What is Reusable Packaging?

What is Reusable Packaging?

Definition of Reusable Packaging

In its broadest sense, reusable packaging includes reusable pallets, racks, bulk containers, hand-held containers and dunnage that move product efficiently and safely throughout the supply chain. Reusable packaging is typically used by manufacturers/processors and their suppliers/customers in a well-organized supply chain, with very tightly managed shipping loops. The packaging is constructed of durable materials such as metal, plastic or wood and is designed to withstand the rough handling of a typical logistics system.

Reusable packaging can be:
Owned and managed by the user
Owned by the user and managed by a 3rd party
Rented by the user from a 3rd party pooling company
Transferred between multiple end users and recycling companies
Exchanged between members of a co-op or association

Through reuse, it offers a rapid return on investment and a lower cost-per-trip than single-use packaging products while typically offering more efficient storage, handling and distribution of products at all points in the supply chain. As the number of trips increases, the cost-per-trip can decrease, while the packaging continues to deliver benefits (product protection, worker safety, storage efficiency, etc.

Transport packaging must meet four requirements to be considered “reusable” by the RPA:

1. The selected reusable packaging is reused for the same or similar application
2. The packaging must be able to meet the original design requirements for three consecutive uses (i.e. two reuses).
3. During its useful life, the packaging is repeatedly recovered, inspected, repaired and reissued into the supply chain for reuse.
4. There is an existing process for recycling and/or reuse of the packaging at end-of-life.

Reusable packaging is advantageous for multiple industries and deployable at all points within the supply chain. Industries using reusable packaging include:

• Automotive
• Food/Grocery
• Pharmaceutical
• Electronics
• Aerospace
• Chemicals
• Textile
• Beverage
• Produce
• General Manufacturing
• Appliance

Typical transport and/or static applications for raw materials, suppliers, cross-dock/consolidation points, manufacturing, distribution or retail, may include:

• Inbound shipments
• Outbound shipments
• Work-in-process
• Assembly/fabrication
• Filling
• Processing
• Re-Packing
• Picking
• Storage
• Distribution


Reusable packaging offers a wide range of economic, social and environmental benefits over single-use packaging at all levels of the supply chain.


• Reduces overall packaging costs
• Rapid return on investment (ROI)
• Reduces costly product damage
• Reduces labor costs
• Reduces inventory, requires less space
• Reduced cost-per-trip
• Improves transportation efficiency through standardized loads, resulting in fewer trips and reduced fuel costs.
• Residual value at the end of its service life


• Recyclable at the end of its service life
• Improves workplace safety
• Improves workplace efficiency


• Prevents waste from entering the solid waste stream
• Reduces greenhouse gas emissions
• Supports source reduction
• Requires less energy

Adoption Drivers

A systematic, well-planned reusable packaging program makes sense for many types of applications, particularly those with some or all of the following characteristics:

• High volumes of solid waste
• Frequent shrinkage or product damage
• Expensive expendable packaging
• Underutilized trailer space in transportation
• Inefficient storage/warehouse space
• Worker safety or ergonomic issues
• Significant need for cleanliness/hygiene
• Need for unitization
• Frequent trips