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Reuse + refill systems and solutions

Governments have introduced reuse mandates for numerous high impact sectors, and they’re becoming inevitable for other sectors in the near future. Undertaking the necessary work now to understand what system or solution suits your business is critical to ensure you’re prepared to act when policies land.

This is the third article in the reuse + refill series, taken from the  Getting to the Root of Reuse and Refill ’23 report.

The full report, written by Root’s packaging sustainability experts, reveals the five challenges brands need to consider when implementing a reuse + refill strategy.

While many major brands have made voluntary commitments or set targets for reuse, as consumers, we don’t often see reuse at scale or in practice. National and regional regulation is beginning to mandate that businesses offer reuse, but lobbyists are working hard to slow policy development and maintain the status quo.

Categorise your store types to identify those better suited for a pilot, and consider how regional or cultural differences impact engagement.

What system or solution suits your business?

A return on investment for a reusable system can be achieved in as little as two years (Zero Waste Europe). Piloting and developing solutions takes time. Once you’ve gained internal buy-in to allocate investment, what are the aspects you need to consider next?


Commercial impacts

Reusable solutions have varying upfront and ongoing costs. Some models require initial investment to design and produce packaging, which can be risky. This is why many brands opt to join existing schemes with smaller initial onboarding fees and recurring maintenance costs.

Operational impacts

Many stores and sites were not originally designed for reusable packaging or the customer journey that accommodates it. Many lack storage or space for stock and on-site washing equipment. A useful initial step is to categorise your store types to identify those better suited for a pilot. Also consider how regional or cultural differences impact engagement.

Health and safety

Health and safety considerations can be a reason some businesses are exempt from regulations mandating reuse. For those brands aiming to go further, faster and do the right thing, there are many excellent “full service: solution providers that offer hygiene guarantees, such as Again, Glassia, and Algramo.

Bespoke or standard?

Most brand and marketing teams recoil when campaigners propose that all brands should use a generic pack to boost production quantities and enhance commercial accessibility.
Striking a careful balance is essential to preserve brand presence and customer loyalty. Some solutions rely on production volumes and shared infrastructure for success – requiring competitors to combine forces. Competition law on this matter should be fit-for-purpose to enable, rather than restrict, collaboration.

Reuse in developing markets

Markets with limited or no recycling facilities sometimes present increased opportunities for reuse. Certain regions, such as Africa and Latin America, have well established reuse systems for bottles and other packaging items that hold value for local citizens.

In developing markets innovative reuse initiatives are necessary to tailor reuse to the cultural, structural, and economic characteristics of each community.

While large-scale reuse is imperative to reduce packaging impacts of multinational brands, producers, and retailers, there is also potential to nurture existing localised reuse schemes. This allows the logistical burden to be shared, improving accessibility for SMEs, and preventing them from being priced out of the reuse revolution.

Design and brand loyalty

It is possible to maintain the aesthetic presence of your brand if collaborating on a ‘standard’. Restricted dimension and function can work alongside differences in colour, decoration, and other tactile treatments that can be adjusted with mould tool change parts, like an embossed logo. These creative tactics are currently under-utilised.