Published 2 months ago.
About a 3 minute read.
A new Ellen MacArthur Foundation study shows that a reusable packaging economy could lower both GHGs and water use by up to 35-70% compared with single-use plastics.
Returnable, reusable packaging can offer significant environmental benefits, and
— once scaled up through the right approaches — can compete with the economics
of single-use packaging for certain products, according to a new study from the
Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
Unlocking a Reuse Revolution shines a light
on the benefits of adopting reusable plastic packaging for selected beverage,
food and personal care items when designed collaboratively across the industry
and operated at large scale. It was developed with input from more than 60
leading organizations including the European Investment Bank; national
governments; reuse experts; and major brands and retailers including The
Coca-Cola Company, Danone, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever.
Recent findings in the Foundation’s Global Commitment Five Years In report
suggest that without a significant shift towards reuse, worldwide virgin plastic
use in packaging is unlikely to decrease below today’s levels before 2050. It
identified the scaling of reuse as one of the key hurdles to overcome in
reversing the tide on plastic waste and pollution.
The Reuse Revolution study shows that in the most ambitious scenario, returnable
plastic packaging could lower both greenhouse gas emissions and water use by
35-70 percent compared with single-use plastics.
“Embracing [reuse] gives us the opportunity to tackle plastic pollution, ease
pressure on our natural resources, and make strides towards net zero,” said
Sander Defruyt, Plastics
Initiative Lead at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. “Scaling reuse will be a
major transition and won’t happen overnight. This analytical study gives us
greater insight into the key drivers that affect the environmental and economic
performance of return systems. Yet, it doesn’t have all the answers. We now need
to see more research and groundwork in specific geographies and sectors to
determine the best course of action and make return models at scale a reality.
“No single organization can drive the necessary change by itself; it will
require a collaborative effort from businesses, policymakers and financial
institutions. Together, they can kickstart the reuse revolution and get the
world on track to tackling the plastic crisis.”
The study, developed in partnership with Systemiq and Eunomia,
focuses on returnable packaging — which, once bought and returned by
customers, is professionally cleaned and refilled before being sold again.
The model is gaining popularity and scale as more brands sign on to the
and companies including Revue (fka Johnson & Johnson Consumer
and brands including
are now exploring reusable/returnable packaging.
To drive global change, the Foundation is calling on leaders across the private,
public and finance sectors — to take a fresh approach to expand the reuse
through shared infrastructure and packaging standardization, and to work
collaboratively to reach high return rates.
“We’re pleased to be working with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and other
industry partners to explore the economic, environmental, and experiential
impacts of reuse models versus single-use,” said Jolanda de
Sustainability Manager Circular Economy at Unilever. “Getting these models
working economically at scale, however, will take time and will require
significant collaboration between retailers, manufacturers, policymakers, and
civil society. Fragmented efforts will not be enough to drive the necessary
The Foundation has highlighted the important role of policy in scaling reuse. It
sees the ongoing development of the European Packaging and Packaging Waste
and negotiations for a Global Treaty to End Plastic
of which have stalled) as major opportunities to put in place ambitious reuse
policies — including time-bound, sectoral reuse targets — together with the
enabling conditions needed to help reuse thrive.
Ambroise Fayolle, VP at the
European Investment Bank, said: “This valuable study issues a blueprint for
achieving the crucial step change from recycling to reuse in a global economy.
Shifting towards reuse systems can increase circularity at scale, whilst at the
same time creating new business options and social benefits.”
Published Nov 24, 2023 8am EST / 5am PST / 1pm GMT / 2pm CET