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Reusable and Refillable Packaging is a Global Opportunity

Reusable and refillable packaging solutions make up a growing share of the sustainable initiatives tracked by ThePackHub's Innovation Zone, but brands must overcome hurdles like convenience and consumer incentive for successful adoption.

Milk & More refillable grocery packaging.
Milk & More refillable grocery packaging.

ThePackHub’s Innovation Zone has tracked the latest packaging innovations over the last six years. The platform now has more than 6,500 initiatives listed, and new ones are being added at a rate of 25 new weekly entries. This lets ThePackHub team assess current trends and quickly determine where changes to the packaging innovation market might be starting and evolving.

According to the examples published in our Innovation Zone, the year to date has seen more than three-quarters of innovation launches specifically delivering sustainable packaging as their primary focus. This is respectable growth compared to a like-for-like dataset from the same period in 2019, where 62.5% of entries were considered as sustainability-driven. Recycling and recyclable content initiatives have the lion’s share of sustainable initiatives reported. The Innovation Zone also tracks many substrate substitutions, plastic reduction strategies, bio-material developments and single-use packaging reductions. The desire to deal with the latter as well as frustrations with inadequate and stagnant recycling success rates has been a shot in the arm for refillable and reusable packaging. It is now an important constituent part of this dominant trend, with a documented 17.2% of all sustainable packaging initiatives during the period in focus.

Reusable bottle return station.Reusable bottle return station.ThePackHubAt the time of writing, the Innovation Zone had tracked 569 initiatives tagged as ‘refillable’ and or ‘reusable’. This is 8.9% of all entries listed. The calendar year of 2022 so far has seen 134 refillable and reusable initiatives, 14.8% of all entries or one in seven. This clearly demonstrates growth and a higher percentage share of sustainable examples. ThePackHub believes that this trend will continue into 2023 and beyond, with a growing higher share of refillable and reusable initiatives coming to our attention.

Consideration about the consumer and their role in refill and reuse is something that is discussed early in any conversation on the topic. One particular area cited regularly is the need to acknowledge the role that convenience has on consumer adoption levels. More broadly, improving consumer convenience has been something that marketers and packaging professionals have striven to deliver for many decades for packaging generally. Single-use packaging helps to bring more convenience and has, of course, become the norm. It is easy to use and easy to dispose of despite lack of viable recycling options in many cases. It has been driven into consumers that a lack of convenience is something to be avoided and also something of value that might come at a price premium. For refill and reuse solutions that require more effort from consumers, this can be a challenge.

One of the key challenges for refillable and reusable packaging is working out ways to shift consumer mindsets and get them to think differently about the role that packaging plays in their lives and that convenience should not be the main and only consideration. It is also the role of reuse and refill developers to consider ways of making the process more convenient for consumers such as building on the growing prevalence of prefill packs and developing better-designed packaging send-back programs.Blueland refillable body wash.Blueland refillable body wash.ThePackHub

An enduring challenge for the industry will be to extend the desirability of refillable and reusable packaging beyond the predictable early adopters. How does the industry embrace a large cohort of disengaged and unmotivated consumers for the future?

ThePackHub has recently launched a 253 page report of 164 of the latest refillable and reusable packaging innovations covering initiatives across the beverage, consumer goods, food, health & beauty, household, industrial and pet care categories worldwide. ThePackHub has tracked reusable and refillable examples from brand owners large and small, from the likes of AB InBev, Burger King and Procter & Gamble through to start-ups such as &Repeat, Bûmerang and SwapBox. The examples in our recently launched Refillable & Reusable Packaging Compendium Vol 2 detailed are at different stages of development, with some being concepts and pilots, some still in development as well as those that are ‘launch ready’ and already introduced into the market. We also interview ten industry experts from around the world and include our vision of the market from ThePackHub’s resident refill and reuse expert Wayne Barron.

You can enjoy a special Packaging World discount for a PDF of the report here.

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