Circular Design through Reuse and Refill

In an effort to eliminate single use plastics and reduce unnecessary packaging we are seeing a significant increase in Reusable and Refillable packaging programs across all corners of the globe.

The programs are following the Four Reuse Models developed by the Ellen Macarthur Foundation that help deliver a superior consumer experience.

  1. Refill at Home
  2. Refill on the Go
  3. Return from Home
  4. Return on the Go

In July 2021 the World Economic Forum published an insight report on the Future of Reusable Consumption models, that was developed in collaboration with Kearney.

The report builds on proprietary research to create a Reuse Viability Framework for the viability of reuse systems and to serve as a guide for the scaling of reuse. The framework generates six dimensions including 1. Delivery-model efficiency 2. Consumer experience 3. Technology advancement 4. Regulation and 5. Cultural shift and 6. Demonstration of impact.

Reloop & Zero Waste Europe recently released the ‘Reusable VS Single-Use Packaging’ report which demonstrates, through Lifecycle Assessment (LCA), the true environmental value of Reuse models through the number of cycles or distances and break-even points. The report also identified areas of improvement in Reuse Models including the important role of Deposit Return Schemes (DRS), standardisation across packaging design, pooling systems, pricing accessibility for consumers and scalability considerations.

As is evidenced in the ‘Reusable VS Single-Use Packaging’ Report, Packaging Technologists need to ensure that the packaging materials and design selected can withstand multiple usage, on-going cleaning and sanitising, transportation and more. The packaging also needs to be durable, and yet aesthetically pleasing for the consumers, intuitively easy to refill and the packaging needs to be recyclable in the country in which it is sold.

Reusable and Refillable Packaging is one of the steps to meet global and domestic packaging directives and targets and to design out waste at the start of the design process.

Developing reusable packaging also enables brands to become more circular by design through:

  • Designing durable packaging that can withstands multiple uses.
  • The ability to design refillable packs that incorporate recycled content.
  • Packaging that is designed at the start to be truly recyclable in the country it is sold.
  • The ability to incorporate intuitive recycling labels such as ARL, OPRL and How2Recycle on-pack to effectively communicate to consumers the correct disposal of the packaging at end of life.

Refillable packaging also enables consumers to join a brand’s journey towards more circular and sustainable business practices.

A number of recent reusable packaging innovations that stand out include Zero Co, The Body Shop, Natures Organics and ecostore.

Zero Co reducing ocean plastics and using recycled content

Zero Co. set out to reduce the large amount of unnecessary single-use plastics that household products typically use and at the same time clean up the plastic floating in the oceans. They created an innovative reuse and refill option that is made from ocean plastic and recycled plastic.

Their dispensers are made from plastic rubbish that they have pulled out of the ocean, beaches and landfill. So far, they have removed over 6,000kg of plastic rubbish from the ocean. Consumers then refill their dispensers using a spout pouch. Their reusable refill spout pouches are made from plastic waste diverted from landfill and are designed to be refilled and reused repeatedly. The Zero Co. spout pouches are made from post-manufacture recycled PET and recycled PE. This program has created a closed loop re-use service not seen with flexible spout pouch packaging before in Australia. The pouch packaging can be recycled through soft plastic collection at the eventual end-of-life.

The double spout access feature with anti-drip function provides easy pouring by consumers, while also allowing for easy re-filling by Zero Co. once pouches are returned. Once the end consumer uses the spout pouches to refill their rigid containers at home, the pouches are returned to Zero Co. for sterilisation and re-filling, to then be sent out to another customer. Consumers can also scan the QR code on their pouches to track and view how many times the pouch has been re-used, while also accessing information about the sustainability goals of the company.

The Body Shop offers refillable stations

In 2021 The Body Shop has launched a massive rollout of refill stations for shower gels, shampoos and conditioners across 500 stores globally this year, and a further 300 stores in 2022. Refill stations will launch in Australian stores in the second half of 2021. The Body Shop will also extend its in-store recycling scheme Return, Recycle and Repeat, across 800 stores in 14 markets by the end of 2021. Interestingly The Body Shop was one of the first businesses to look at refillable and reusable solutions in the 90’s when they introduced a ‘Bring Back Our Bottle’ recycling scheme. Sadly, at the time consumers were unable to embrace the concept which is a stark difference to today’s consumer.

Natures Organics inspiring the next generation to reuse

In early 2021 Natures Organics launched My Soda Australia; a cruelty free, plant-based haircare range that designed its packaging to be reusable and refillable. My Soda Australia designed their refillable pouches to be recyclable through the REDcycle Return to Store program, incorporate an Australasian Recycling Label on-pack and use 80% less plastic than previous packs. The packs are crafted from recycled plastic sourced from right here in Australia and all bottles and refill pouches are fully recyclable. The range is also manufactured locally in Melbourne with the help of solar power.

This follows the Natures Organics successful launch in 2020 of the reusable and refillable starter kit for the Cove laundry and bathroom cleaning range. The starter kit comes with aluminium reusable bottles and pouches for refilling the respective products. The company has also designed the refill pouches to contain more active ingredients and at least 75% less water compared to normal cleaning products. This ensures that the environmental footprint of the product is less during transportation and consumers can simply add water to the products at home from the tap. Natures Organics have partnered with REDcycle to ensure that the refill packs are recycled. The products are shipped in cardboard cartons made from recycled material.

New Zealand’s ecostore – 100 refill stations

In 2020 New Zealand’s eco-conscious brand ecostore launched over 100 refill stations across New Zealand. They also have partnerships with select retail stores in Australia, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, and Hong Kong.

The refillable range includes hand wash, body wash, shampoo, conditioner, laundry liquid and dish liquid and aims to reduce single-use plastic packaging. The ecostore bottles are made from renewable sugarcane materials and PCR recycled content. They also launched a new aluminium refillable range featuring designs by New Zealand artist John Reynolds.

Consumers can purchase their products in store and then take their empties back to refill over and over again at ecostore refill stations.

The program has been designed with an easy four-step process, guaranteeing a simple to use customer journey;

  1. Customers choose a small or large ecostore refill bottle
  2. Select the product and apply the matching sticker
  3. Refill the bottle by positioning the bottle under the tap or pump, and fill to the top
  4. Purchase by taking the bottle to the checkout

Brands, retailers and consumers are starting to agree that a shift towards more refillable and reusable packaging not only reduces the use of single use plastics, but also enables more recycled content to be used, enhances circularity of the packs which in turn will lower the environmental impact of the product and its packaging.

Consumers are driving this change and I encourage more packaging technologists to consider Reuse and Refill within their Sustainable Packaging Design Principles.



ANZ Board Member | Visit Website

Nerida Kelton is the Executive Director for the Australian Institute of Packaging (AIP), Vice President Sustainability & Save Food and the ANZ Board member for the World Packaging Organisation (WPO).
She has worked in the Packaging industry for over 23 years, is the lead for the Save Food Packaging Consortium project within the Fight Food Waste Cooperative Research Centre and was the packaging representative on the Department of Environment and Energy's National Food Waste Strategy Steering Committee.

Nerida is passionate about educating the industry on the important role that packaging plays in minimising Food Waste and how designing Save Food Packaging can make a difference. She is also one of the creators of the annual Xmas Foodbank hamper program which is designed to help those who are vulnerable and in need. The volunteer program has packed over 12,000 hampers to the value of over $1 Million AUD over the last 10 years.

Nerida is also committed to helping educate and train packaging professionals in the importance of sustainable and circular packaging design and recognising best practice in this area.

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