Left your keys in the fridge again?

An apron-wearing young woman behind a till hands over a cup of coffee to a customer. The cup is a reusable cup, a beige colour with a dark green 'Borrow. Return for £1' written on the cup and an illustrated earth.
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Left your keys in the fridge again? 

By Alex Robinson, 15th March 2024

It’s no secret that plastic and disposable packaging is a vast environmental challenge. Globally, we produce 141 million tonnes of disposable packaging every year, and it all has to end up somewhere.

But seeing a problem and solving it are two different things. At Hubbub, we’re committed to accelerating the uptake of reusable alternatives – by creating an everyday circular economy that keeps valuable resources in use for as long as possible.

Food and drink packaging is a great place to start. When we buy lunch on the go, we tend to use about four pieces of packaging each time. In the UK alone, we get through about seven million single-use coffee cups a day.

Behaviour change that sticks

We’ve been exploring how to create successful reusable food and drink packaging systems for several years now. It comes down to a key principle of creating behaviour change that sticks: people have to be both willing and able to make the change.

Being willing means wanting to do it, perhaps because it’s easier, or cheaper, or simply because everyone else is. Being able means that the systems are in place to enable the change: it could be a slick deposit-return experience, or washing facilities behind the scenes that mean disposable options aren’t even available.

Sounds simple?

The devil is always in the detail. But through our collaborative campaigns we’ve been building significant expertise in making reusable food and drink packaging a reality. The two campaigns I’m sharing today highlight both sides of that key behaviour change principle.

Making people able

What do a cafe in the Scottish Highlands, a Bradford curry house and a food market in London all have in common?

They were all locations of reuse projects funded through our Bring It Back Fund, in partnership with Starbucks. 

The fund was created to kick-start reuse systems for food and drink packaging in the UK. We awarded a total of £1.4m to six innovative projects that aimed to bring reusable packaging to new environments and find scalable solutions for the future.

One year on, we’ve gathered the learnings and identified the key ingredients to make reuse systems thrive:

  1. Convenience is king

    Returning packaging needs to be as effortless as throwing it away. That means complicated apps are out, and multiple return locations are in.

  2. Communication is key

    Clear communication is critical, across all platforms, from social media to in-store signage.

  3. Emphasise the benefits

    We need to explain the advantages – both environmental and personal – and don't assume everyone understands why reuse trumps recycling.

  4. Affordability is essential

    Money shouldn’t be a barrier to reuse. Keep costs down and incentivise participation with rewards for returns.

  5. Empower your people

    Here’s the kicker: successful reuse systems rely on enthusiastic teams. Because when you staff understand the importance of reuse, they’ll champion it to your customers too.

The theme running through all these insights is that a reuse scheme isn’t just a feat of engineering: it has to be designed at every stage with the people who use it in mind.

Making people willing

Hands up if you forgot to bring your lunch to work today? It happens to the best of us. But at Hubbub, we figured there had to be a better way to help forgetful folk (like us) remember our reusables. We know that busy commuters are the biggest culprits when it comes to clocking up packaging waste from buying food and drink on-the-go, and disposable cups pile up fast when you're grabbing coffee en route to the office.

So, we dug into the psychology of memory to uncover those tricks we all use to stay on top of stuff. Then we made a video that mined those hacks, from the practical to the somewhat strange – like putting your keys in the fridge to ensure you grab lunch – to target commuters in Bristol, London and Glasgow and help them remember their reusable.

And while some of the methods were pretty extreme, we weren’t just playing for laughs. We also snuck in info about saving money and reducing waste, plus a nudge about how using reusables is pretty normal – supported by an influencer campaign to help popularise the behaviour. We’ll be releasing the impact report soon, so stay tuned for the results.

What’s clear already is that these projects demonstrate that even small changes in our daily routines can trigger a powerful domino effect. In both cases, our aim isn’t just to reduce waste at an individual level, but to inspire a cultural shift towards a world where we value the resources we have, and waste is designed out of the system.

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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