top of page

A Sustainable World: Making the Transition to Reusable Packaging

There can be no doubt that plastic places an enormous burden on our planet. Plastic pollution damages habitats and ecosystems, reducing their ability to adapt to climate change, putting people’s livelihoods and well-being at risk. Millions of animals and birds die from entanglement, or starvation after ingesting plastic debris. Microplastics, tiny plastic particles linked to serious health problems, have been found in various human organs, including the placenta of newborn babies.

Shockingly, despite the overwhelming evidence highlighting its harmful effects, half of all plastic produced is designed for single-use purposes – to be used just once before being thrown away.  

Yet plastic is not the only material that poses a threat. Many different types of packaging are also used once. For example, in 2019, 7.1 billion single-use cardboard boxes were used for e-Commerce services within the EU28.

If we are to truly embrace circularity (a model of sustainability based on re-use and waste elimination), we must identify which products would be most suitable for the transition from single-use to reusable options. 

What is going to replace single-use plastics? 

In May 2022, Zero Waste Europe published a study examining different categories of packaging. Its purpose was to assess various products in order to quantify their environmental impact, and to inform policy-makers where effective changes could be made. The study determined the following five product categories as the most suitable for transition, partly or completely, to reusable packaging: 

  • soda drinks & (sparkling) water

  • postal services (post and packages)

  • take-away & delivery meals

  • take-away warm drinks 

  • wine (in single-use glass bottles)

In the report, Zero Waste Europe emphasises that although there is a justifiable focus on reducing plastic pollution, other materials such as cardboard, which also have harmful environmental consequences, ‘have not been targeted by the prevention or reuse agenda’. 

The study concluded that many sectors have the potential to increase their reuse rates over the coming years and should be considered as targets for legislative action. Several recommendations were made, including: putting a cap on single-use packaging; economic incentives and setting reuse targets. 

The importance of deposit return schemes (DRS) was also identified in the report. All successful reuse/refill collection schemes were able to guarantee the return of packaging for reuse. Zero Waste Europe strongly recommends that Member States should be encouraged to include deposit return schemes beyond beverage packaging.

Reduce, Reuse, Refill, Repeat

How does this study help us in our fight against plastic? If we are to be free from our plastic dependency, then surely we need to consider its replacement – it would be no use to exchange one single-use material for another. 

Zero Waste Europe makes a strong case for the reuse model – where products and packaging are conceived, designed and created with the intention to achieve multiple uses within its lifespan. This is not simply taking your own coffee cup for a refill. It is systemic change at an international level. 

To our knowledge, Zero Waste Europe’s study is the first of its kind. By detecting specific market interventions, it gives us a viable roadmap to a future without waste.


For more information, contact: 


pile of garbage - Image from Wix Media

clear glass containers Image by Laura Mitulla on Unsplash (ST ref: 1174)

Zero waste reduce reuse... Image by Ssali Christopher (ST ref: 1196)


bottom of page