Today’s consumer wants to buy from sustainable brands. The rise of the circular economy concept, coupled with pressure from consumers for more sustainable products, is pushing many leading companies to refine their environmental practices to drive sustainability across their supply chain, including in their warehouses. According to Blue Yonder’s 2022 Consumer Sustainability Survey, which highlights retail consumer preferences related to sustainable shopping habits, nearly 65% of consumers are willing to spend more on a product just to ensure it is being produced and packaged sustainably.
Knowing this, many companies are in the unique position to set themselves up for future success in terms of their sustainability, cost savings and operational efficiency by implementing reusable packaging solutions in their warehouses. Which begs the question: How can warehouses become more sustainable if many companies are still relying on limited- or single-use packaging solutions like the corrugated brown box and wood pallet in their operations today?
As companies look to reduce CO2 emissions, landfill waste, water usage and more, here’s how they can evolve their supply chain practices to create more sustainable warehouses:
Eliminate expendable packaging
Manufacturers need to find ways to part with expendable packaging in their supply chain. A switch to reusables effectively stops waste at the packaging source to prevent the entry of single-use packaging into the solid waste stream. When choosing multitrip reusable packaging, companies also avoid the recurring disposal of single-use expendables. Not only does this reduce waste, but it also helps products move more efficiently and safely. Reusable packaging solutions, like totes and pallets, are more durable than a corrugated box or wood pallet, which could be easily damaged. In better protecting the product, manufacturers can minimize loss and, as a result, further reduce their waste.
While wood pallets may seem like the more attractive option due to their lower upfront price, in the long run, their useful life is much shorter than that of their reusable counterparts. The durability of reusable plastic packaging solutions allows them to last for many cycles through the supply chain, leading to a compelling ROI. In fact, making the switch to reusable plastic pallets reduces solid waste by 72% and energy usage by 71%. What’s more, companies don’t need to constantly order new wood pallets or corrugated boxes to keep up their operations due to the long useful life of reusables. And the benefits of not needing huge re-orders of packaging are multifold: not only does it reduce the number of deliveries and the accompanying fuel, emissions and transportation costs, but it also protects companies from industry shortages and supply chain delays that would prevent their operation from running regularly.
With the growing need for warehouse space, reusable packaging also provides significant space-saving benefits as solutions can stack securely in vertical environments when not in use, driving further flexibility and efficiencies.
Shift toward automated processes
Warehouse labor is getting increasingly difficult to find. To meet these needs, automation and robotics are becoming increasingly widespread. In fact, the 2021 MHI Annual Industry Report found that 38% of survey respondents reported implementation of robotics or automation equipment in their business operations today, with an additional 38% expecting to do so over the next five years. That’s where reusable plastic packaging comes in to provide dimensional consistency and repeatable performance for all types of automated systems.
Reusable packaging solutions, unlike traditional wood pallets or corrugated boxes, are dimensionally consistent and create a smooth interface between automated systems and product loads. On the flip side, wood pallets have a higher likelihood for broken boards or nails popping out, causing potential downtime in an automated system, or possible product damage, leading to waste.
Use alternative material streams
While your choice of reusable plastic packaging over wood or corrugated solutions has clear environmental benefits, your material choices also matter. Innovative recycled material options are growing in popularity for their added sustainable advantages.
There are three ways in which companies can increase the amount of recycled content in their plastic packaging, each carrying different environmental benefits:
- Post-consumer plastic waste is discarded after consumer use and includes items such as plastic water bottles, milk jugs and shampoo bottles. Companies can collect, reprocess and repurpose this plastic into new packaging solutions.
- Post-industrial waste is collected when companies look in their own supply chain for opportunities to recycle materials like film, bags, obsolete packaging, etc. and repurpose it into packaging solutions.
- Single-use plastic at risk of entering our oceans can be recovered and repurposed into packaging solutions. Certain reusable plastic packaging providers are utilizing innovative material streams like coastline waste and incorporating it into new products for the supply chain.
Close the loop
The circular economy concept – which is governed by the 3Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle) and based on the continuous flow of product in the value circle – is the future of a successful, sustainable supply chain. By design, reusable plastic totes, pallets, dunnage and bulk systems are used over and over during the course of their service life. At the end of their life, they can be recovered, recycled and reprocessed into new packaging products, without entering the solid waste stream.
The push to create more sustainable warehouses, and supply chains overall, is only just beginning. Making the investment in new processes and solutions that drive sustainability will not only benefit the environment, but also the future of your warehouse.