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Could reusable packaging help businesses to reduce their carbon footprint?

14 Mar 2018 — Packaging, News
reusable packaging

As businesses come under increasing pressure to reduce their environmental impact, many are discarding plastic in favour of paper-based packaging solutions. But could plastics actually hold the key to reducing our carbon footprint? Antalis’s packaging experts certainly think so.

As businesses come under increasing pressure to reduce their environmental impact, many are discarding plastic in favour of paper-based packaging solutions. But could plastics actually hold the key to reducing our carbon footprint? Antalis’s packaging experts certainly think so.

Recent work with large manufacturing companies has seen the team at the company’s Smart Packaging Centre develop a number of ‘returnable/reusable’ packaging solutions using a combination of foam and plastic that not only provide better protection, but also help to tackle packaging waste and improve efficiency in ways that can contribute to a reduction in carbon footprint.

John Garner, Head of Business Development – Packaging Antalis, explains: “Businesses are currently in an interesting transition period as they look to become more efficient and cut their environmental impact. We’re receiving lots of enquiries about switching to paper-based packaging, which is great, but it’s not always the answer. Plastics, used well, actually have an important role to play in tackling climate change.

“An example of this is the work we have been doing with some of our manufacturing clients – who routinely distribute engineering components to and from sites of manufacture – to develop packaging that can be used over and over again.”

How returnable/reusable packaging can help to reduce carbon footprint

While we’re all familiar with returnable packaging in an online retail context, returnable/reusable packaging for use within manufacturing has the potential to significantly reduce carbon footprint.


Common drawbacks of standard packaging

Transporting components, such as car parts, from one manufacturer to another using standard packaging materials can be a costly process that often involves labour-intensive packing of individual items into separate cartons. Once the items arrive at their destination, they then have to be unpacked, which is, again, time-consuming and requires disposal of waste. If paper-based packaging products are being used in volume, this can also add to the bulk and weight of the load with a knock-on effect on transport costs and carbon emissions.


A new approach to plastic

With an understanding of the nature of a manufacturing client’s components and distribution processes, Antalis took a whole new approach to solve their packaging challenges. Because the client was regularly shipping sets of components that are used together on an assembly line, Antalis’s packaging technologists devised a robust plastic outer within which machine-cut foam, with allocated spaces for a set of components, could sit. Not only does this design simplify the packing of  parts ready for shipping, it also improves efficiency for the recipient thanks to everything being in one place. And, because there’s no loose packaging involved, it also helps to keep things neat and tidy.

Once all the components have been used, the pack can be returned for replenishment; no waste. It’s a process that can be repeated over and over again using the same pack

John believes it’s about finding balance: “There’s no doubt that plastic use is a problem for the planet, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that all plastic is bad. It’s about selecting and using it wisely. Because the plastic and foam-based reusable packaging we have created has a long-life span – there’s no reason why it shouldn’t last five years or even longer – businesses don’t have to buy packaging as often, which means fewer deliveries and less packaging needing to be manufactured in the first place – all of which contributes to a significant reduction in carbon.”

“And when we talk about reusable packaging, it doesn’t have to be complicated in design or expensive in terms of materials. We have produced extremely effective reusable/returnable packaging using a simple, fluted plastic, such as Correx. It works in just the same way as paper-based fluted card but with the benefit of moisture and chemical resistance and toughness, which ensure it has a longer life.

“It’s also worth bearing in mind that because the reusable/returnable packaging we are designing is being used within a closed loop, it can be carefully managed throughout its lifecycle, including being recycled at the end of life in its current form.”

The advantages of plastic-based materials in returnable packaging

While many businesses are working towards becoming plastic-free, it is important to consider that cutting out plastics is unlikely to equate to a reduction in carbon footprint. In fact, it is quite possible that the opposite could be true. John urges companies to look at the bigger picture: “It’s not all about using materials that are easy to recycle; reducing carbon footprint involves many factors of which the nature of the material being used is just one. In certain circumstances, plastic can be the more environmentally-friendly solution”. Here’s how:


Plastics are resistant to moisture and can withstand multiple handling and the knocks and scuffs that go with that. These are key characteristics for packaging that will be subjected to repeated use.

Product protection

Whenever a product is damaged as a result of inadequate packaging and has to be returned and repaired or even discarded altogether, it is adding to a business’s carbon footprint through wasted manufacturing effort and wasted road miles. The robust nature of returnable/reusable plastic-based packaging reduces the risk of products arriving at the destination damaged and, of course, can be returned to be used again, reducing demand for packaging production and its associated carbon impact.

Reduced transport costs

Because plastic packaging is lightweight, and can be designed to minimise size dimensions, it can contribute to a reduction in transport costs – and thereby carbon footprint – in terms of being able to fit more packs onto the vehicle and in lower fuel consumption thanks to a lighter load. 


As well as enabling greater efficiency on the assembly line thanks to related components being easily accessed from one, neatly presented box, reusable packaging also reduces the time spent ordering, receiving, offloading and storing packaging materials, again reducing road miles and carbon footprint.


For more information about returnable and reusable packaging and how it can contribute to reducing carbon footprint, contact; or 0370 241 1466