How Reusing Cartons in Distribution Centers Increases Profitability in the Apparel Industry

Apparel brands can achieve substantial cost savings by reusing cartons in their distribution centers (DCs). Carton reuse requires careful planning and necessitates the need to develop rigorous specifications for package design. Carton reuse has the additional benefit of helping brands achieve sustainability goals.



Reusing Cartons in Distribution Centers Generates Cost Savings for Apparel Brands

As discussed in our previous post, "Do Outsourced Packaging Experts Help Your Internal Packaging Team Succeed?", there are several different models that might be deployed by a brand to manage apparel packaging in SEA. Whether your packaging is factory controlled, factory sourced, managed by the brand, designated by the retailer, or outsourced, your brand can achieve significant cost savings by reusing cartons in DCs.


With proper planning, about 80% of apparel cartons can be reused from the DC. This means that 80% of inbound cartons, traveling from SEA product factories to DCs, can be reused as outbound cartons that travel from the DCs to retail stores.


With a high rate of reuse, domestic purchase of apparel cartons can be reduced to 20% of current total DC carton volumes. Since domestically purchased cartons are expensive, reusing high quality inbound cartons for outbound shipments can substantially reduce the total carton purchasing costs. One company we worked with achieved.


Detailed Planning is Required to Optimise Carton Reuse in Apparel Industry Distribution Centers

When designing packaging systems for products, brands frequently perform transit testing. These tests help brands understand the impact of various stress points that a package will endure as it travels from the SEA product factory to the DC to the retailer and, ultimately, to the consumer. An overview of the primary transit stages that cartons experience include:

  • Traveling from SEA product factory to SEA port via truck
  • Ocean transit to either North America or Europe
  • Truck transit to the DC

Examples of specific harsh conditions that cartons may experience during ocean transit include:

  • Humidity extremes and fluctuations
  • Forceful vibrations
  • Sudden drops
  • Stacking pressures
    • Cartons on the bottom of the stack must support more weight
  • Pitching from ocean waves
  • Uneven pressure that occurs when personnel step on cartons during loading

Damaged Packaging Tolerances


The damage of these cartons is far too substantial to be reused. Collapsed cartons can be caused by several reasons including underpacking or the use of inferior corrugated materials.

Carton specifications need to be established to

clearly explain the characteristics of the

carton that need to remain intact in order to be reused.

Several tests that can predict the performance of corrugated boxes subjected to international supply chains include the box compression test (BCT), edge compression test (ECT), short-span compression test (SCT), and bending stiffness. The International Safe Transit Association’s (ISTA’s) transportation testing procedures provide a more extensive list of the physical characteristics of cartons that can be tested using standardized testing methods.


Labeling Needs

Carton contents can be identified with either barcodes printed directly on the carton or with an adhesive label. Brands also use barcodes to designate which shipments are inbound or outbound. Typically, the number of characters in the barcode vary for inbound bar codes and outbound bar codes. This allows scanners to easily distinguish


Developing Specifications that Enable Carton Reuse in Apparel Distribution Centers

Cartons that are designed for reuse from the DC need to have more rigorous design specifications than cartons that are intended for just a single journey from the SEA product factory to the DC. These specifications should include raw material requirements to ensure that the corrugated board specs have the necessary strength to endure the stresses of the extended carton lifecycle.



Reusing Cartons in Apparel Industry Distribution Centers Helps Brands Meet Corporate Sustainability Goals

Many brands are eager to improve their overall sustainability. With a comprehensive understanding of their packaging and transit processes, these brands embrace packaging efficiencies, including carton reuse, as a method to reduce their carbon footprint. H&M and Levi Strauss both incorporate packaging efficiencies into their published sustainability goals.


Reusing apparel transport cartons at DCs provides multiple and can contribute significantly to brand sustainability. With careful planning and forethought, cartons can be manufactured to endure the additional touchpoints and stresses that accompany reuse for outbound shipments from the DC to the retailer. Carton reuse specifications need to be developed to help DC personnel understand acceptable tolerances for carton damage and carton reuse. Although planning for carton reuse adds complexity to your apparel supply chain, external packaging providers can provide you with the needed insights to successfully integrate carton reuse processes at your DCs.


If you'd like to improve the efficiency and lower the cost of your transport packaging, we're happy to provide you with a quote.
Request a Quote



Additional Resources

How Carton Suite Optimisation Provides Cost Savings in the Apparel Industry

Fashion trends evolve quickly. Apparel manufacturers need to be agile in response to rapidly changing fashion needs. Quickly pivoting production...

Perforated Transport Cartons Provide Greater Efficiency and Reduce Product Damage for Apparel Brands

Apparel brands that manufacture products in Southeast Asia (SEA) for shipment to Europe or North America benefit from working with highly...

How Transit Testing Saves You from High Returns and Damage Rates

Experienced supply chain practitioners understand the types of damage that may occur to a package and the root causes of this damage. Although...

How Packaging Contributes to a More Sustainable Future

Learn how sustainable packaging can have a positive effect on your business and the planet.

From Concepts to Reality: 5 Critical Steps in the Strategic Packaging Development Process

Download our eBook and Learn How to Strategically Manage the Packaging Development Process