The Elements of Reusable Packaging — What it’s made of and why it matters

Re.Company
3 min readFeb 11, 2023

There is a common perception that recycling is the best solution to single-use packaging waste but in reality only about 2% of packaging is ever effectively recycled. In fact, according to the waste hierarchy, which evaluates the efficacy of resources, circular, reuse-based systems can reduce waste up to 98%.

In reuse systems packaging is used hundreds of times instead of once, and is an alternative to disposable containers around the world. But this still begs the question, what is the most sustainable material reusable packaging can be made from? At Re Company we set out to answer this question because as producers of these products we need to make the smartest decision possible.

We first created a list of criteria: key factors include high durability and heat resistance so that the packaging can be used and washed many times. The material also has to meet strict food grade compliance requirements. We also evaluated the resources used in the extraction and recycling processes compared with the packaging’s estimated lifetime to give it a carbon score, ultimately leading to the elimination of any metals which have higher break-even points. When comparing plastic (PP) and metal reusable cups against disposable paper cups, metal cups have to be used 35 more times than plastic to be better for the environment (see Page 20 of this report). Finally we arrived at two potential materials — Polypropylene and Polyethylene. For both we wanted to find a more sustainable solution rather than using virgin materials, so we explored recycled or bio based options. See our article about circular supply chains to learn more about why using recycled materials is key to reuse system LCAs.

For PE, we found that there are bio based options commercially available, but currently they can’t withstand high water temperatures in an industrial dishwasher.

We finally landed on recycled polypropylene as the most sustainable and available material. Recycled PP releases 3x less emissions than virgin PP and releases the least out of all metal, paper and plastic materials (recycled & virgin). There are some materials being developed called “bio attributed Polypropylene”, which are made from a renewable raw material source, but they have only been in production since 2020 and supplies are too limited for us to access.

Currently we are using both virgin and recycled PP in our products which are available for purchase on our website for large foodservice companies making the transition to the circular economy. We plan on making all of our products from recycled PP within the next year with the support of our materials partner, Plastic Bank. They collect, recycle and reprocess ocean-bound plastic waste and support collector communities to reduce the need for virgin plastic while creating lasting environmental, social and economic impact.

We will also be incorporating the use of bio attributed polypropylene as it becomes more commercially available.

Our work and research on this topic does not end here and we will continue to constantly perform tests and analyses, collaborating with industry leaders and keeping ourselves informed. Our wider vision is a reengineering of the way that packaging is produced from linear to circular supply chains. There might be some roadblocks ahead, but we are excited to keep tackling them and support a zero waste future.

Get in touch with us: brooke@re.company / www.re.company

--

--

Re.Company

re-use supply chain management for closed loop systems / hard- and software for a user friendly transition to reusable packaging.