Reusable packaging: How to communicate with consumers


Reusable packaging

To ensure consumer buy-in, brands must communicate the benefits of reusable packaging effectively, writes Marjukka Kujanpää, Director of Sustainability at Stora Enso Packaging Materials.

In an era where environmental consciousness is a top priority for consumers, they are increasingly drawn to brands that embrace sustainability. The intentions of consumers are clear: minimise environmental damage and contribute to a greener future.

On the whole, brand owners are answering the call of the many consumers who care about sustainability, as well as responding with action to the urgency of the climate and circularity crisis. 

The risks of getting it wrong are real. Failing to adequately justify its sustainability claims might not only damage a brand’s reputation but its bottom line too. So, without clear communication, brand owners risk losing the trust and confidence of their customers.

Reusable packaging could be a viable, sustainable option for brand owners and consumers.

Navigating the complex labyrinth of guidelines and rules for green products and packaging can be an overwhelming task for both brand owners and consumers, which is why choosing the right materials is often less than straightforward. However, reusable packaging could be a viable, sustainable option for brand owners and consumers.

While consumers are generally open to reusing packaging, they are confused about how it works in practice, including how cleaning is performed to ensure food safety, and how convenient it is to return containers for refilling. This can become a communication obstacle for brand owners looking to spearhead this approach.

End-of-life packaging: Even reusable doesn’t last forever

Reuse store

Like any decision with packaging, brand owners must consider the environmental impact of the packaging throughout its life cycle and be open to both reusable and disposable recyclable formats where either option makes the most sense. 

However, despite its name, reusable packaging cannot be reused infinitely, and in cases of food where hygiene standards are understandably high, plastic has to be regularly inspected and replaced when scratched, and recycled when disposed of.

Even ceramic dishes don’t last forever and are both easily broken and not easily recyclable. Not only this, but the environmental impact of ceramics is vast, across mining, shipping and then firing, the production process is extremely energy-intensive.

This is where testing and science-based evaluations, such as Life Cycle Assessments (LCA), play a crucial role. Brand owners are facing high demands from their customers, but shouldn’t feel pressure to over-promise and under-deliver on sustainability claims for their packaging choices and end-of-life disposal systems.

Safety is paramount for reusable packaging

Reusable packaging

As we look to implement more reusable systems, consumers rightly prioritise their health, questioning the hygiene and safety of reusable containers, particularly in the cases of food. 78% of consumers raise this issue, making it one of the most common obstacles to adoption.

And it’s not just a problem for consumers, reusable packaging can face stricter scrutiny or require more complex compliance measures compared to single-use alternatives, which is a significant barrier for some brand owners.

Consumer concerns often stem from a lack of information or confusion about different types of reuse systems. To overcome this, brand owners and retailers must communicate transparently about the materials used, cleaning procedures, and efforts to discard unfit packaging.

Consumer concerns often stem from a lack of information or confusion about different types of reuse systems.

Education will play a pivotal part in dispelling these apprehensions, but with a complex message to convey, this is easier said than done and not all consumers can be swayed.

One thing’s for sure, consumers are more likely to listen to new information from a brand they trust, with research suggesting they’re twice as likely to stay loyal to a brand they trust. So, the importance of maintaining an authentic and reliable image cannot be overstated.

Alongside communicating the safety measures being taken in-store and beyond, brand owners need to work to upkeep hard-earned customer loyalty, ensuring that customers can trust the brands they choose to spend their money on.

Convenience: Not a want but a need


In the fast-paced world we live in, convenience is crucial for consumers, with many considering it a necessity rather than a luxury. For example, almost 22% of consumers agree that it would take too much effort to return packaging to the point of purchase. This perceived burden can leave retailers questioning whether consumers will fully embrace reusable packaging and if adopting these schemes makes financial sense.

Meanwhile, schemes that mitigate the onus on consumers are already underway. Uber Eats is currently trialling home collections of used packaging in partnership with specific restaurants across London. When finished with their containers customers can scan a QR code to arrange a day for collection and, after rinsing them, set them outside for a courier to collect. 

Another comparable option could be inner-city office workers who often visit the same restaurant or café for lunch, bringing their own container and taking it home to clean before bringing it back the next day. Much like Starbucks’ reusable cup initiative, which has been in place since 2018, where a small “latte levy” is even added for anyone not using reusable alternatives.

So, the convenience barrier is not insurmountable, and it provides an exciting opportunity for brand owners to educate their customers, and lead a paradigm shift in consumer behaviour towards reusable packaging.

Having said this, while there are circumstances that naturally lend themselves to reusable packaging, there are many where it’s not the most practical or desirable option, and finding that balance will be crucial for brands navigating this ever-evolving landscape.

It’s what you say and how you say it


It’s clear that communication will play a key role in overcoming some of the barriers to reusable packaging roll-out and customers adopting this new model of consumption.

And with confusion still rife amongst consumers, the brand owners who can deliver concise and authentic messaging around the safety, sustainability and convenience of all of their solutions, reusable or otherwise, will come out on top of their competitors.

An element of collaboration across the entire retail ecosystem, from supermarkets, brand owners and packaging designers will help to push out this communication and expedite the take-up and integration of the most suitable packaging solutions for a more circular future.

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