Shifting to reusable packaging can be a significant undertaking, yet single-use producers continue to step up to the challenge - raw material producers, converters, retailers, and stakeholders are all actively moving towards a circular economy, mapping out the journey, making commitments for reuse, and investing in the required changes to make it happen.

If you’re embarking along this path, it’s important to do it right. Don’t jump into reuse without first conducting the initial business case work required for success, not least as it can help you overcome fears around ‘first mover risk’. Sustainable packaging consultancy Root explain the factors your should be considering to ensure reuse and refill is truly embedded in your packaging strategy.

How invested your business is in reuse and refill?

Having a clear and defined role for reuse and refill within your brand’s packaging ambitions should form the lynchpin of your Packaging Strategy. If reuse and refill does not help meet your aspirations, why are you investing in it? Reacting to policy as a driver alone, without a clear plan, is insufficient and you are likely to fail fast.

The first question you need to ask is ‘How invested is our business in reuse and refill?’. Challenge and explore any reasoning as to why you are pursuing it to expose any weaknesses and blind spots that could prevent it from becoming a success story.

Understand how packaging formats impact strategy

Often, any problem with a shift to reuse and refill sits with a brand’s reluctance to change product format. This reluctance can limit the brand’s ability to integrate reuse and refill within their packaging strategy. As a rule of thumb, anything wet requires a polymer. If you want to be ‘plastic free’ (which Root doesn’t necessarily always support), you potentially won’t be able to implement reuse and refill.

For example, Lush’s shampoo bars are a dry product that don’t require an airtight seal, allowing the brand to take advantage of refillable packaging solutions. Other categories well suited to reuse and refill include stick deodorants, while some wet products can be refilled, like Ritual’s use of double wall skincare jars and Prada’s Paradoxe refillable fragrance.

Make sure you consider the product format, how regularly customers make a purchase, and the impact of the refill itself, all of which are often overlooked.

Consider the full picture of refill and reuse impacts

Many analyses on refill and reuse packaging only publish select metrics like volume of material and carbon. Many refillable packs need to be washed, yet we see water absent in the published data in many LCA studies.

We also know that some big businesses are establishing their own methodologies in the absence of industry guidance. Reporting guidance is one area of policy we expect to develop over the next few years. As brands look for ways to decouple their growth from the use of valuable resources and the high carbon footprint that single use drives, carbon is a critical KPI for most businesses when comparing the impacts of single use and reuse. We also know that weight-based metrics are being questioned for their relevance because measuring weight does not incentivise using less.

Having an independently verified analysis is the key to achieving a non-biased pathway toward reusable.

Make sure you can invest enough to make it happen

Public data about reuse and refill is lacking, a factor that deters many brands who would otherwise be keen to explore its use. We were pleased to see Tesco share an honest report about their journey with Loop, explaining the reasons why it’s not right for them at the moment.

It’s not realistic to think you can simply buy refillable packaging and offer it to your customers. You need to collaborate with other industry stakeholders, including the competition, to share the risk, split investment and learn together. It’s not going to be a quick fix: you’ll need significant resources and finance to get started.

Embrace holistic thinking

The launch event for the Hubbub Reuse System Unpacked report, of which Root was a contributor, outlined two ‘elephants in the room’ that need to be addressed within your Packaging Strategy.

Firstly, the cost of exploration and implementation is critical for you to understand and acknowledge. Secondly, there is a tension that naturally exists between the need to standardise versus a brand’s need to differentiate.

Make sure you consider these critical factors early on in your journey towards implementing any refill and reuse measures.

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Root is a sustainable packaging consultancy supporting global brands and packaging producers. Root helps clients to use less and reduce the impact of their packaging on people and the planet by shifting their focus to a more regenerative approach.

To learn more or schedule a call with a Root sustainability expert, please visit

Tracy Sutton Root

Tracy Sutton

Founder and Lead Consultant, Root

Tracy Sutton set up Root in 2013 to help organisations use less and focus on becoming regenerative, inclusive and kinder to people and our planet. She oversees a diverse collection of specialists, handpicked to be part of the wider Root Network.

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