Many happy returns
Enabling reusable packaging systems By Sarah Greenwood, Packaging Technology Expert/Leader , University of Sheffield
ecycling has become the norm for addressing the problem with plastic waste, but recycling is challenging and enables and permits a throwaway culture. We need a step change in the way that we think about plastics - from cheap and disposable to a valuable commodity that needs to be retained and reused many times before it is recycled. The introduction of reusable packaging systems will enable this shift.
If we replaced just 20% of single-use plastic packaging in the UK grocery sector with reusable packaging, we could reduce the amount of single-use plastic entering the waste stream by 200,000 tonnes - that’s enough to fill 700 Olympic swimming pools!
Additionally, reusable packaging reduces the need to recycle and remanufacture single-use packaging. Implemented appropriately, this could reduce CO2 emissions by as much as 60%. Replacing 20% of single-use packaging with reusable packaging is also a business opportunity worth $10 billion globally, and one study has shown that 62% of people in the UK think that reuse is more important than recycling, and 83% of people want to buy products in packaging that they can reuse. Despite all this promise, interest from brands and retailers, and reuse being a key element of the UK Plastics Pact targets for 2025, the uptake of reuse currently sits at less than 2%. Only a handful of packaging manufacturers are offering reusable options - overwhelmingly offers marketed as sustainable are still single-use, made from alternative materials that don’t necessarily perform as well as the plastic originals in terms of protecting the product (and hence the embedded carbon) they contain. The Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures at the University of Sheffield has just received £1m of funding to change all that. Funded through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging Challenge (SSPP) from UKRI via NERC, and following on from our project Plastics: Redefining single-use we have put together a multidisciplinary team including language experts, behavioural scientists, physical scientists, engineers and life cycle assessment experts. Together with our project partners - Morrisons, Co-op, M&S, Nestlé, Berry Global, Touch, Unpackaged and OPRL, we aim to develop the means to enable the mainstream use of reusable packaging systems. Our focus will be on systems for food, which could include foodservice, ready meals, dairy products and home delivery systems, all under the title of Many Happy Returns: Enabling reusable packaging systems. Sarah Greenwood FIMMM APkgPrf is Packaging Technology Expert/Leader at the Grantham Centre of Sustainable Futures at the University of Sheffield. Together with Professor Thomas Webb and Professor Anthony J Ryan OBE, she is co-leading the UKRI funded project Many Happy Returns: Enabling reusable packaging systems. She also works as an independent consultant. See more here.