The Rise of Reusable Packaging

Global brands are exploring alternative solutions to make reusable and refillable packaging as effortless as possible for consumers. Image courtesy of TerraCycle.

What Can Businesses Do to Enhance This Trend?

By Charles Haverfield, Packaging Executive at US Packaging and Wrapping

Single-use plastics and packaging waste have been highlighted as some of the biggest contributors to plastic pollution, with both consumers and governments looking to brands to offer innovative, sustainable solutions to the packaging problem.

Reusable packaging is one such avenue that could slash global plastic pollution by up to 80% according to a report from the United Nations Environment Program. And certainly, there is a growing consumer appetite for such initiatives. A recent report by Trivium Packaging has found 74% of Americans are now interested in buying products in refillable packaging.

There, are, of course, plenty of opportunities for businesses who embrace reusable packaging. It decreases long-term waste by individual consumers, plus, there are financial benefits for customers. Refills are often less expensive over time compared to repurchasing a full-sized product in its original packaging.

However, we all know there is usually an intention-action gap, meaning just because consumers say they want to proactively engage with reusables, it doesn’t mean they actually will do so. There are still challenges associated with the switch to more sustainable solutions, which have yet to be fully resolved.

For example, it’s uncertain how many times a product must be refilled to result in substantially less long-term waste. And while refills do offer longer-term savings, some consumers may not want to repeatedly buy from the same brand.

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So, what happens next? And what can businesses do to enhance these initiatives to increase their success?

The shift from single use to reusable packaging must be as accessible as possible to ensure a long-term dedication from customers. Cynical consumers need better education on the benefits to foster more sustainable shopping habits.

Once consumers are interested in refill schemes, it’s important to keep their loyalty. Brands should prioritize refillable packaging as a long-term commitment and not just as a passing fad. This could also prevent accusations of potential ‘greenwashing’ in the future.

According to M&S CEO Stuart Machin, retailers can’t yet rely on consumers to change existing behaviors. This is particularly true if consumers are expected to embrace complicated or inconvenient processes that rely on them to return reusable packaging in person.

The same can be said for brands which launch reuse in a limited capacity, with just one product line, one mode of return or one retail partner, they are unlikely to influence buyers.

Perhaps companies could expand reuse so that it’s part of the main way people engage with their products? It should be more than a partial side-line.

Effortless reusable packaging solutions

That’s why some brands are exploring alternative solutions to make reusable packaging as effortless as possible.

Home delivery refill models have been surging in popularity as consumers look to refill their favorite products easily and sustainably from the comfort of their own homes.

For example, grocery doorstep delivery service Milk & More recently partnered with Coca-Cola to trial delivering, returning, refilling and reusing Coca-Cola Zero Sugar glass bottles directly to and from customers’ homes. Once drunk, customers can simply leave the empty glass bottles on their doorstep for collection. These glass bottles can usually be refilled up to 20 times before they are recycled.

Financial incentives in the form of discounts, or free items could be leveraged to ensure more consumer enthusiasm around the uptake of refillable packaging too. Packaging companies can support this movement by working in tandem with businesses to create ‘universal’ refillable packaging. This would help users to sustainably switch between brands at their discretion.

There are industry concerns with certain product groups, where it’s thought differentiation is essential. And if there wasn’t the opportunity for this, some businesses would not want to participate in refill schemes at all. However, a standardized approach to packaging design, would be more efficient and enhance ease of use from the consumers’ interaction with the service all the way through to the supply chain.

About the Author

For over a decade, Charles Haverfield has led U.S. Packaging & Wrapping from a customer-driven approach, ensuring employees and management understand how to identify needs before and after a purchase. With a wealth of experience in the industry, Charles consistently delivers high-quality packaging implementation to align with clients’ goals and market demands, which effectively increase efficiencies while lowering costs. Learn more at

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