Evaluating Reuse of Cold Chain Packages

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Corporations have a responsibility to minimize their impact on the environment, and cold chain packaging is one area where this can particularly be of interest. There are many ways to reduce cold chain packaging waste. Examples include optimizing designs to use less insulation and refrigerants, or using bulk shipping containers that decrease the number of packages needed by increasing the payload quantities per package. Seasonal designs are another way of reducing packaging usage since the design requirements are lessened.

Utilizing reusable packaging to transport products efficiently is a current industry trend. A reusable package can be designed much more robustly since its cost will be amortized over the number of reuses. This results in higher levels of protection for the product while greatly decreasing the number of packages being sent to the landfill. This provides an opportunity to have a positive environmental impact while also saving money. Let’s discuss how to choose a system that will work for you and how to evaluate the overall cost.

The most important place to start is establishing whether it is feasible to return the packaging system. There are several questions to ask:

    • Does your company have any control over the destination facility?
    • Can the recipient be trained to return the package undamaged?
    • Is storage space available at the destination?
    • Is it feasible to retrieve the package, making reuse practical?

As part of a return logistics program, it is good practice to have the shipper go through a refurbishment and inspection process before being used again. Companies must develop an SOP for inspection and decide how to address shippers that do not pass. A simple SOP for an inspection might include the following steps:

    • Clean: wipe down, remove labels, sterilize as needed
    • Visually inspect for damaged insulation or other components
    • Visually inspect for leaks in the refrigerants, dispose of any found leaking
    • Replace components as needed to return the package to a “like new” state (replacing the outer corrugated box cheaply enhances the appearance of the package)

When choosing a packaging system, you want to make sure these processes can be implemented. For instance, not every package material can effectively wiped down and disinfected. It is important to choose the correct materials for reuse compatibility.
The following is a hypothetical case study on a reuse process to analyze its cost effectiveness. Below is an example equation that can be used to perform such an analysis.

A large pharmaceutical company is shipping their drug in a package designed for reusability. The upfront cost is relatively high for the needed shipments, but the hope is that reusing the package will bring the cost in line with expectations per trip. It is assumed that the shippers could be reused 20 times, with a loss ratio of 5% and returning them via ground service individually.

    Upfront Packaging System Cost = $150
    Number of Reuses = 20
    Shipping Cost to Return = $20
    Cost to Refurbish = $10


Therefore, the cost per trip becomes $45.00 which is much more reasonable and in line with expectations. If the assumptions for the number of reuses are conservative, the cost per trip will be even lower. Keep in mind that if the package is inexpensive, reusable might not be economical because the cost of return and refurbishment could exceed the original package cost.

Cryopak is dedicated to helping the pharmaceutical industry meet their sustainability and performance goals. As a result, we have designed a highly robust “CryoCube” product line with the intention that the containers are reused. These containers have been engineered to improve the number of potential reuses while having features that make refurbishment simple and easy. The lids are also incorporated into the designs to make the containers easy to open and load. The refrigerant panels are manufactured with high quality, thick plastic material that can withstand many multiple freeze-thaw events without being compromised. We also work with freight forwarders to make the return process as painless as possible.

Cryopak is very conscious of the potential environmental impact of packaging waste and strives to be an environmentally responsible company, supporting the sustainability efforts of our industry partners.

Authors:
Anthony Alleva, Technical Director
Eva Langen, Business Manager