Reusable packaging meaning
Reusable packaging is hardly new, but the concept has come back into focus as sustainability pressures grow. Due to complexities in the recycling process of single-use plastic, glass and cardboard, huge amounts of these materials that consumers really try to recycle ultimately end up getting burned or scattered around the natural environment. So much so that if we zoom in on plastic, just 32,5% of packaging is collected for recycling in Europe.
In this context is where reusable packaging comes into play and is gaining more traction than ever. Using the same containers over and over again alleviates demand for virgin materials, reduces the energy needed to produce thousands of new containers and prevents bunches of trash from ending up in landfills or oceans.
So what is the main problem of reusable packaging? It puts a burden on consumers, who must follow directions and actually reuse packages as intended in order for them to be safe. This is why using the right materials is crucial to ensure that they are suitable for reuse, as they maintain their properties without compromising human health. In this regard, EPP and EPS are great performers.
Different types of reusable packaging
Reusable packages can be found almost everywhere, but they are specially used in the agro-food and industry sector. At Knauf Industries we have more than 30 years of expertise designing and producing food packaging that combines industrial design with food safety, especially with regard to last mile transportation. Let’s review the most outstanding ones, which are comprised in our product range ISymoov®, specially designed for handling and storage:
Komebac®, to organize, store and transport any product.
Komebac® Zone, ideal for e-commerce transport.
Reusable packaging is commonly found at protection equipment, such as separators or pallets for transporting products; at electronic equipment with dissipative foam solutions or HVAC home appliances, among others.
In case of industrial application, the returnable packaging gained traction especially in the Automotive sector. OEM and its supplier base are using them in their supply chain ecosystem. The trend has been expanding to other industries where the indirect packaging solutions made of EPP proved to be competitive in case of Total Cost Analysis approach (considering the nr. of logistic loops). The standard product range of KNAUF Industries helps to limit initial investment and provide tailor made solutions for specific needs.
The way we use packaging materials is extremely wasteful. In fact, packaging is one of the main users of virgin materials in the EU as 40% of plastics and 50% of paper used is destined for packaging
If one looks in greater detail at the plastic industry, annually we use 98% of virgin feedstock (basically oil and gas) to make 78 kt of plastic products that are often single-used and then are thrown away. This is known as a linear take-make-waste model.
It comes clear that our relationship with consumption needs rethinking and should evolve to a circular economy model: a production and consumption paradigm where the lifecycle of existing materials and products is extended through reusing and recycling, so no materials are lost and the maximum use is achieved from every process, material and component. Its motto? Materials are designed to be used, not used up.
Need to use returnable containers
One of the key points of circular economy for packaging is that all materials are 100% reusable, recyclable, or compostable. Focussing on the first point, reusable packaging can be divided into four different solutions:
- Refill at home: users refill their reusable containers autonomously, for example, glass bottles for refilling or shampoo pouches.
- Return from home: packaging is collected from home by a pickup service thanks to a logistic management system.
- Refill on the go: users refill their containers away from home, for instance, at an in-store dispensing system.Return on the go: users return the packaging to a store or drop-off point, such as a deposit-and-return machine.
- Re use in Industrial applications JIT delivery directly to production line with collapsible solution for optimum reverse logistic and internal storage cost.
- Minimize reproduction (or fall out rate, scrap level etc.) cost by best-in-class protection properties.
Reduce carbon footprint
Each time a packaging gets reused, it is closer to paying off its environmental debt and the carbon footprint of unnecessary production is reduced.
However, it must be taken into account that it is important to correctly design reuse programs in order to give the correct incentives. For example, if someone buys a reusable shampoo bottle but gets lazy at the last minute and throws it away in the garbage instead of refilling it, it ends up being worse for the environment than buying a single-use package, as more energy was used into making the durable bottle. In short, for a reuse program to work, the simpler, the better.
Customize packaging to reuse
Research shows that 70% of consumers would be willing to pay more for a product that comes in sustainable packaging and in general more likely to reuse packages if they are versatile and can meet their needs in a variety of situations.
One example of this are our extensible corner protections available in EPP that effectively protect from shocks products from 32 to 300 mm. Having such a degree of customization enormously facilitates reuse.
Engineering systems of packaging
One of the major challenges when rethinking packaging and trying to find innovative and useful reusable packaging solutions is choosing the right systems and materials. Therefore, material engineering is a key field here, since it involves investigating the properties of substances to create new materials with enhanced physical and chemical qualities, optimize production processes and develop eco-friendly materials that help reduce the carbon footprint.
The properties of engineered materials in this sector contribute to make it evolve. In this regard, the basic goal is finding materials that not only remain unaltered during time to protect consumers’ health, but also keep their protective functions unchanged or even improve them when compared to the single-use version.
Packaging material properties
In order to achieve the above mentioned objectives, materials must possess some characteristics that guarantee effective protection:
It measures the resistance of a material, in other words, how strong it is to resist wear, tear, scratching or abrasion, absolutely necessary when dealing with packaging.
The specific ability to take an impact, bend, resist energy, and return to its original shape is basic for effectively protective packages.
Finding materials that are lightweight but have a high strength-to-weight ratio is a real challenge. With them products are protected while the logistics becomes easier and cheaper, not only monetarily but also environmentally, as less fuel is consumed during their transportation.
The ability to damp and promote the dispersion of the energy caused by impact forces is also crucial when protecting delicate products to avoid damage or inefficiencies.
If there are two materials that compile all these requirements and even more (for example, non-toxicity, insulation properties or waterproofing) these are EPP and EPS. That is why they are widely considered as two of the most prominent solutions for reusable packaging.
Resistant not only to bacteria: ARPRO is unaffected by exposure to oil, grease, petroleum and most common chemicals. It does not support microbial growth
Resistancy Resistant not only to bacteria: ARPRO is unaffected by exposure to oil, grease, petroleum and most common chemicals. It does not support microbial growth