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Reuse outperforms Single-Use packaging: Takeaways from Fashion For Good report.
RePack's partner Fashion for Good released a in-depth LCA of reusable packaging in cooperation with Zalando, Otto, the university of Utrecht and more.
Our partner Fashion For Good released a very, very important case study for reuse in e-commerce. We gather the main findings in this blog post, but we also strongly recommend that you read the 42 pages too! So far, there’s been a lack of in-depth, external case studies on reusable packaging, to help brands, retailers and consumers make informed choices.
At the same time, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, e-commerce is expected to reach 40 billion (!!!!!!) deliveries per year in Europe in 2029. The USA experienced the same level of e-commerce growth in the second quarter of 2020 as it had over the previous 5 years.
This growth twins with a skyrocketing demand for virgin raw material, and generates a crazy, never-seen-before amount of trash.
A fact: everybody craves reuse.
Reusable packaging initiatives come as a solution transforming this single-use frenzy. The benefits are multiple: reduce the environmental burden, decrease virgin material dependency, limit plastic waste and pollution, help reduce GHG emissions, and offer a unique customer experience.
In fact, Fashion for Good highlights what every single e-com players want:
A recent survey from the International Post Corporation found that over 60% of respondents want parcels to use sustainable packaging.
56% of the signatories of the New Plastic Economy Global Commitments, are planning to test reuse models in the coming years.
DHL too stated that transitioning to reusable solutions across the industry was a priority for the future logistics industry.
A summary of Fashion For Good world-class study
“Transitioning from single-use to reusables helps to eliminate plastic waste and pollution, as well as potentially offering significant greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions.”
Overall, reusable packaging is clearly advantageous, with many benefits. Reusable packaging models have benefits but key factors must be considered to ensure reuse to be the unbeatable alternative to single-use packaging.
What is being compared in the study?
The Single-use system
Globalisation has meant that packages are travelling further, through longer and more complex logistics networks. Whilst the current system is highly optimised and convenient in delivering packages to the consumer, the infrastructure does not yet exist to ensure the packaging used is reused or recycled.
A reusable system that utilises an additional node* for packaging to pass-through for cleaning, maintenance or other purposes - separate from the distribution centre. It is usually operated by the reusable packaging provider.
A reusable system that does not utilise an additional node for packaging - all cleaning or maintenance takes place within the distribution centre, i.e. is not centralised in one place.
* An additional connection point between two parts of the supply chain. In this context, it is used to refer to the cleaning and maintenance stage in the centralised reusable system.
The main findings of the reuse VS single-use study
Results in terms of carbon emissions reductions
Carbon emissions in the centralised system
- Reusable packaging has 39% fewer carbon emissions per cycle compared with a 30% recycled content LDPE mailer
- Reusable packaging has 57% fewer carbon emissions per cycle compared with a virgin LDPE mailer
Carbon emissions in the decentralised system
- Reusable packaging has 72% fewer carbon emissions per cycle when compared with a 30% recycled content LDPE mailer
- Reusable packaging has 82% fewer carbon emissions per cycle when compared with a virgin LDPE mailer
Furthermore, FFG analyzed further scenarios where the travelled distances are increased, and where the non-return rate is increased both in decentralized and centralized systems. Those analyses also evaluate how reuse performs when the single-use packaging recycled content is increased.
The results show that decentralized reuse systems give greater tolerance to distance and non-return rate and that the return rate of reusable packaging is central to its feasibility.
When compared to cardboard, 100% virgin, or 89% recycled, reuse always scores better in terms of CO2 emissions. However, despite the greater carbon emissions of cardboard, environmental impact is a multifaceted issue that must be evaluated as such.
Results in terms of plastic waste: a no-brainer
In both scenarios, 87% less plastic waste (by weight) is generated when using reusable mailers rather than single-use plastic mailers, regardless of the recycled content of plastic packaging.
LDPE mailers are a fossil-fuel derived, non-renewable resource that pose grave threats to the environment beyond the carbon emissions. Whilst LDPE mailers have a lower carbon footprint, the lower recycling rates suggest they are further from achieving key circularity ambitions.
What is next? How to make reuse scale in the best way?
According to Fashion for Good, below are the key aspects to ensure that reusable packaging scales in an environmentally and economically viable manner. It requires collaboration between innovators, 3PL companies and brands to increase the density of return points and placing customer-centricity at the heart of the reusable system.
We agree will all those points, in fact, they reflect perfectly our Impact statement, and those 3 aspects are things we work on actively.
|Communication - to maintain the highest return rate||Cooperation - between all stakeholders across the value chain||Optimization - recycled contents, return points, etc.|
Getting packaging returned is a behavioural change that requires a fundamental re-thinking of how we currently interact with packaging.
“Reusable packaging is more complicated than just sending a package back and forth - there is a key consumer education piece to increase return rates.”
There is no silver-bullet approach to communication, but instead it is specific to the brand’s consumer group, this must be worked on collaboratively with brands.
Beyond communication, incentivisation is commonly used as a method to motivate consumers to return the packages, just like our Reward System!
Brands and retailers should pilot with reusable packaging innovators and 3PL companies to test and iterate on applicable processes to fit their supply chain needs.
“To make reusable packaging work, it’s not something that Zalando can do by itself, it requires packaging innovators and the consumers”
Andrea Roxin, Manager Environmental Sustainability, Zalando
No one company or innovator can instigate the change alone — it requires collaboration with all relevant stakeholders to move the needle forward. All must be willing to be transparent and to allow collaborators to see how the systems operate.
Moving to a less centralized system is more optimal, as it reduces transportation distances and thus emissions.
Decentralisation also means to increase the number and type of return points. The benefit in doing so is multi-faceted; on one hand it increases the convenience for consumer returns, whilst also helping to reduce the costs associated with the reverse logistics.
Product design is also important, ensuring a high recycled content of the packaging, an ease of use, etc.