Resource Use

‘Reuse Revolution’ needed to turn the tide on plastic waste, report claims

A new study conducted by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has indicated that – with appropriate scaling – returnable packaging could reduce greenhouse gas emissions and water use by 35-70 per cent compared with single-use options.

Reuse revolutionThe study – entitled ‘Unlocking a Reuse Revolution’ – has been produced with input from over 60 leading organisations including national governments, the European Investment Bank and major brands and retailers such as Coca-Cola, Nestlé, Danone and Unilever.

The report focuses on ‘reuse’ models – which differ from ‘refill’ ones – where consumers return packaging to be professionally cleaned and refilled before being sold again.

The report claims that transitioning from single-use systems to reuse models presents ‘one of the biggest opportunities to reduce plastic pollution’ and that this transition can contribute to a 20 per cent decrease in plastic leakages into the world’s oceans by 2040.

Without substantial efforts to move towards reuse, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s previous findings indicate that virgin plastic use in packaging is unlikely to decrease before the year 2050.

The report modelled three potential scenarios for the scaling of reuse. In the most ambitious scenario, greenhouse gas emissions and water use could be reduced by up to 70 per cent whilst material use could fall as much as 75 per cent.

To achieve this, the Foundation calls on the globe’s biggest producers of packaging to transition from ‘bespoke packaging’ – where different containers are used by each brand – to ‘pooled packaging’ where businesses share a set size, material and shape.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation claims that achieving this currently provides one of the most significant barriers to a ‘Reuse Revolution’, however, if scaled successfully and efficiently, reusable packaging can compete economically with single-use counterparts.

Ambroise Fayolle, Vice President at the European Investment Bank, said: “This valuable study issues a blueprint for achieving the crucial step-change from recycling to reuse in a global economy. Shifting towards reuse systems can increase circularity at scale, whilst at the same time creating new business options and social benefits.”

‘Reuse revolution’ to drive net zero efforts

Commenting on the need for reuse, Sander Defruyt, Plastics Initiative Lead at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation said: “It’s time for a reuse revolution. Embracing this gives us the opportunity to tackle plastic pollution, ease pressure on our natural resources, and make strides towards net zero.

“Scaling reuse will be a major transition and won’t happen overnight. This analytical study gives us greater insight into the key drivers that affect the environmental and economic performance of return systems. Yet, it doesn’t have all the answers. We now need to see more research and groundwork in specific geographies and sectors to determine the best course of action and make return models at scale a reality.

“No single organisation can drive the necessary change by itself; it will require a collaborative effort from businesses, policymakers and financial institutions. Together they can kick start the reuse revolution and get the world on track to tackling the plastic crisis.”

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