What Does Reusable Mean?

Reusable (product or packaging): A characteristic of a product or package that has been conceived and designed to accomplish within its lifecycle multiple trips, rotations, or uses for the same purpose for which it was originally used.  

A claim that a product or packaging is reusable or refillable shall only be made where: 

1. A programme exists for collecting the used product or packaging and reusing or refilling it

2. Facilities or products exist that allow the purchaser to reuse or refill the product or package
 

Reusable (system or solution): The supporting organization, process, and/or enabling technology, and infrastructure that together facilitate the circulation of the reusable product or packaging.

Adapted from ISO 14021:2016

Conditions for Reusable Solutions that Minimize Environmental and Human Health Impact

  1. The reusable item is made from renewable or recycled materials in a process that is carbon neutral or better, doesn’t use toxics, and minimizes other environmental and human health impacts. 

  2. Reusable product or packaging is non-toxic. 

  3. The reusable product or packaging can and is expected to be used for at least the minimum number of times such that its environmental impact is less than the disposable it is replacing.

  4. The logistics and washing solutions minimize GHG, water and wastewater impacts.

  5. At the end of its life, it can be readily recycled (into an item of equivalent or greater value) or fully composted.

Scope
 
This database intends to include all reusable solutions, advocacy initiatives and campaigns. This Living Landscape is currently focused on complete reusable solutions for plastic waste rather than product or packaging-level innovations, such as new or substitute materials, reusable items on their own, or reductions in plastic usage. So, for example, reusable grocery bags on their own are out, but a reusable grocery bag system is in. Reusable coffee mugs are out, but reusable coffee mugs as a service is in. Downstream (post-consumer) solutions such as waste collection and recycling projects, ocean plastic cleanups or waste mapping are not included in this database. 
Geography
Currently, this database only includes solutions based in Europe, Canada, and the United States. These geographies were selected for the first phase of database development, with the intention to expand to include additional geographies in phase two and ultimately be global in scope.
Glossary of Solutions Categories

Household Good Refill Programs
The Household Good category includes products in the Personal Care, Home Care, and Perfume & Cosmetics categories, and in some cases one company sells products in multple categories.

There are two main reuse models in use for this category: Refill on the Go and Refill at home:

Refill on the Go - Refill on the go programs allow users to purchase household goods such as personal care items and cleaning products via in-store kiosks or stand-alone refill stations.

  • Offering users discounts over the traditional retail price can help encourage program use.

  • Smart containers, such as those with embedded RFID chips, can show users how much money and waste they are saving over time, encouraging continued use of the program.

  • Proprietary branded containers give users the packaging that they have come to expect, but charging users for packaging could inhibit program uptake. 


Examples: 

  • French beauty brand Cozie charges users 1.50 euros for a proprietary container on their first purchase, but credits them 1.50 euro on their next refill, encouraging reuse. 

  • Algramo and Beauty Kitchen have proprietary containers with an embedded RFID chip that can track how many times a container is refilled. The Algramo smart container links with the Algramo app to become a digital wallet for the user. 

  • For their pilot program in the Philippines, Unilever let customers bring their own bottles from home to refill their products. If customers brought in a bottle from a different brand, they were given a 100% recyclable bottle for free. The old bottles were collected and recycled. 

Refill at home - Refill at home programs mail users refills, allowing them to easily replenish their household products without single-use plastics. Most programs of this type require users to mail back empty containers. 

  • Subscription models that ship all refills together on a schedule can cut down on shipping costs and environmental impact but users may be hesitant to commit. 

  • Sign-up fees or deposits can ensure that the cost for containers are covered and that empties are returned but may limit widespread program adoption. 

  • Designing out water and selling products as concentrates, tablets or powders can allow multiple refills to be shipped compactly and inexpensively. However, customers may have difficulty perceiving the same value in a concentrated refill that they do in the full size product. 

Examples:

  • Loop charges a deposit for each container, as well as for their delivery tote to ensure they are returned.  

  • JAWS (Just Add Water System) cleaning products allows for refills of cleaning supply spray bottles via a proprietary refill tablet and tap water.  

Reusable Bag Programs

Bag Systems - Bag Systems give users the advantage of a reusable bag with the convenience of a disposable one. 

  • Bags are dispensed either from a kiosk in the store or from the store cashier.

  • The customer returns the bag on their next visit either for the return of a deposit or for credit on their next purchase. 

  • A downside to this type of program is that it still requires the customer to remember to bring the bags to the store, which can be a significant impediment.

  • A benefit to bag systems over personal ownership of reusable bags is that the bags are cleaned and sanitized between uses protecting both cashiers and customers from germs. 

Example:

  • GOATOTE collects all bags from their return kiosk and cleans and sanitizes them for their next use. 

Digital Rewards - Digital reward programs encourage positive behaviors. These programs  reward customers for bringing their own bags either with purchase discounts or donations to environmental charities. 

  • One of the key benefits of this type of program is that users can track the impact of their positive choices in terms of greenhouse gas reduction and plastic waste avoided helping to cement behavior change. 

Example:

  • goodbag equips their reusable bags with NFC (near field communication) chips. Every time customers bring their goodbag to a store they can chose to plant a tree against climate change, clean plastic waste out of the ocean or receive a discount as a reward.

Reusable Food and Beverage Packaging
Cup Program

Cup programs offer users a reusable cup for hot or cold beverages through a convenient reusable system.   There are multiple venue opportunities for cup programs from cafes, to universities, to corporate complexes, and even outdoor festivals. 

  • Depending on program design users either pay a deposit up front for use of the cup or they are charged a fee if the cup is not returned. Deposit systems could dissuade users if the fee is too high. 

  • A number of cup programs have chosen to go with a membership model allowing only members to access the program, while others are open to all. 

  • Determining who is responsible for cleaning the cups is an important part of the business model and may vary by usage venue. For example it may be more attractive for cafes to join a reuse program if they are not responsible for washing the cups. However, this added service by the program operator increases operating costs. 

  • Careful consideration of material usage is important in setting up a sustainable cup program. Plastic cups are lightweight, inexpensive and are easy to brand for festivals. However, at end of use they may only be downcycled into a lesser plastic. Aluminum is lightweight but is more expensive than plastic, meaning a larger up front cost for container program providers, especially for insulated aluminum for hot drinks. Ceramic mugs are convenient for use in coffee shops but not convenient for on the go use. 

  • An important consideration is how many times the cups must be used to account for the extra materials and energy they require to produce it as opposed to disposable cups. Additionally, reusable cups must be cleaned and sanitized, requiring significant water and energy consumption.  

  • Programs should strive to be as environmentally friendly as possible throughout the system such as using environmentally friendly soaps for cleaning to protect waterways and  transporting cups via bicycle to reduce carbon emissions.

 

Examples:

  • BillieCup charges users a one Euro deposit to reduce waste and  ensure cups stay in the system. 

  • LCA assessment for KeepCup, an Australian reusable cup manufacturer showed that after 24 uses the carbon footprint of a standard paper cup with plastic lid exceeds that of the reusable cup, but the company recommends users hand wash rather than dishwash the cups. 

  • Vessel Works does not charge users a deposit, however if the cups are not returned users are charged a $15 penalty fee. 

Container Program

Container programs offer users a zero waste take out container through a convenient reusable system. There are multiple venues for container programs from restaurants and cafes, to corporate and university cafeterias.  There has also been a significant uptick of container programs for home delivery. 

  • Most programs loan users the use of a container through a deposit system. A deposit can help ensure the container is returned, but could dissuade some users if the price is too high. Services that do not charge users a deposit often penalize users if the container is not returned within a certain time period. 

  • Membership programs can help ensure that users return the containers, help pay for program operating costs and make users feel like part of a community of like minded individuals, but can dissuade casual users. 

  • Some programs sell users their own reusable container. These programs then allow the user to trade their container for a clean sanitized container every time they visit a shop within the container program. This option can be useful in areas where regulation makes traditional container rental programs difficult to operate. 

  • Much like cup programs, material choice is an important consideration for both program uptake and for environmental implications. 

  • Containers need to stay in circulation enough times to make up for their additional material and energy consumption over a disposable container. Material choice will determine this break even point. For example aluminum containers take a lot more energy and materials to produce than polypropylene containers but can be more easily recycled into a product of similar value. 

  • Programs should strive to be as environmentally friendly as possible throughout the system such as using environmentally friendly soaps for cleaning to protect waterways and  transporting containers via bicycle to reduce carbon emissions.

 

Examples:

  • Green2Go offers restaurant take away in durable reusable containers. Users place their empty container in a drop box where it will be collected, cleaned and then returned to restaurants for the next customer. 

  • Dispatch Goods delivers meals in reusable stainless steel containers on a specific day of the week and collects the empty containers on the same day the following week. 

  • GoBox moves all of their containers via bicycle to reduce the carbon footprint of the program. 

 

Zero Waste Grocery

Zero waste groceries provide users with reusable containers for supermarket items allowing them to avoid single-use plastic packaging that can be difficult to recycle.  These services can either be for in store or online purchases.

  • Online zero waste groceries often charge users a deposit on containers to ensure they are returned. Some mail users items in glass containers that are meant to be returned when empty, while others deliver via polypropylene containers that are meant to be decanted into the users own containers and returned immediately. 

  • Online zero waste grocery stores are often membership based and encourage users to purchase all of their items at once to cut down on shipping costs and environmental impact. 

  • In store digital refill systems allow users to measure out and pay for items right at the refill station using sanitary packaging that prevents spreading germs and theft of bulk items. 

 

Examples: 

  • ClubZero by Abel & Cole charges users a yearly fee of $10 to use the program. Users purchase items in a refillable container, decant the item at home and then return the container keeping it in circulation and cutting down on program costs. 

  • Good Club offers users carbon neutral delivery reducing the impact of the program and ships product in refillable shipping totes that the user leaves out for pickup the following day. 

  • Miwa digital container system ensures that the food is kept separate until it is decanted into the customer’s container ensuring the product stays at peak freshness and avoids contamination. 

 

Reusable Shipping and Logistics
B2B

Reusable B2B shipping options reduce the need for single-use cardboard boxes, insulating materials, and  plastic pallet stretch wrap. 

  • These innovations can be particularly effective when utilized by an entire industry. This allows materials to move efficiently through the system and ensures each container is utilized enough times to account for the additional material and energy usage over disposable options. 

Examples:

  • Circolution is a pooling system for reusable grocery food packaging in Germany across all aspects of the value chain. 

  • In IFCO’s SmartCycle program, plastic containers are shared amongst many parties in the produce supply chain to maximize use and IFCO manages their pooling process. 

Shipping Mailers

Reusable shipping mailers replace single-use plastic mailers and cardboard boxes with a reusable option.

They not only replace the outside packaging but can cut down on plastic polybags which are often used to ensure products stay clean and dry during the shipping process. 

  • These can either be shaped as a traditional shipping mailer or a box. 

  • Some box shaped mailers can be folded down into an envelope shape for return shipping. 

  • Innovations in this sphere often involve full logistics services not just shipping mailers. 

Examples:

  • Boox reusable shipping boxes can be folded down into a smaller profile mailer for return shipping. 

  • Olive allows users to shop from 100s of e-commerce sites and receive deliveries shipped together in reusable shipping boxes.

  • Returnity offers full-service integration (cleaning, repair, replace) for their shipping mailers. 

Reuse Advocacy (non-profit and for-profit)
Accelerator Program/Innovation Challenge - Accelerator programs and innovation challenges nurture the future of reuse in areas such as  material innovation and circular business models.

Examples:

  • Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy Innovation Prize was created to support better materials, clever product designs and new, circular business models.

  • Plastic Soup Foundation’s Young Plastic Pollution Challenge awarded prizes for the best innovations against plastic pollution in these three categories: solutions that stop 'leakage' of plastic at the source, designing alternative products and use forms, and ideas for alternative materials.

Outreach and Education

Outreach and education programs work with their communities  to change behaviors around single-use plastics at the local, state and national level. 

  • These programs can be individual efforts or part of larger campaigns. 

Examples:  

  • Lonely Whale’s Movement for a Strawless Ocean encourages people to give up single-use plastic straws. 

  • Habits of Waste #CutOutCutlery campaign works to make food delivery services provide disposable cutlery to customers only if they request it. 

 

Policy Advocacy and Standard Setting

Policy advocacy and standard setting programs work to foster legislation and industry-wide behaviors that promote reusable solutions and discourage single-use plastics.

  • These programs often help to bring together disparate groups to facilitate change. 

Examples: 

  • Oceana’s Single-Use Plastics Directive campaigns to ensure EU Member States fulfill their promise for our oceans as laid out in the directive. 

  • The Zero Waste Cities program by Zero Waste Europe encourages cities to create and implement systems that do not generate waste rather than focusing on ways to recycle waste after it is generated.  

 

Research

Research programs work to map out where waste is being generated both at the business and systems level and help determine how systems and supply chains can be improved to phase out single-use plastics.  

 

Example:

  • WBCSD Circular Plastics and Packaging program helps companies to footprint their plastic usage allowing them to make short and long-term improvements that reduce plastic usage and waste. 

Advocacy Efforts of For-Profit Businesses

For profit businesses may engage in advocacy work to support legislation that is enabling for reuse businesses, may participate in education and awareness-raising campaigns, and may join other advocacy efforts that aim to create the enabling conditions for the reusable economy.

Examples:

  • Bûmerang invites people to sign their manifesto committing to end single-use packaging, and in doing so people join the community and get updates on the actions they can take.

  • Algramo partners with organizations like the United Nations and the World Economic Forum on webinars that promote reuse systems.

Water Refill
Refill App

Water refill applications help users both find places to refill their water bottles and track single-use plastic avoided. 

  • Refill apps can be powerful tools to encourage reuse behavior change by allowing users to track how much waste users are avoiding by refilling their bottles. 

 

Examples:

  • Refill Deutschland allows users to find refill points for their water bottles across 5,500 refill stations in Germany. 

  • The Fill it Forward app allows users to track waste diverted, emissions saved, and how much ocean pollution you have prevented.

Refill Program 

Water refill programs encourage people to use refillable water bottles rather than purchasing water in single-use plastic containers. 

  • Some programs help users find already available stations while other programs take a more proactive approach and install their own water refill stations in public areas.

  • Refill programs help users find refill stations and encourage reuse through advocacy campaigns and signage such as window stickers with QR codes users can scan for more information.

Examples:

  • The Refill Ireland Project installs free drinking water refill stations around Ireland called Community Refill Hubs.

  • BlueW water refill allows users to find locations via map or window stickers, users can scan QR on stickers for more information.