Refillable and reusable packaging is often touted as an environmental nirvana whereby customers make repeat in-store purchases using a single re-useable container. Less waste, less carbon, great customer experience, lower compliance fees, a better planet, and reassured shareholders.
With reuse and refill still very much in its infancy however, the reality is unfortunately not quite as simple as that. If you are stepping into the refill or reuse arena right now, you’ll find yourself at the forefront of pioneering change in how consumers shop. Brands have been discussing reuse and refill for some time, but the simple fact is that the practicalities require the willingness and collaboration of global policymakers, manufacturers, supply chain partners, retailers, and, of course, customers to all play their part in making it happen.
For many brands, a successful transition involves completely reengineering their business and packaging strategy. It's not something to be entered into lightly, and there will be challenges along the way. If you’re considering a reuse or refill model for your packaging, read on to understand five essential requirements that will help to ensure it is a success.
Policy guidelines are still in development and lack the detail needed to enable brands to develop a long-term reuse and refill strategy. The European Packaging and Packaging Waste Proposal has proposed new targets for specific industries. Still, with varying global definitions of ‘reuse’, i.e. the minimum times it can be refilled, and when and how it should be cleaned, there are no clear and consistent guidelines for brands to follow.
This could result in different brands, sectors and markets interpreting the rules as they see fit, potentially leading to misleading ‘greenwash’ claims and operational chaos.
Industry guidelines about what must be included in a reuse and refill lifecycle analysis is sparse. As a result, brands and retailers are coming up with their own methodologies to prove the worth of their programmes, and many are missing essential elements that could ultimately completely change the results.
For instance, refillable packs need to be washed using water, heat and chemicals. But many LCA studies completely leave this out of their analysis, instead focusing solely on select metrics, like the volume of material and carbon use.
Successfully transitioning to a reuse and refill model is not something that can be done half-heartedly. It requires commitment, a dedicated team, significant investment and the right mindset across the entire business.
Many brands have tried and failed, often because they haven't put the right level of resources into making it happen, and even those that have, haven’t found it easy. It's not just a case of bolting it on as a 'nice to have' – it needs to be placed at the center of your product and packaging strategy.
For many brands that have trialed reuse and refill programmes, consumer buy-in was the final hurdle that tripped them up. Consumers will only engage with a reuse and refill programme if it’s simple and easy to use. Most consumers are keen to do the right thing, often choosing brands that fit their personal ethos and values, such as the desire for a more sustainable planet.
But if the consumer experience is not entirely frictionless, previous trials have shown that many consumers revert back to buying ‘single-use’, simply because reuse and refill were too complicated, expensive or required too much effort. It’s so critical we’ve written an article on achieving consumer buy-in for refill and reuse.
It’s not easy to be open and honest about the challenges you encounter, especially when your customers and competitors are watching. But reuse and refill is new territory for everyone, and the fastest route to success is to share experiences and best practice to avoid making the same costly mistakes - potentially even collaborating with your competitors.
There are plenty of people and businesses out there already sharing their experiences and collaborating with each other. Through their willingness to have open and frank discussions in the public arena, together we can ensure reuse and refill becomes a reality that everyone can benefit from. Check out the article Get inspired - key refill and reuse resources.
We have produced an essential report you can download - Getting to the Root of Reuse + Refill. It takes a closer look at each of the challenges we explained above, with links to valuable frameworks, reports and case studies from organisations, retailers and brands currently pioneering the reuse and refill concept.
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 www.root-innovation.com.
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.