In addition to improvements in visibility and accountability, however, the value of sustainable practices should not be overlooked. Reusable containers – or “reusables,” as we refer to them – are built to be durable, to be used again and again to facilitate a considerable number of shipments. The up-front investment to acquire these containers is typically higher, leading some businesses to consider single-use packaging as the preferable option. They instead increase their rate of recycling used materials to promote “going green.”
While recycling is a valuable activity when shipping material is no longer usable, it ultimately creates waste. Retrieving and recycling requires labor, energy and expense. Even if a recycling method was impossibly perfect, with 100% of the usable material reclaimed for reuse, it would still be a waste management process.
Using reusables prevents the generation of such waste. Switching from single-use cardboard boxes to durable reusables – which typically survive more than 250 cycles – can cut the quantity of container material needed by up to 98.5%. Deploying reusable containers throughout your supply chain, and the effective management of those reusables, is an effective system of preventing industrial waste through reuse, rather than the waste-management of disposable packaging.
In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency has developed a four-tiered waste management hierarchy to guide waste management decision-making (viewable https://www.epa.gov/homeland-security-waste/waste-management-hierarchy-and-homeland-security-incidents), and it stresses that reuse is preferred to recycling.
The best way to eliminate waste, conserve resources and reduce our environmental impact is to reduce the source of waste through the reuse what has been made. Recycling what can be recovered thus becomes a lower-tier priority.