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Frequently Asked Questions

Single Trip Vs Multi Trip ?

​it is important to define what is meant by single trip and multi-trip packaging.

Returnable or reusable packaging – which you may also hear referred to as returnable transport packaging (RTP) or reusable transport items (RTI) – is as the name suggests. A reusable container or tote that will be used over multiple journeys. Reusable packaging can take the form of bulk containers, hand held totes, shipping racks, dunnage and even pallets.

Single trip packaging, on the other hand, is designed to only make one journey – such as from a factory to an end user – before being disposed of / recycled. Commonly produced using corrugated cardboard materials, they may also be produced from lightweight plastics, films and even wood on occasion (pallets being a good example here). Most commonly, however, single trip packaging will be corrugated packaging and boxes etc.

What is opportunistic re-use?

A key point to note here is that it is fairly common for packaging originally intended to be used as a single trip solution is repurposed and used again.

Whilst this could be argued makes it reusable packaging, it is technically termed as “opportunistic re-use”.

So whilst this packaging will realise some of the benefits of reusable packaging in a more limited scope – such as reduced cost per trip and minimised waste – it would still be termed a single trip.

Examples of this in practice include the (surprisingly common) re-use of wooden pallets until they become damaged, or corrugated boxes that have been used to ship specific components then being re-used to send other products or parts to another point on the supply chain.

Whilst not within the scope of returnable packaging, this does actually present an opportunity for many organisations that may not be ready to fully committing to a closed loop reusable setup.

Where is single trip and reusable packaging most common?

There is a number of points where the use of these types of packaging cross over, whilst there are others where one type is more prevalent than the other.

For example, both reusable and single trip packaging may be used for “inbound” logistics, such as the delivery of raw materials.

Service parts or “after market” logistics also commonly use both types, as evidenced in the automotive parts sector and also with the return of damaged or worn items for refurbishment.

However, single trip tends to be most commonly used for shipment of finished goods to the end consumer (even if this is via a retail outlet or distribution network), partly due to the marketing opportunity this may provide, and also the customer burden of returning the pack.

Multi-trip containers and packs are more frequently (although not always) used for in-plant movement of parts and components (i.e. line side totes and handling containers), and are becoming prevalent in recycling applications too.

When would using returnable packaging be more appropriate?

Returnable packaging is already well established in a number of manufacturing industries (being particularly prevalent in the automotive sector / supply chain) for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the “lifetime” costs of the packaging are lower. Although initially more costly (as a higher volume needs to be purchased, and the more durable nature of the materials used), their longevity and reusability make them the more cost effective long-term option.

This can actually provide significant savings over the course of a couple years, particularly for businesses using large volumes of standard corrugated cardboard boxes.

As a result of this, many companies now view returnable packaging as a capital investment, whereas single trip packaging is viewed as a “cost”.

Besides this, the handling of the packaging is usually improved – being easier to integrate handles, lids and even wheels – than single trip where the cost needing to be minimised inhibits the inclusion of such features.

As well as improving efficiency of handling, this also improves safety of any manual handling too.

The greater strength of the material used in returnable packaging also means that the contents are afforded more protection during shipping, reducing written of stock and the associate costs.

And if the containers are then also used “line-side”, the use of dividers and dunnage options for totes makes retrieval and stock checking the contents much easier than with corrugated packaging.

Finally, the environmental impact is also lessened due to decreasing the amount of packaging that needs to be disposed of or recycled – as well as the energy required to continually manufacture new packaging.

Returnable packaging: What are the pros and cons?

These are the main advantages of opting for a returnable “closed loop” logistical setup:

  • Lower lifetime cost

  • Capital investment vs expense

  • Environmental benefits

  • Protection / durability

  • Improved handling / processes

  • No end user disposal

Whilst the disadvantages when compared to single trip packaging are as follows:

  • Increased upfront volume required

  • Requires collaboration in supply chain

  • Less flexible once integrated (dividers mitigate)

  • Availability of space required

  • Ongoing loss / replacement cost

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