Primarily for transport and distribution
It may go unnoticed by the public, but industrial packaging is being reused more and more frequently these days. This is particularly true during the logistical steps taken prior to the product’s sale in the shops. Reusable packaging is especially appreciated for wrapping and protecting professional and industrial products. More than two million tons of reused industrial packaging was declared to recycling organization VAL-I-PAC in 2007.
The industry primarily reuses packaging for the transport, distribution and storage of products. The grouping and transport of products require specific packaging that must fulfil a double role: protecting the product during handling and simplifying its transport in large quantities (see also ‘Multiple functions of Packaging’ sheet).
Three times more reusable packaging
The members of VAL-I-PAC – an organization whose mission is to encourage and co-ordinate the recycling of industrial packaging – use three times more reusable packaging than single use packaging for the transport and distribution of products.
The number of yearly reusable pallet movements in Belgium has reached 39 million. This figure amounts to 3,5 million for metal and plastic casks. VAL-I-PAC estimates that 2,138 million tons of industrial packaging is reused every year in Belgium. It also states that reusable packaging is being used more and more frequently. In fruit and vegetable transport, for instance, the number of times reusable cases is used is growing spectacularly.
Good to remember
- Investing in a logistical system designed to enable the reuse of standardized packaging often results in cost savings for the industry.
- The quantity of reusable industrial packaging is increasing continuously. Today, it is three times greater than the number of single use packaging
- The industry primarily uses reusable packaging to carry goods to their points of sale and for the supply of professional and industrial products.
- Reusable packaging includes a variety of materials: wood, metal and plastics. They are used in a large number of sectors.
Reusing packaging is often less expensive
By reusing packaging, the industry is able to reduce its costs. Of course, the investment and logistical costs are significant, but standardized reused packaging with a high rotation rate has multiple benefits. First, the waste processing cost is reduced, as is the purchasing cost of new packaging. Second, there is no need for any particular cleaning since there is no direct contact with the goods. Finally, there are no marketing or customization constraints. These elements mean reused packaging is easier and less expensive to use.
Multiple sectors, a variety of materials
The number of sectors turning to reusable packaging is increasing gradually. Some of the most active sectors include the food, automobile, metallurgy, chemical, distribution and glass industries.
Reusable packaging comes in a variety of forms (see graph 2):
- Wood or plastic pallets
- Metal or plastic cases and casks
- Big bags and plastic or strong carton packaging for specific purposes
Certain types of packaging, such as pallets, circulate from company to company. This circulation is facilitated by the standard dimensions of the pallets. Other types of packaging belong to a specific company. This is the case, for instance, with beverage cases or beer casks.
Taking packaging levels as a whole
As is the case with single use packaging, it is important to consider the various levels of packaging. Reusable packaging is primarily used to group together and transport products: the stronger the level of packaging, the lighter the primary packaging and the greater the protection during transport. The reuse of packaging at the end of the distribution chain is generally more difficult or impossible to implement for logistical and/or sanitary reasons.
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Matching safety requirements with efficiency and costs
Safely transporting consumer goods from the manufacturer to the end-user requires specific transport packaging in most cases. This packaging protects goods against mechanical influences, climate variations, hygiene issues, and vermin during transport and storage. There are various solutions available. The wisest choice matches safety requirements with efficiency and costs. To accomplish this, the distribution sector is increasingly using reusable packaging systems.
Protecting against mechanical influences and climate variations
Product protection is of vital importance from a prevention point of view. It avoids product damage and spillage. The primary and secondary packaging protect perishable products. However, this generally does not suffice to efficiently and safely transport large volumes of goods. That is why the packager or distributor needs to provide additional transport packaging, also referred to as tertiary packaging. Such packaging offers extra protection against climatic and mechanical influences during transport. Some influences are predictable. For instance, temperature and humidity variations during transport are wellknown in advance. However, unforeseen incidents may still occur. A truck sometimes has to brake abruptly, a shipment is often unloaded rather roughly. Transport packaging needs to protect the products against such incidents.
Evaluating the packaging system as a whole
The initial purpose of tertiary packaging is to transport large volumes of product. It consists of a system to stack products in their secondary packaging or to bundle them into a larger unit for efficient handling. In general, bulk products are packaged in bags or bales. Most consumer goods, however, are placed in boxes that are stacked on pallets.
Evaluating the quality of transport packaging requires field tests on a complete load, for instance a fully stacked pallet. The Belgian Packaging Institute (BVI) executes such tests at the request of companies. In its laboratory, it simulates all incidents that can occur during transport. Complete pallets or bulk bags are subject to standard tests. The BVI installations simulate mechanical influences such as vibrations, shocks, vertical pressure, and falls. After each test, BVI measures the extent that the packaging has been moved or reshaped. This helps assess the risk of transport damage. BVI also operates climate chambers to correctly condition the loads or to simulate and determine the influence of variations in temperature and humidity
Good to remember
- Packaging plays a crucial role in the protection of goods during transport. A good mixture of primary, secondary, and tertiary packaging is necessary to match safety, efficiency, and cost requirements.
- Software enables the determination of the optimal stacking pattern on a pallet. The packager arranges the boxes as close to the edge of the pallet as possible.
- The quality of transport packaging needs to be evaluated based on complete loads. Laboratory tests simulate incidents that can occur during transport.
- The distribution sector has been making more and more use of reusable transport packaging such as the standard returnable Euro pallet or the pallets rented from the CHEP pool.
Efficient stacking and stabilizing
Most consumer goods are stacked on pallets for transport. Safety and efficiency are key during the handling, transport, and storage of such pallets. That is why the goods need to be stacked correctly and the entire load needs to be stabilized properly.
Software packages enable the calculation of the product’s optimal stacking pattern on a pallet. The calculations are based on the given dimensions of the pallet and goods. They also take into account the desired stacking height and the ability to stack boxes in a certain pattern. Such pattern stacking increases the stability of the entire load. However, it does increase the forces on individual boxes. It is possible to stack the boxes a few centimetres over the edge of the pallet, but this too weakens the boxes.
Boxes can be stacked only 7 cm over the edge. If not, the supporting basis of the entire load is too small and the pallets stacked above weigh more heavily on the boxes below.
Reusable returnable pallets or a pool system
The distribution sector has been using re-usable transport packaging increasingly in order to cut costs and avoid waste. The standard 80x120 cm Euro pallet is in common use. Only recognized companies produce Euro pallets. The pallets are returnable throughout the whole of Europe for approximately 10 euros. The location receiving the pallet pays that amount to the supplier. This way no return transport of empty pallets is necessary. On the downside, when these pallets are broken they loose their value.
The CHEP pallet pool provides an alternative. CHEP is the owner of the pallets and is responsible for the sorting, maintenance, reparation, and stock management. Companies can rent the CHEP pallets and can exchange them upon delivery with the receiving party. They can also opt to have the pallets picked up by CHEP.
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