Reusable packaging systems: Hubbub and Starbucks share insights from Bring it Back Fund winners
23 Jan 2024 — Starbucks and environmental charity Hubbub have unveiled the findings of six reuse projects funded by its £1.4 million (~US$1.7 million) Bring It Back Fund. The trials, which engaged over 100 food and drink businesses across the UK, provide insights to propel the adoption of reuse and return systems nationwide.
The funded projects reportedly demonstrated an average return rate of 57%, with some of the best-performing locations achieving a 92% return rate. The projects explored diverse approaches, including returnable takeaway packaging, electronic tagging of reusable alternatives and doorstep packaging collections.
“Single-use is deeply embedded in our society and will require radical thinking and bold new approaches to help people transition to a more circular economy with reuse at its core,” says Gavin Ellis, director and co-founder of Hubbub.
“It’s become evident through these trials that to be truly effective, these schemes need to be everywhere — they need to be normalized, and they need to be built into everyday habits and routines. A piecemeal approach doesn’t work.”
“Key ingredients for successful reuse systems”
Hubbub combined the learnings from the trial projects into five “ingredients” for successful reuse systems.
- Convenience: Make reuse as convenient as single-use by minimizing friction points, offering opportunities to return packaging.
- Effective communication: Establish clear and consistent communication across various channels, including social media, outdoor and digital advertising, to explain how the system works and emphasize the benefits.
- Environmental messaging: Emphasize the environmental benefits of reuse and avoid assuming that the public inherently understands why they are preferable to recycling.
- Cost considerations: Keep down the cost of use and provide incentives or rewards to encourage participation and returns.
- Staff buy-in: Ensure strong support from teams implementing the reuse scheme on the ground, enabling them to understand the advantages of reuse over single-use and effectively promote it to customers.
Addressing convenience barrier
Hubbub’s Reuse Systems Unpacked report (2022) found that despite 67% of people expressing concern about the environmental impact of single-use packaging, the adoption of reusable packaging remains low. A 2023 poll revealed that 29% of respondents admitted they intend to use reusable packaging but often forget to bring it with them.
Convenience plays a significant role, with a 2023 poll by the environmental charity revealing that 29% of individuals admitted they intend to use reusable packaging but often forget to bring it with them.
Reuse systems, where packaging is borrowed and returned, eliminate the need for users to remember, carry and clean their own cups, bottles or lunch boxes.
“Convenience is crucial — single-use is so convenient that any alternative has to be as close to this as possible to get the uptake. It’s also vital that we help the public understand the benefits of reuse and returns, and we shouldn’t assume the public knows why this is preferable over recycling single-use items,” asserts Ellis.
“Wealth of learnings”
Starbucks and Hubbub share that the Bring It Back Fund projects provided a “wealth of learnings.”
The charity also learned that removing deposits, simpler consumer-facing technology and incentives can boost the uptake of reuse systems. Closed-loop environments were found to be conducive to reuse systems.
Moreover, the findings showed that reusable packaging needs to be differentiated from single-use. The funded projects employed 79 different types and sizes of reusable packaging for F&B.
Sourcing reusable food packaging and meeting specific requirements for different food types was challenging. It was also found that customers mistook reusable packaging for standard single-use takeaway boxes.
“Enabling and encouraging customers to reuse and return cups is a complex task, and robust research is invaluable as we seek to develop new ways to reduce waste,” Jacqui Wetherly, UK director of sustainability at Starbucks, states.
“This fund has allowed us to test different processes and environments to understand what works best and the key factors that all reuse systems should either feature or consider. We hope the findings will be useful as we all seek to reduce our single-use waste and give our customers more options with every cup.”
By Radhika Sikaria
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