Hubbub launches report unpacking challenges and opportunities for reusable food and drink packaging systems

The report, launched at The Royal Society of Arts in the presence of key players in the sector, provides recommendations on how reusable packaging systems can work and what needs to happen for such systems to be used by consumers and become mainstream.

The research was funded by Bunzl plc and involved in-depth interviews with 40 organisations and individuals in the sphere of reusable food and drink packaging, from start-ups and small-scale trials to big brands and events, as well as people in the fields of policy, academia and logistics, including Tesco, DEFRA, Just Eat and Abel & Cole.

Hubbub also commissioned polling across the UK to gather public opinion on the motivators and barriers to individuals engaging in reuse systems for food and drink packaging.

The survey of 3,000 people shows a clear public appetite to cut down on single-use plastics, with 67% of people saying they want to reduce the amount of single-use packaging they use when buying food and drink products.  73% think more needs to be done to make it easier to use reusable alternatives and 67% said they’d be open to borrowing and returning a reusable container for groceries.

The research also identified the main motivators and barriers to people using reusable packaging schemes for food and drink. Price is the main motivator with 2 out of 5 people saying that being able to use the reusable packaging scheme for no extra cost would encourage them. Earning rewards or discounts for using a scheme, as well as knowing that it reduces waste and is better for the environment than single use packaging, would encourage 38% of the public.

In terms of barriers, concerns that the packaging might not be clean or hygienic was mentioned by 38% of respondents, followed by thinking it might cost more money (31%) and having to carry or store the packaging until it can be returned (27%).

Hubbub has identified 10 key recommendations to help reuse systems set up and scale:

  1. Convenience is key: minimise the friction points and fit into people’s current patterns of behaviour.
  2. Keep the price down: the price needs to be as close as possible to single-use.
  3. Choose the right incentives: they play an important role to encourage use and returns, but deposits can put people off and rewards can lead to over-complication.
  4. Integrate logistics: innovation is needed here, such as creating centralised logistics networks in cities, backhauling through existing systems and developing new washing processes.
  5. Be smart with packaging design: clever design is about more than aesthetics; it integrates tech, encourages returns and reduces the environmental footprint of packaging and transport.
  6. Understand the lifecycle analysis: a consistent process needs to be established to work out the environmental impact of reuse systems in a way that’s accurate and comparable.
  7. Collaborate: a system working across multiple brands, locations and platforms will be more convenient and less confusing for users.
  8. Consider the role of tech: tech can simplify payments, deposit refunds, rewards and tracking usage, but it can complicate the user journey and put off some audiences.
  9. Offer reassurance: the public have concerns around hygiene which can be addressed through a robust washing process supported by good communications.
  10. Support through policy: a range of potential policies, standards, incentives and subsidies would support the growth of reusable systems.

Alex Robinson, chief executiveof Hubbub said: “To effectively tackle the issue of packaging waste, reuse must become mainstream. For this to happen, it’s crucial that companies across the food & drink industry, along with policymakers, work together and learn from each other. The ‘Reuse Systems Unpacked’ report is the first of its kind and brings together the findings from existing schemes and systems, along with insight into public attitudes towards reusable packaging. It’s clear the public are hungry for change. We hope this report helps to accelerate progress across the food and drink industry and drives us quickly towards a society where reusable food and drink packaging is the norm.”

James Pitcher, head of sustainability at Bunzl said: “It’s been a long-held mantra of Bunzl that the life of packaging does not end at the point of sale and our ambition doesn’t either. We have been using our scale and unique position at the centre of the supply chain to work with our customers and suppliers to lead the industry towards a more sustainable approach to packaging. To move away from a linear mindset to a more circular one we need to understand the opportunities and challenges involved, which is why we’re pleased to have supported this work. The circular economy has to go mass market to be effective and research like this means we’ll understand what’s collectively required to reach a macro-solution sooner.”

Hubbub has extensive experience of encouraging reuse through a series of campaigns and partnerships including the recent launch of the Bring It Back Fund, a £1m fund in partnership with Starbucks to support reusable food and drink packaging systems.

For more information and to read the report, visit www.hubbub.org.uk/reuse-systems-unpacked.