Of the three action items in the popular phrase ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’, one is often neglected: reuse. While reducing consumption and improving recycling systems is important, reuse deserves a closer look—from textiles to appliances, reusing everyday items can be a subtle but powerful choice for sustainability. This is especially evident when it comes to packaging for everyday items like groceries, takeout food and cleaning products.

The government of Canada estimates that plastic packaging (including single-use) makes up more than 37% of plastics on the market, but represents more than 50% of plastic waste generated—less than 14% of which is recycled. To date, most approaches to reducing packaging waste tend to focus on addressing overreliance (such as Canada’s single-use plastics ban) or improving recyclability. However, as we’ve explored in the past, recycling has its limitations, and there’s not yet a robust market for affordable, truly compostable products to fill the gap.

This is where reusable packaging comes in, an option that can not only meet current needs, but be cost effective for businesses and consumers if done correctly. The company Reuse Refill Canada estimates that replacing just 20% of the country’s single-use packaging will not only reduce more than 300,000 tonnes of annual waste, but could create a financial opportunity of more than $700 million.

So, why aren’t reuse systems more widely implemented? Much of it can be chalked up to convenience. To facilitate the reuse of a container, a business must implement extra education for the consumer and factor in transportation costs, storage space and resources to clean or repurpose items. For consumers, there are extra steps involved to return items, which many unfortunately won’t, even when there is a convenient option like a drop off location nearby. There’s usually also an initial cost to consumers, either because a reusable container is pricier, or simply because to refill or reuse an item, that first purchase is required.

Still, widespread innovation is ramping up to introduce reusable packaging into various industries. Food takeout services are attempting the shift, like the recent SkipTheDishes pilot program in Calgary, where the app partnered with a local reusable packaging business, allowing users to order from participating restaurants and return packaging at one of 13 recycling centres. Uber has taken on similar projects, and companies like Friendlier, Crisper Kits, Muuse, and DreamZero all work in the food industry space to help businesses switch to reusable packaging, and get consumers to participate in an effective way. Even grocery giant Loblaws recently partnered with Loop, an online service that allows customers to buy some groceries in reusable, refillable containers.

Clearly, businesses are seeing dollar signs in the opportunity, while addressing growing customer concerns about reducing wasteful packaging. Like many sustainability shifts, unless reusing is convenient, easily integrated, and well managed, it will be challenging to widely adopt—but it’s more than worth the effort.

Image was taken from https://www.packaging-gateway.com/news/uber-eats-reusable-containers/?cf-view