Back then, single use products are not that common. I mean, we see a lot of reusable glass bottles for milk and cotton bags in old cartoons or films. Until the 1980s, glass or cotton bags were the go-to packaging materials for many products, such as milk and flour. Then came the era of plastic.
In 2018, 40% of the 360 million tons of plastics produced globally were converted to packaging. We know why. Plastic is the go to material because of its durability, cheap cost, and ultimate convenience. Seeing people getting over plastic dependence isn’t easy.
Hence, the unending plastic consumption is littering the natural environment. And it’s becoming more prevalent nowadays. Now, the solution isn’t recycling only. We also need a lot of alternative materials such as bio-based packaging as well as reusing.
These things won’t only help save the environment, but also bring financial savings to businesses,
If we can get more people to reuse (all the time, not just once or twice), the single use systems will be outperformed. Let’s look at the numbers. About 95% of the value of plastic packaging material ($83 to $124 billion annually) is lost to the economy after a very short first-use cycle. Most of it ends up in our environment.
Searious Business, a solution provider for zero plastic waste practices, did a research with reusable packaging. They found yearly financial savings up to 30% compared to the single-use versions.
Therefore, reusable packaging is not only a great business potential, but also important to achieve a circular economy as well as solve the plastic pollution problem. To grasp this potential, business must explore collaborations and capacity sharing to achieve wide-scale success and profit.
The importance of collaborative work
When important people like key stakeholders align their efforts to the eco-friendlier practices, the industry can change towards a paradigm of reuse. The idea of replacing single-use products with reusable ones is simple. Adapted concepts like the usual “bring your own” is not hard either.
Sadly, our current packaging system is geared toward single-use packaging.
Food sector is the easiest example. In today’s fast-paced world, ready-made meals are the preferred option for many consumers. Producers parcel ready-made food in small portions in thoughtfully designed packaging, which ends up in the bin soon after consumption.
As stated earlier, reusable packaging is going to be environmentally friendly and it will benefit businesses financially. Together with three major retailers, Searious Business has identified opportunities to reduce carbon footprint by 43 tons per year through reusable food containers. Financial pay-offs have appeared within eight months.
But, these results happened because of the result of a collaboration, particularly with waste management players, cleaning facilities and logistics companies.
Where the packaging was previously disposed of, the retailer needs to arrange collection points, ensure timely collection by the cleaners and likewise timely return so that the packing can be reused.
The retailer also needs to invest in marketing the benefits and convince consumers about the opportunity to change to a circular packaging model, so that the system is well used and adequate scale can be realized to make a successful change.
Then, Numerous stakeholders need to engage in coordinated actions to reduce plastic waste and gain financial benefit for all parties involved. in order to be financially viable and impactful, reuse platforms will require a lot of collaboration and capacity sharing.
Collaborations are important if we want to change and outshine single-use practices. To get started, there’s Circle Economy’s guide for collaborations in a circular economy. It directs businesses through the process of identifying attractive partners and establishing successful partnerships.
First, businesses need to understand the local context, market and material flows. This includes relevant legislation, consumption habits, the distance to sourcing and the existing reuse infrastructure, which can vastly differ between locations.
Then, choosing the right partner is also important to implement reuse packaging systems further depends on the company vision. Once a business has a clear vision for the future, it needs to assess which capabilities and resources are needed to reach this vision and what can be filled internally.
Once a business identifies the gaps (capabilities, resources), it can determine which type of collaboration they need to make the circular transition happen.
Here’s an illustration regarding collaborative work from GreenBiz.com.
1. When McDonald’s and Burger King joined food delivery platform Deliveroo, they did not only want to meet evolving consumer demands for mobile ordering. They also recognized the benefits of serving as each other’s impact extenders.
When competitors collaborate to reach common goals, they can learn together, overcome hurdles, increase volume and scale, share investments or establish standardization of packaging. Such “coopetition” is often pooled under reuse platforms such as Deliveroo.
2. Businesses looking to introduce reusable packaging also can partner with companies that serve as promoters, and help to make reusable packaging accepted and ordinary or even desirable through marketing campaigns.
Social enterprise Dopper, known for its reusable water bottles, has collaborated with the Amsterdam-based Van Gogh museum to create a Special Edition of their bottles with prints of the famous painter’s works.
3. Returnable packaging schemes such as BarePack meal containers in Singapore and RePack packages in Europe work much in the same way that library books are borrowed, enjoyed and returned.
With both consumers and businesses recognizing their environmental and financial benefits, these schemes are gaining market share and increasingly becoming part of our daily lives.
As reuse system operators, BarePack and RePack support businesses with elements such as (reverse) logistics, cleaning and refilling.
Finding the right partner
Your business will have gaps need to be filled, and finding that out is an important first step. But as illustrated and mentioned, getting a good partnership is vital for your switching process, because certain characteristics can amplify your cooperation.
Partnering companies should aim to find a strategic fit: your vision on circularity aligns and your market, context and geographical fit. Knowledge exchange collaborations may be good for global operation. But geographical proximity is needed to ensure resource efficiency and profitability when implementing reusable packaging on the ground.
Reusable packaging is a playground for innovation, so creativity is quite important as well. Moreover, open communication and collaborative learning are also needed as they can enable joint progress towards successful reuse models, while at the same time reducing uncertainties.
Partners should also show alignment with the mission. Being on the same page in terms of sharing interests and benefits will result in flexibility. And finally, a partner should show commitment in terms of wanting the change and investing resources.
So, business owners, are you ready to change for a better environment and financial savings?