Opportunities for Reusing Plastic Shipping Containers

A dilemma haunting our country today is simply described like this: what can and should be done with all of our solid waste? Incineration is growing increasingly unpopular due to its concern over the environmental impact and public health effects of each. Recycling in a vital way of identifying and recovering the value of the natural resources found in both waste packaging and products. But recycling fails to look at the crucial questions:

  • Do we need all of these containers in the first place?
  • How much packaging is necessary for a container to accomplish its goals?
  • Is it possible to integrate reusable plastic packaging to reduce the generation of waste?

Every section of the waste stream needs unique waste minimization solutions. Because protective packaging encompasses such a substantial part of the whole, any plan that aims to replace expendable packaging with reusable packaging will have a notable impact on solid waste burdens. The problem includes expenses, difficulties managing the waste and the reality of what is lost in using expendable resources.

These articles review opportunities and obstacles that exist in implementing a single strategy for limiting the generation of waste: reusing plastic shipping containers.

Let us first take a cursory look at the three primary packaging categories in the United States:
Opportunities for dramatically reducing the volume of material used in packaging systems will vary depending on the style of packaging involved. Packaging falls into one of three groupings, any of which may overlap:

Primary packaging:

Primary packaging is the basic container that holds a product (i.e. a soda can, soap box or condiment bottle) and is used by you until the product is expended. The packaging is designed to both hold and protect the product and appeal to a buyer to push a sale.

Secondary packaging:

All secondary packaging is extra packaging that has been designed to simplify self-service sales, to minimize the potential for theft, to advertise and market the materials. The idea is that it is meant to facilitate, in general, your use (i.e. an easy to carry tote, a can carrier). This style packaging is typically thrown in the trash when the product is opened.

Transport and distribution packaging:

Distribution or transport packaging is a packaging style that is used to move goods from their point of origination, such as a factory, to their final destination. The packaging ensures your favorite goods make it safely to a local retail store, wholesale facility or your front door. For most styles of distribution packaging, which includes plastic crates, plastic pallets, plastic boxes, banding and void filling packaging like Styrofoam peanuts, the big emphasis is placed on:

  • Protective considerations.
  • Functional considerations.
  • Shipping considerations.

The plastic box or crate that physically containers the products or materials is often referred to as the shipping container. Such a shipping container may be used for a single trip or multiple trips.
Across the better part of the United States today, most of our containers for transport or shipping are delivered to a business in bulk units that are referred to as a “unitized load.” This type of load is composed of a number of containers that are nested and stacked onto a durable plastic pallet, secured with banding or wrap. The containers are then loaded or unloaded on a transport truck through the use of a forklift.