The packaging used in products today is often seen as an unnecessary evil. Against it, the European Commission presented its Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR) in November, aiming to slash unnecessary packaging and promote reuse and recycling. Under the proposal, 10% of all goods shipped within the EU will have to be transported in reusable packaging by 2030, with targets up to 90% for large appliances. However, the concept of reusable packaging is not new. Despite this renewed interest, the model has been adopted on a reduced scale and tested in the past, with scarce success. And this is due to several limiting factors.
Any packaging for large household appliances is meant to protect the product from physical damage and moisture in the factory warehouses and during shipping, ensuring that it is in good working conditions when it arrives at retailers or consumers homes. Product and consumer safety is at the core of every consideration.
Household products come in a variety of shapes and sizes even within the same product group and brand. The packaging must secure the product in a way for it not to move during transport and avoid any entry of humidity. A condition that can only hold true if the packaging matches all characteristics of the appliance. Because reusable packaging would need to include a standardised choice to be workable at scale, overpackaging would increase to ensure the stability of the product and fill empty spaces, adding extra costs, use of resources and CO2 emissions.
Before transport, large domestic appliances are stored in a warehouse, stacked up to maximise the use of space, meaning the packaging must ensure an outstanding degree of stability to prevent the pile from falling down. Also, the packaging must be robust enough to protect the product when being lifted with the clamp and transported at varying weather conditions via ship, plane, train or truck. Each one loaded to its highest capabilities and its dimensions.
Therefore, looking at the full product path, “transport and sales packaging both serve the same purpose in our sector,” explained APPLiA Environment Policy Officer Franziska Decker. As an integral part of its design, “the packaging of a product starts in the production line and the same is used to store, transport and sell the appliance to final consumers.” Drawing a line between the concepts becomes difficult for the industry, as these normally coincide. Which calls for more clarity on the definition of what constitutes transport packaging.
Another fundamental point is the increased carbon footprint associated with reverse logistics, meaning the refurbishing and returning of empty boxes. According to recent study from McKinsey, CO2 emissions are estimated to grow by 10 to 40 percent, exceeding emissions of single-use products. In a reusability setup, packaging needs to be returned to the system after each delivery. Between cases, average distance can vary significantly, potentially adding more emissions costs, overall resulting less advantageous than recyclable, sustainably sourced packaging. In addition, water and resource consumption as linked with the cleaning and washing of the packaging is likely to increase.
The introduction of reusable packaging is a system change for the producer, retailer and consumer requiring the development of new reverse logistics, product designs, investments in new production steps or even complete lines. This calls for a thorough analysis of real-world circumstances, logistical considerations, as well as potential effects on consumer health and safety.
The European Parliament’s ITRE Committee is set to table its vote, ahead of the Plenary foreseen for October.