiple deliveries are made by the same vehicle, if your customers are not timely in returning the containers (or having them ready for collection), or if you operate complicated arrangements or provide irregular consignments to different sites.

A solution such as Rapitainer – which can fold flat after use – can help to resolve a number of these issues.

Scale of the scheme

Generally speaking, the larger scale of the scheme you operate, the more efficient and cost effective it will be.

This is because you will pay a lower price for bulk purchasing your containers, will generally have more influence over the prompt return of the containers, and can absorb more readily issues such as a small number of customers not returning the reusable packaging in a timely manner.

In fact, having more locations, journeys and containers makes it easier to maintain stocks and smooth out variations as well as peaks and troughs in demand.

Saying that, small scale schemes can still work well (and are definitely worth exploring) if you have a limited number of suppliers / customers – and even more so if these are concentrated geographically.

Inefficient reusable packaging
The scale of your planned scheme can affect its efficiency - but even small setups can yield significant results.

Tracking / Managing loss

It is almost inevitable that some “leakage” of your inventory may occur.

Containers may become mislaid, damaged or accidentally disposed of, which is why it is essential to track as far as possible where all of your containers are at any given time.

Another useful idea is to draw up an agreement or even a formal contract on what you and your customer’s responsibilities are. How you approach this will obviously depend on the strength of the relationship between the relevant parties.

Cleaning / refurbishment

Once your reusable packaging loop is up and running, you will also need to establish processes for checking, cleaning and refurbishing the containers periodically.

This can help protect your investment, as well as ensuring protection and performance levels during transit are maintained.

Review progress

As mentioned in the section regarding KPIs, it is important to continually review the progress and effectiveness of your reusable packaging system, even after this is implemented and running.

Doing so can help drive further efficiencies, iron out any potential issues before they become too serious, and effectively maximise the benefits to you, your customers and your suppliers.

In Summary

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If you have decided that implementing reusable packaging at your business could have a positive impact on your costs and your environmental performance, then this guide should give you a good starting point as to the key areas to focus on.

However, if you need any help or advice with regards to getting your own project off the ground, then GWP would be more than happy to help.

Our team of experts have nearly 30 years experience in designing, manufacturing and supplying successful reusable packaging solutions. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Further Reading...

About the Author

Ian Cook, GWP Group managing director

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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