A mesh bag holding reusable glass containers

Switching from single-use to refillable or reusable packaging?

Everyone depends on packaging for safe distribution of products. For the longest time, plastic has  been the bulk of packaging material across the world. However, with widespread pollution becoming a major concern, the use of plastic, especially on single use terms, will see a sharp decline. Calls for adoption of reusable and refillable alternatives are getting louder by the day. As you make the switch however, here are a few factors to consider as you settle on the right alternative for your packaging.

Functionality of alternative materials

How functional are the alternative materials? Are they easy to carry around, easy to acquire? Will they be cumbersome in any way and make the user have a preference for the single-use packaging? Does the nature of the material negatively impact the protection served by your packaging? For example, the Ford Motor Company found out the hard way that animals are attracted to soy-based wiring. 

Cost of alternatives

Is the cost of acquiring, manufacturing, and maintaining the alternatives affordable? Some of the refill or reuse packaging may come with a heavy production or acquisition cost, so you should consider this before moving forward with the switch to reusable or refillable packaging.

Cleaning is important

It is important to be sure that your refillable or reusable packaging comes with the option to clean. How many wash cycles can it go through before becoming unusable? Noone wants a packaging solution that becomes destroyed after just one cleaning cycle, because that  means they have to purchase another, at an added cost! In addition, it is important to consider the washing cycle of a reusable package as part of a life cycle assessment when comparing single use packaging to refill options. 

Consumer acceptability

How user friendly is your packaging alternative? How available is it for your customers? Customers tend to lean towards easy product options: easy to find, easy to use, easy to maintain. How well does your packaging solution fit into your customers’ lives?

Infrastructure availability

Assuming you need a large batch of packaging items, is your choice sustainable? Whatever you opt for should be available to you at all times and within the shortest possible time. It does not make economic sense to pick an option whose production or availability is difficult because in the long run it is not sustainable. For reusable packages, can you establish infrastructure to reliably recover, wash, and incorporate the package back into the market? Reuse options will only work if the company has a significantly high return rate of 90% or higher. Otherwise, these reusable packages which are usually more material intensive and impactful, will have to be remade to replace the packages that were not returned. It requires a robust supply chain of partners to achieve a successful reusable packaging system.

Should You Make the Switch?

The process of designing for a refillable or a reusable scenario involves buy-in from your consumers as well as the entire supply chain. A refill format can be an easier way to start, but you need to encourage the consumer to purchase the refill format rather than the single use option. The reusable scenario is what every company is striving for because it supports the circular economy and keeps packages in the market and retains their value. This switch requires infrastructure changes, partners, and a committed consumer base that will reliably return these packages. It’s up to the company to make the best decision for their business and ultimately choose the package that will be the most sustainable option for them. Trayak has been helping leading brands of all sizes make data-driven sustainability decisions for over 10 years. If you would like to learn more about our tools and services please contact us.


https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2590289X20300086  https://www.unilever-ewa.com/news/news-and-features/2019/we-are-innovating-for-a-reuse-revolution.html https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2590289X20300086 

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