Reuse for future: Legislative and practical approaches to truly sustainable packaging

8th European REUSE Conference

6th July 2021. 9h30-16h30

A clear call for a committed promotion of reuse systems at EU and national level emerged from the 8th European REUSE Conference. Key note speakers, panelists and experts from the field emphasized the importance of the European Waste Hierarchy, which clearly gives priority to the reuse of packaging, but is currently not sufficiently implemented.

© Stephanie Kaiser/DUH

The REUSE Conference is organized every two years by Environmental Action Germany (Deutsche Umwelthilfe – DUH), the European Association of Beverage Wholesalers (CEGROBB), Private Breweries Germany, and the Reloop Platform. More than 400 representatives from politics, civil society, companies, science and administration took part in the 2021 edition of the conference, which was held online.

The key note speeches set the tone for what would become an event full of innovative approaches to reusable packaging, examples of best-practice policies to promote reusable packaging, and lively discussions on a future with less waste. The opportunities to introduce adequate policies are there, or as MEP Sven Giegold put it in his speech: “The revision of the EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive offers an opportunity to make reusable packaging systems mandatory across Europe and to develop them further.”

Political support for reuse systems is vital

Reusable packaging reduces waste at source, prevents marine litter and strengthens SMEs, regional economic cycles and green employment. Most importantly, reusable packaging plays a key role in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The 8th European REUSE Conference has underlined that a transition towards reusable packaging can be achieved.

For this purpose, existing reuse systems must be promoted. Climate-friendly, efficient reuse systems for beverage packaging or takeaway consumption are already in place in many EU member states. But they need to be supported and used more. To achieve that, policy-makers must introduce binding waste reduction and reuse targets. Furthermore, the dissemination of those systems has to be supported through financial incentives, clear legal definitions that sensibly distinguish disposable from reusable, and transparent labelling.

Innovations push the reuse approach forward

RECUP received the 2021 Reusable Award for their reuse system for takeaway.© ReCup GmbH

Ambitious reuse system providers, which aim to replace thousands of tons of single-use-packaging, presented their business models: Repack offers reusable packaging for e-commerce, Chep’s more than 120 million transport pallets are used in logistics worldwide, Bananeira extends the offer of food products in returnable glasses in German consumer markets, and Sea Me’s detergents and cosmetics in refillable glass containers are already available in many stores.

That innovative reuse systems can go a long way has also been proven by the 2021 Reusable Award Winners Recup. They started offering returnable polypropylene takeaway coffee cups in 2016. Now they are available in more than 7,700 coffee shops all over Germany. In 2019, they added the Rebowl to their offer, a reusable container for takeaway meals. Each Recup replaces up to 1,000 disposable cups and each Rebowl replaces up to 500 single-use food containers.

Classic approaches to shape a sustainable future

For 2021’s Refillable Award, the jury of the REUSE Conference picked a climate-friendly classic: The Dutch Brewers Association’s BNR bottle. Created in the 1980s, it is still the most widely used refillable bottle for beer in the Netherlands.  Consumers can return them in almost every supermarket in the country – most of the time regardless of whether the brand is actually sold there. Through its many rotations – it can be reused up to 40 times – the BNR bottle not only avoids waste, but also protects the climate.

The lively panel discussions outlined successful approaches to effective reuse policies. There is a need for clear standards and financial incentives to encourage more market actors to adopt an environmentally friendly packaging policy. The EU has the opportunity to set the course for the future with the revision of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive. According to the panelists, this opportunity absolutely should not be missed.

In 2023, the REUSE Conference will return. It will also be a return to Brussels, the original site of the conference, and the heart of European politics. Once again, innovations in the reusable sector will be presented and a critical look will be taken at the status quo of EU packaging policy. We are looking forward to welcome once again many participants from politics, civil society, businesses and science.

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