Remember not too long ago, when your parents need to bring that glass bottle back to the supermarket to get back a deposit? Well, that’s been in decline for years. In 2010, only 11% of Coca-Cola’s packaging was refillable glass. You can get nostalgic in Europe too, where 40% of beverage packaging was refillable in the early 2000s. That was actually a reusable system that worked.
What about today? Coca-Cola no longer refills glass bottles, everything is single-use. And Europe is down to only 20% refillable bottles in the market.
What happened? Plastic replaced most of those models, offering an affordable and convenient way to deliver products straight to the consumer. But wait, what about the material end of life? Oops…
In this moment of climate crisis, businesses are going back in time and revisiting those old reuse concepts and even improving them. That’s what all the recent buzz around REUSE is about. Companies are making commitments to go back refillable. That’s the case of Coca-cola, which announced last week that it is boosting its use of reusable packaging. By 2030, the company aims to have at least 25% of all beverages globally across its portfolio of brands sold in refillable/returnable glass or plastic bottles, or in refillable containers through traditional fountain or Coca-Cola freestyle dispensers. Will they keep their promise?
What’s a REUSE model?
First to the definition. REUSE is a model where you buy a product and refill their reusable container at home (let’s say through a subscription service) or on the go (for example at an in-store dispensing system). REUSE also applies to packaging you return from home (by a pick up system) or return on the go (retailer, coffee shop, drop-off point, deposit machine…).
Several studies are pointing to a reusable system as a winner to help us reduce our packaging (and environmental) footprint. Not surprisingly, Europe is jumping ahead (again!) and working hard on infrastructure and regulations to make reusable real! A bill has been proposed in France which would, if passed, have supermarkets dedicate 20% of their space by 2030 for food refill stations. In Germany, starting in 2023 any retailer serving takeout food or drinks will be required to offer reusable alternatives to single-use containers.
REUSE Innovations Happening Right Now.
As reuse is heating up globally, there are innovations coming up that you can start using at home now. Here are some of my favorites:
· SodaStream, available worldwide: Sparkling water lover? Instead of contributing to the outrageous 156 plastic bottles per American per year, you can get this home appliance that allows users to make sparkling water at home in a reusable bottle. Flavors can be added as desired to make a range of fizzy beverages. This company was bought by PepsiCo for USD 3.2 billion in 2018.
· RECUP, available in 2,500+ cafés, in Germany: This is a shared reuse coffee cup scheme growing across Germany. Partners, like coffee chains and cafes, can register on the platform and consumers can find all participating locations on an app to return the cup and get their deposit back. They are currently expanding and testing the system with McDonalds!
· Algramo, 2,000+ stores and 350,000+ customers, in Chile and pilots in NYC and Jakarta. Those are vending machines that enable customers to purchase household essentials in desired quantities from bulk into reusable containers. They call their technology “Packaging as a Wallet”. Customers save up to 40% by buying products in small quantities at bulk prices. Isn’t it great?
· Bite, online in the US, Australia and Canada. I have been their customer for over a year, and they are not just transparent but also make amazing products. When I started my research about zero waste bathroom products, they were the only toothbrush truly bio-based I could find. You buy their toothpaste tablets in a beautiful glass jar first and then they will send the next ones in compostable pouches so you can refill it.
· reCIRCLE, 500+ participating vendors in Switzerland. Reusable packaging for on-the-go takeaway food? Yes! Users receive takeaway food in a reBOX reusable container and then drops their empty off at any participating vendor.
REUSE Practices You Can Build Into Your Daily Life.
Adopting reuse practice isn’t just about innovative products, but about daily habits too. Here are a few things you can start doing at home right now.
· Start reusing what you have around the house. This is for EVERYTHING from jars and containers to newspapers. Here’s an easy one: a drawer full of ziplocks? No need to throw them away, just start washing and reusing it! Flexible plastics like those are the highest priority (pew link) to combat plastic waste as they are everywhere and so hard to recycle.
· Bring your own bag to the supermarket: just leave a couple in the trunk, a couple in the back seat and find ways to remember to grab them before you get in the shop.
· Reusable water bottle is a basic! Prefer glass or stainless steel as the most non-toxic options.
· With Covid easing a bit, some coffee shops are accepting refilling your own reusable coffee cup, so bring it with you next time.
Do you want to go deeper in reusable models? Here is a list of curated references: