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The reuse of packaging continues to be at the forefront of strategies to transition from a disposable linear economy to a value-extending circular economy. Taking aim at all plastic packaging in their efforts to design a “New Plastics Economy,” the World Economic Forum and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation released a report in January 2017, Catalysing Action, which concluded that for at least 20% of plastic packaging “reuse provides an economically attractive opportunity” at a value over $9 billion. This report follows last year’s Rethinking the Future of Plastics informing that 95% of the value of plastic packaging material – worth $80-120 billion annually – is lost to the economy after one short use. Both reports can be found on the website The New Plastics Economy.

The New Plastics Economy is a modern vision to improve the global flow and recovery of plastic material and to achieve “better system-wide economic and environmental outcomes” through the application of circular economy principles. Escalating the traditional Reduce-Reuse-Recycle approach, which has been around since 1976 but only resulting in 14% plastic packaging recycling today, Catalysing Action alters slightly the 3Rs strategy to be (1) Redesign and Innovate, (2) Reuse, and (3) Recycle. In brief, redesign and innovation are required for about 30% of plastic packaging, reuse at 20%, and following the redesign and reuse options “recycling would be economically attractive for the remaining 50% of plastic packaging.”

Digging deeper into the report’s reuse strategy, the 20% opportunity includes personal and home care packaging products (5% out of the 20%), carrier bags (3%), beverage bottles (2%), pallet wraps (7%), and large rigid packaging (3%). The reusable packaging industry is the “large rigid packaging” segment (B2B transport packaging) with impact on the “pallet wraps” segment too. RPA members Schoeller Allibert and Brambles are mentioned in the report as examples of reusable products and logistics services, respectively. A footnote is that the assumption on share of large rigid items is based on UK data.

The report identifies three priority actions for reuse: (1) Innovate towards creative, new delivery models based on reusable packaging; (2) Replace single-use plastic carrier bags; and (3) Scale up reusable packaging in a business-to-business setting for both large rigid packaging and pallet wrap. The Reusable Packaging Association (RPA) is all about #s 1 and 3. Through collaboration RPA members can use networking, standards and best practices to spur innovation, and RPA promotes the use and value of reusable packaging to convert and “scale up” applications.

RPA is “catalysing action” for the reuse of transport packaging for all materials, not just plastic. The RPA message is that reuse of packaging is a leading strategy for any economy seeking to create waste-preventing, resource-conserving and high-performing supply chains.

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Tim Debus
President & CEO
Reusable Packaging Association

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