Another way to achieve reduction in the amount of packaging requiring disposal is to switch from one-use to reusable packaging. Often, especially for distribution packaging, this involves a switch from paperboard or wood to plastic. Reusable packages often require initial use of more material than disposable packages. However, when the amount of product delivered is factored in, the net result can be very large reductions in the amount of packaging used per unit of product delivered.

As discussed, reusable packaging for automobile parts has become commonplace, and it is growing in other segments as well. Cost reduction is generally the driving factor in making such changes, but the environmental benefits can be considerable. In 1994, INFORM published a study of reusable shipping containers that estimated the average cost per trip for reusable plastic 2-ft3 containers as 4.4 cents, compared to 53 cents per trip for disposable corrugated. The weight of material used for 1 million shipments in reusable plastic containers was estimated at 11 tons, compared to 750 tons for one-way corrugated boxes [18].

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