Is It More Cost Effective to Use Returnable Or Expendable Packaging?

Whether your company should use expendable or returnable packaging depends on the shipping cycle and your unique packaging needs. No “clear-cut” variable will determine which packaging type is best for your supply chain. The truth is: sometimes returnable packaging makes sense and sometimes it doesn’t — same goes for expendable packaging.  

Returnable Packaging 

A study by the corrugated fiberboard industry found that, generally, returnable packaging is favorable when: 
  • Corrugated fiberboard prices are high 
  • The return distances are short and incur low backhaul expenses
  • There is little to no washing required
  • The container life is long  
  • There is consistent product demand
  • The inbound/outbound payload is comparable


There is more pressure than ever for industrial companies to “go green” throughout the supply chain.  While sustainable packaging may be great for the environment, it may not be great for your wallet. However, environmental consciousness is trending: governments across the globe are launching policies and programs that forbid unsustainable materials. 

Expendable Packaging 

While you might care about sustainability and the environment, a return loop may not be possible. In general, expendable packaging is more favorable when: 
  • The logistics leg is long 
  • Many separate parts are going into a single box 
  • Products are shipped over long distances 
  • The shipment is one way
  • The shipping cycle is infrequent 

Expendable Sustainability? 

Expendable packaging doesn’t necessarily mean waste. There are many expendable materials and products that are environmentally friendly and reusable — even if it’s not your company who’s reusing it. Certain expendable products can be resold or recycled (like corrugated board). 
However, disposing of expendable packaging can create extra costs and labor, including disposal fees and the cost of transporting it to its final destination. 
When deciding between expendable or returnable packaging, it should be your goal (or the goal of your packaging consultant) to design packaging that: 
  1. Minimizes total supply chain costs 
  2. Minimizes re-packaging 
  3. Minimizes damage 
  4. Maximizes cubic utilization 
The labor involved in unpacking and reloading product is also key. Considering how many hands and shipping ports it must pass through will also help to decide. 
We have extensive experience designing packaging that meets our clients’ unique needs and transforms their supply chain.  If you’d like to learn more about how we can optimize your bottom line, through expendable or returnable packaging, don’t hesitate to contact us!