Packaging: new solutions promote better behaviours

Consumers are demanding products with less packaging, but our habits and actions need to change to really impact on the amount of packaging used overall. The latest initiatives encourage us to invest more in the container to improve the experience of using the product, whilst encouraging reuse at the same time. Tesco has teamed up with Terracycle, the US recycling innovator, to pilot their Loop scheme. Products come in reusable containers, which are designed to  ‘age gracefully’ as they are cleaned, refilled and reused at least 100 times. Importantly, the containers are designed so they will look good on display in the home. Some also have special properties, such as a double walled tub to keep ice cream cooler for longer. This approach favours aluminium, steel and glass. Not only do these materials stand up better to repeated use, they age in a more aesthetically pleasing way than plastic does.  On the same theme, branded aluminium cups have been launched by Ball in the US, to improve the drinking experience whilst encouraging consumers to reuse or recycle their cups.  

These schemes must make economic sense. Customers will pay Tesco a refundable deposit of up to £5 for a metal or glass container, to cover the cost of the package. It is not yet clear who will pay for transport and cleaning at a central depot, after which they are returned to the product manufacturer for refilling. Customers will expect brand owners to pick up the bill. Regulatory incentives could help to offset these costs. Zero Waste Europe has proposed a lower extended producer responsibility (EPR) cost for reusable packaging and a higher one for single use items.  The scheme will appeal to consumers who already do their weekly shop online, or who are motivated to return packaging to the store. 

Many categories of products will still require conventional packaging however.  Recycling, either mechanical or chemical, is the most accessible solution to bring such packaging back into use. And here there have been innovations announced recently. Amcor has launched a range of silica coated polymer packaging as an alternative to multiple layer packaging, which is hard to recycle. This follows initiatives from Tetra Pak and collaborators to find end uses for the aluminium and plastic layers present in their multilayer packs. 

Food is a big consumer of single use packaging. Biodegradable plastic for this application is increasingly in demand as consumers are learning to separate food waste for industrial composting. They appreciate the logic of composting food waste and its packaging together. As these materials are made from plants, composting is a form of organic recycling.

So new solutions need to be more than just technologically innovative. The best ideas will also bring about behavioural change. This is what Loop offers.  Although Tesco may not convert all of their customers to the new idea, it will be a step in the right direction and ‘every little helps’.

Published: 29 October 19

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