From disposable to reusable: new research seeks to crack the packaging challenge

A selection of refillable coffee cups and a hand reached out to take one.
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From disposable to reusable: new research seeks to crack the packaging challenge

By Alex Robinson 28th June, 2022

Imagine daily life without disposable food and drink packaging. It's not easy, is it? All those packets, bottles, cartons and so on add up to an extraordinary amount. For example, it takes nearly 11 billion pieces of single-use packaging just to fulfil the UK's appetite for lunch on-the-go each year.   

But the public are also hungry for change. Hubbub polling reveals that 3 out of 4 people in the UK think more needs to be done to make it easier to choose reusable alternatives to single-use food and drink packaging. If the right reusable options are there, people want to use them. How can we create a society where reusable food and drink packaging becomes the norm?

Insights into the reuse revolution

Launched today, our new report in partnership with Bunzl, 'Reuse Systems Unpacked’, combines insights from 40 pioneering organisations taking on elements of this challenge, from local coffee cup schemes to hi-tech logistics firms. It also reveals the top opportunities and barriers to getting the public on board, based on our polling.

Unsurprisingly, the top motivator for the public is taking part at no extra cost (41%), but earning rewards or discounts, and knowing it’s better for the environment, were hot on its heels (both 38%). Hygiene concerns remain the number 1 obstacle for the public (38%) – and despite scientific consensus in the safety of reusable containers, 1 in 5 people still worry about catching Covid from them. It’s a useful reminder that the shift to reuse is not just a technical challenge, it’s a communications one too.

What is a reuse scheme?

Convenience, convenience, convenience

'Reuse Systems Unpacked' includes ten key insights for building better reuse systems. They range from the pros and cons of tech solutions to the importance of product design. If you take one thing away, though, it should be this: convenience is crucial. The user experience must be as convenient and frictionless as possible. Achieving this will take collaboration, great design, perhaps even regulation. But the simple fact is that single-use is enormously convenient, and more sustainable alternatives have to compete on that basis.  

This doesn't come as a surprise to us at Hubbub. Our work inspiring behaviour change around reusable cups has highlighted how important it is to make things easy for people. It's a key consideration of the Bring It Back Fund, a £1m grant fund run in partnership with Starbucks. And it will be at the heart of our future work supporting the circular economy, building on our recent Circular Future Fund with the John Lewis Partnership.

Join the movement

We hope that this report helps organisations to design and deliver successful food and drink packaging systems, inspires collaboration, and informs policymakers and everyone curious about the sector. Most of all, we hope it makes a contribution to the vital shift away from a throwaway culture, and towards one where we keep precious resources in use for as long as possible.

Are you a business that wants to collaborate?

If you have a challenge to share, or want to get involved with our work, we'd love to hear from you.

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