August 2012 | Commentary | Green Landscape

Reusable Shipping Dunnage Protects Sustainability Efforts

Tags: Reverse Logistics, Green Logistics

Paul Fitzgerald is Director, Paylode Cargo Protection Systems, 740-586-3604

Containers and packaging account for 30 percent of all U.S. municipal solid waste, according to a 2009 EPA study. Small wonder, considering the contribution of millions of tons of disposable corrugated and wood filler used to protect products in transit across America every day.

By road and rail, goods move about in the temporary company of short-lived packaging such as cardboard void fillers, inflatable air bags, and plywood braces—all destined for disposal upon delivery. Protective reusable dunnage can take the place of single- or limited-use corrugated or wood filler to move pallets and products securely, in an environmentally conscious manner.

Two major factors are driving the growth of reusable packaging:

1. Increased emphasis on preserving, protecting, and sustaining the environment. Sustainability has become more than a buzzword; it's a movement—and big business is at the forefront. The environmental benefits of reusable packaging are huge. Corrugated cardboard produce packaging requires an average 39 percent less energy to manufacture, creates 95 percent less waste, and results in 29 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than plastic reusable packaging, according to a study by Franklin Associates, a Kansas-based lifecycle assessment and solid waste management consulting firm.

As of 2011, more than 70 percent of Fortune 500 companies had sustainability mandates in place. A large number—130, according to one report—have appointed a chief sustainability officer.

One benefit corporations gain from reusable dunnage is eliminating the aggravation and expense that can accompany disposable dunnage. "Cardboard packaging often uses glue, so recyclers won't take it," one receiving manager in Ohio explains. "You either have to store the packaging in a warehouse, or pay a refuse company to take it away—and it ends up in a landfill. Meanwhile, reusable materials are easily loaded on railcars and sent back."

2. Favorable bottom-line impact. Presenting a "green face" to the buying public can help spur increased sales among environmentally conscious consumers. The biggest gains, however, come from the cost savings sustainability initiatives can generate.

For instance, cased goods shipper Lyons Magnus adopted reusable plastic dunnage in its shipments, replacing corrugated dunnage that could only be used two or three times before ending up in landfills. After only five uses, the plastic dunnage paid for itself and generated return on investment.

Optimum supply chain conditions for a reusables program are similar to those for a milk run—any setting in which one entity, in close proximity to another or entirely within its own operation, makes frequent deliveries and is able to regularly retrieve and re-use its dunnage. The key is frequent travel to limited shipping points, with the ability to consistently retrieve dunnage.

If your supply chain does not fit this profile, you can still implement a cost-effective reusables program. Many companies offer third-party reusables management services. Their economies of scale, wide geographic scope, and tracking technology may offset any inefficiencies in shippers' supply chains.

Adding sustainability to the supply chain is simple. A reusable dunnage program can demonstrate your company's commitment to reducing its natural resources needs, while quickly paying back your investment.