What unites a global drinks manufacturer like AB InBev with a multinational environmental NGO like WWF? One answer that we discussed with them both during a recent policy roundtable with Again is reusable packaging.
The government's headline packaging reforms, Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and the Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) are an opportunity to raise global ambition when it comes to waste and resources policy.
The real risk of Defra's schemes is not what they will mean for protecting our planet now but how quickly they could become out of date. Germany's DRS, for example, has been in operation since the 1990s. Businesses follow EPR schemes across the world already. The concept underlying these policies is not new, but the UK's version of them could be if it chooses to incorporate reuse.
Better recycling rates will only improve our use of resources so much; reusable packaging must also be part of our future. However, businesses are starting to recognise that reuse could go mainstream in the future, saving them money on packaging and boosting their sustainability.
Our tour of Again’s CleanCell site demonstrated this. Bottles coming into the facility range from global household names to up-and-coming UK brands, all wanting to reap the benefits of a reuse-centric supply chain. But they are not actually fully incentivised to do it in the current policy landscape geared towards recycling.
As the waste hierarchy shows, reuse is superior to recycling for the environment and resource efficiency. The government has repeatedly stated its commitment to reuse and the hierarchy, but the policy landscape it has created still needs to reflect this.
The business model created by Again and the partnerships forged are very much part of the reuse vanguard. If society is ever to shift away from single-use packaging, the government must signal to the market that this is what it wants and the right thing to do.
Rather than wait around, reuse can and should be integrated into the current packaging reforms. How exactly we could do this formed the base of our discussion last week.
Setting a target for reuse emerged as the favourite option among participants. This target could be applied to either EPR or DRS or, indeed, both and more via a more holistic resource efficiency target. Target setting is a clear signal that the government wishes for reuse to ramp up and helps create the predictability business needs to commit to delivering it.
Another option is to integrate reuse into the EPR fee structure. The fee structure is being designed to reward recyclability, meaning that easily recyclable products will pay less. Adding another level to this structure which makes reuse the cheapest and most desirable option, creates a financial incentive for businesses to adopt reusable packaging.
Policy ideas for reusable packaging abound. But, as our attendees highlighted, the benefit of incorporating reuse into DRS and EPR is that it provides a system-wide shift rather than having to pursue many efforts piecemeal.
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