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Why reusable packaging is not always an environmentally friendly solution

Digital Interviews 26 Jun 2023

Reusable packaging is one possible avenue to achieving less waste being produced while promoting sustainability. However, the reality we face today is that reusable packaging isn’t always environmentally friendly. 

While it offers undeniable benefits, there are a number of hurdles to overcome before reusable packaging is established as the norm in Europe.

  • What is the current state of play for reusable packaging in Europe? 

With its undoubted potential to reduce waste and lessen environmental impact, reusable packaging has gained considerable traction.

“Most recently, the European Commission published a proposal on the EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation toward making all packaging in Europe reusable or recyclable by 2030,” explained Decker.

Specifically, the proposal sets an ambitious target of achieving a 90% reuse rate for large appliances. While these initiatives represent progress, it is important to acknowledge that the widespread adoption of reusable packaging will not come easily.

  • Is reusable packaging actually better for the environment?

While reusable packaging has huge potential for environmental benefits, its overall impact depends on multiple factors. One critical aspect is the establishment of a returnable fleet, which involves the manufacturing and logistics that are inherently come with reusing packaging materials.

“Take the packaging of a washing machine shipped from a factory in Germany to a consumer home or a retailer in Spain for instance, this would have to make its way back to Germany in order to be reused,” Decker highlighted.

Importantly, this would result in additional greenhouse gas emissions and resource consumption required to restore the packaging for reuse.

  • What is the biggest challenge for the sector to make reusable packaging the norm?

“Home appliances come in a variety of shapes and sizes which packaging has to match precisely to protect the product,” began Decker on the main obstacle.

For instance, refrigerators may have distinct door handles, which dictates the packaging design to ensure secure transportation and prevent moisture infiltration.

Here, it is necessary to use specific packaging for each fridge model from a particular brand. To achieve this, each manufacturer must establish a sophisticated system that ensures the return and reuse of the packaging for each individual product model.

  •  How to tackle packaging waste in Europe?

At present, European manufacturers are encountering numerous national initiatives for packaging. The implementation of distinct regulations at the Member State level adds to the confusion while disrupting the smooth functioning of the Single Market.

“The Packaging & Packaging Waste Regulation is the right tool to provide a European answer to a global problem, in a harmonised way, and considering the challenges and limitations along the process,” concluded Decker.

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