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


App/ Digital Rewards

App/ Digital Rewards encourage behavior change by giving users consumers on how much single-use plastic, greenhouse gases or other relevant environmental metrics they have avoided. There may also be a discount or other reward that the user can earn.

 

Currently, the two sub-categories for this type of solution are Reusable Bag Rewards and Water App/Rewards.

 

Reusable bag rewards give users a digital reward for bringing their bags with them to the store. Some programs utilize a digital technology where the cashier scans the bag, while others require the user to track their bag usage by manually entering it into an app.

Example:

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

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

 

Example:

  • An example of a water app/rewards would be Refill Deutschland, which allows users to find refill points for their water bottles across 5,500 refill stations in Germany. 

Concentrate- Based Refill Systems
Concentrate- Based Refill Systems change the design of a product to remove the water making refills inexpensive to ship and convenient for the customer.

 

The three sub-categories for this type of solution are Personal Care, Home Care, and Perfume & Cosmetics.

Examples:

  • Blueland makes refills for home cleaning products that allow the user to refill a spray bottle with a branded tablet and tap water. They also have a similar product available for refilling foaming hand soap. The more refills the user purchases, the less expensive they are. Refills ship in minimal compostable packaging. 

  • Bioseptyl makes a concentrated toothpaste that comes in a simple to use plastic sticks. Refills for the sticks come in a two-pack of compostable packaging. 

Package-Free Shops
Package-free shops sell goods to consumers in bulk, eliminating the need for single-use packaging.

 

The sub-categories for this type of solution are Food & Beverage, Home & Personal Care, and Multiple. Multiple is for stores that sell both food items and home and personal items in bulk. Package-free shops often sell more than just bulk items such as plastic-free toothbrushes and solid shampoo bars. In addition package-free shops may host community events encouraging consumers to use less single-use plastic or run other local advocacy programs. 

Example:

  • Das Gramm provides zero waste grocery items both in store and via local delivery. Products that require packaging are available in either paper bags or returnable jars. Additionally Das Gramm runs a reusable cup program with other local businesses and the Refill Austria drinking water program, which encourages users to refill their own water bottles. 

Pre-Filled Refill Systems 
Pre-Filled Refill Systems are ready to use for the customer at the point of purchase.

 

The three sub-categories for this type of solution are Multi-Brand Pooling System, Single-Brand Program, and Reusable Bag Pooling.  

 

Multi-brand pooling systems allow many brands to use the same reusable container for their products. Customers pay a deposit at point of purchase and receive their deposit back when they return the container. Many of these programs use glass bottles and jars, although some programs do utilize recyclable PET bottles.

Example:

  • The German Wells Cooperative allows all mineral water producers in Germany to belong to a cooperative that supplies them with reusable glass and plastic bottles. Customers pay a small deposit for each bottle that is returned when they bring back the bottle. The cooperative washes and inspects the bottles before providing them to the brands to be refilled. 

 

The single-brand program category is for brands that utilize proprietary packaging, rather than using a pooling system. These can be in store programs such as Coca-Cola’s bottle refill programs in many parts of the world that use a deposit return program or refill by mail programs that refill packaging once the customer returns it.  

Example:

  • Ace of Air maintains ownership of the packaging and only sells the customer the product it contains. Customers ship their empty bottles back in reusable shipping mailers. Customers pay a penalty if the packaging is not returned.

 

Reusable bag pooling gives 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.

Example:

  • GOATOTE customers can get reusable bags for a deposit from a kiosk in their local grocery store or pharmacy. When the customer returns the bags, they receive their deposit back. GOATOTE collects all bags from their return kiosk and cleans and sanitizes them for their next use. 

 

Refill Vending/ Dispensing Stations
Refill Vending/ Dispensing Stations allow users to refill their own packaging at kiosks, vending machines, or in some cases via movable refill carts. 

 

The sub-categories for this type of solution are Food & Beverage, Home & Personal Care, and Water. Some of these programs use proprietary technology to track bottle fills such as Algramo which uses a RFID chip embedded in the bottle to track the number of times the bottle is filled as well as act as a digital wallet for the user.

  • Miwa is a digital container system for bulk foods, keeps food sanitary and allows customers to pay through the app.

  • 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. Customers refill their products using an in-store proprietary refill station. 

  • Living Water operates refill stations throughout the Philippines through a decentralized franchise model. 

Refill via Single-Use Plastic Free Pouches/Compostables
​​Refill via Single-Use Plastic Free Pouches/Compostables allow users to refill their product using pouches or compostable packaging.

 

The sub-categories for this type of solution are Home Care, Perfume & Cosmetics, and Personal Care. Most of these systems deliver refills through the mail. Some programs do utilize plastic pouches, however only programs that refill these pouches and use them multiple times were included in this database. Many of these programs utilize compostable or recyclable paper packaging. Pouches and compostables are advantageous to shipping bottles back and forth because they are often lighter in weight allowing for less greenhouse gas emissions during shipping. Compostables are lightweight and provide for ease of use but they can be problematic if the user does not have access to composting or the compostable packaging contaminates the recycling stream. 

Examples:

  • Cleancult ships refills for cleaning products in paper boxes that can be recycled or composted. 

  • above & beyond. above & beyond sells their lip balm in an aluminum case. Refills ship to users in compostable pods that are easy to insert into the case. 

  • Neighborhood Botanicals. ​​Neighbourhood botanicals has partnered with On Repeat to offer refills in compostable packaging for facial oil, cleanser, and body oil. 

Reusable Cup & Container Programs
Reusable cup and container programs are divided into either cup or container programs. If an organization has both a cup program and a container program these are listed as separate entries.  

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 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. 

Reusable Shipping and Logistics

Reusable shipping and logistics is separated into two categories: B2B and shipping materials.

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. 

Example:

  • 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. 

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 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 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 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.