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May 19, 2023

Behind the scenes of reusable packaging: 4 things you likely have never thought about

Written by Rebecca Smith, Director of Growth Strategy at LimeLoop

When was the last time you took a close look at the packaging around your house?

Whether it’s your toothpaste, coffee beans, kleenex, or the packaging used for your shipped goods, every single one of these items is designed in a specific way for a specific purpose. Conventionally, all of these items are designed for single-use. Once you finish your bag of coffee, you probably toss it. When your toothpaste runs out, it gets tossed into the trash and you buy a new one. When you break down a box, you recycle it.

In this case, the packaging isn’t necessarily designed for multiple uses. When you think about how to extend the life cycle of any of these items, the design process changes as more features have to be considered.

Features like:

  • Cleaning and sanitizing
  • Durability and reusability
  • Logistics
  • Education

When you understand the behind-the-scenes work that goes into reusable packaging, your appreciation for a more sustainable future is much higher.

CEO Rebecca Smith
Director of Growth Marketing Rebecca Smith

Why reusable packaging?

Before we dig into the elements of reusable packaging, why is it important to look at swapping to a reusable model?

“There are always ways to create less with more.”

Resource Label Group Director of Sustainability Tim Bohlke

One hundred years ago, our ancestors were living in a fairly high-functioning circular economy. A circular economy is one in which we’re focused on the reuse and regeneration of materials or products, especially as a means of continuing production in a sustainable or environmentally friendly way. Rather than prioritizing single-use and convenience, a circular economy prioritizes the reduction and reuse of products so that virgin materials are saved and we’re only using what we really need.

Generations past used what they had in front of them to create what they needed and ultimately find ways to get what they needed within the community. They wasted less using the resources available to them over and over again. To hear more on this topic, listen to a recent podcast with Matt Prindiville, previous CEO of Upstream.

Today, about 36 million tons of waste plastics are generated in the US each year, most of which are discharged into the environment and end up in landfills. And that is just plastic waste, not including food waste, chemical waste, paper waste, etc.

Needless to say, the move to reusable packaging is enticing for many different reasons:

  • 66% of all United States consumers — and 80% of adults under 34 — willingly pay a premium for sustainable products
  • By 2040 a circular economy has the potential to reduce the annual volume of plastics entering our oceans by 80% and to lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 25%
  • An increasing number of cities and states are holding companies responsible for the fate of their own packaging waste (Maine, Oregon and California to name a few)

Reusable packaging is just one piece of the sustainability puzzle, but one that can be easily controlled.

So, what should you look for in reusable packaging?

4 reusable packaging considerations

Cleaning and Sanitizing

Nobody wants to use something over and over again that is hard to clean.

The cleaning and sanitation process for reusable packaging is critical to preventing any kind of contamination between uses. This process involves washing, sterilizing, and inspecting the packaging to ensure that it meets all necessary standards.

When it comes to cleaning, you want to make sure you’re looking for packaging that is easy-to-clean. Sounds so simple but some materials just aren’t designed that way. Packaging that is created with recycled polyester is a good option because it gets poly out of landfills and is upcycled into something useful, and the material is easy to keep clean and sanitized.

Durability and Reusability

Naturally, one of the most critical aspects is designing for durability and reusability. This means creating packaging that can withstand multiple uses without deteriorating–not only in transport, also when it is cleaned and sanitized.

Take a good look at the materials used, the shape of the packaging, and the closure mechanisms, among other things. This process requires collaboration between designers, engineers, and manufacturers to ensure that the packaging meets all necessary standards and can be produced at scale.

The last thing you want is your packaging to break during transport to a customer or on one of your workers during their busy days in pick and pack…

Logistics

Reusable packaging also requires an intricate tracking and logistics system to ensure that the packaging is returned, cleaned, and redistributed efficiently.

This process involves monitoring the distribution of packaging to retailers and consumers, collecting used packaging, and transporting it to its next destination to be used, cleaned and/or both. While this part of the process sounds intricate, I can reassure you that it doesn’t have to be. It can actually be quite simple when you work with the right partners.

It becomes even more seamless when your reusable packaging is backed by technology that can track your packages 24/7/365 rather than just relying on scans from carriers or RFID.

Education

Finally, education is critical when it comes to reusable packaging. Whether you’re using reusable packaging with consumers or using it within your supply chain to transport goods from DCs to retail stores, there’s some education here that has to happen to keep your reusable packaging in motion.

This process requires effective and consistent communication. It also requires the support of retailers and manufacturers to ensure that the necessary infrastructure is in place to collect and clean the packaging. While it isn’t a piece of the packaging design necessarily, it is an incremental piece of the entire process to ensure proper utilization.

Reusable packaging is here to stay

As consumers, we are so familiar with the concept of packaging.

However, the behind the scenes work is not normally a top-of-mind thought. The next time you’re in the kitchen, take a look at your coffee packaging. Or the next time you receive a package in the mail, take a look at what it comes in.

Ask yourself questions like:

  • What do you notice?
  • What could be better?
  • What do you wish it felt or looked like
  • How does it feel to throw it away knowing that there may be a solution that keeps it out of landfills?

Reusable packaging is the way to a more sustainable future.

To learn more about reusable packaging, schedule a call with our Reuse Specialists. Together, let’s deliver a world without waste.

Rebecca Smith
Rebecca Smith
Director of Growth Marketing
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