Sustainability

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.


Reuse models make packaging circular and less impactful, and RePack's manufacturing has a more significant CO2 impact than most single-use packaging plastic bags and cardboard boxes. Still, the return method makes RePack unbeatable in environmental performance, both in reduced CO2 but also trash. For every returned RePack, we remove the need to manufacture new packaging and manage its waste, and RePack is returned to reuse in letter size.

We computed the calculation above with our data and LCAs, but for the first time, a huge, data-driven report has been released! Our partner, Fashion For Good, released a highly insightful report for reusable packaging in e-commerce. I recommend that you read the 42 pages if you want to go in-depth.

The benefits of reusable packaging 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:

Consumers: A recent survey from the International Post Corporation found that over 60% of respondents want parcels to use sustainable packaging. 

Brands: 56% of the signatories of the New Plastic Economy Global Commitments, are planning to test reuse models in the coming years. 

Logistic providers: DHL too stated that transitioning to reusable solutions across the industry was a priority for the future logistics industry. 

The demand is clearly here, but 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. Until now!

 

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.” - Fashion For Good

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?

Fashion For Good ran the first test to demonstrate where the impact occurs within the lifecycle of each system – known otherwise as to the impact hotspots. In doing so, the test clarified the absolute difference in emissions and eco-costs associated with each method.

They compared 4 models: (1)single-use system for cardboard boxes (2) single-use system for polybags, (3) Centralized Reuse System like RePack and (4) Decentralized Reuse System. 

The Single-use system

single-use packaging graph

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.

Centralised system

centralized reusable packaging cycle

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.

Decentralised system

decentralized reusable packaging cycle

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 study

The study showed that reusable models perform better than single-use packaging, considering return rates, recycled content and distances travelled. 

FFG analyzed 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.

reuse vs single-use carbon emissions

 

 

Reusable packaging VS single-use plastic mailers

Reusable packaging has 57% fewer carbon emissions per cycle compared with a virgin LDPE mailer and 39% fewer compared to a recycled LDPE mailer. 

If RePack was a decentralized system (which we are working on!), the results would be even greater! 

Reusable packaging in a decentralized system has 82% fewer carbon emissions per cycle when compared with a virgin LDPE mailer, and 72% fewer compared to a recycled LDPE mailer. 

In all scenarios, 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 can have a lower carbon footprint than cardboard, and in some case, reusable packaging, the lower recycling rates suggest they are further from achieving key circularity ambitions.

 

 

Reusable packaging VS single-use cardboard 

 

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.  

 

 

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

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.”
Karla Jabben, Corporate Reponsibility Manager, Otto

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. 

 

 

Cooperation - between all stakeholders across the value chain

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.

 

Optimization - recycled contents, return points, etc.

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..

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