Reusable packaging can bring significant environmental and economic benefits by 2030, report finds

AJ Gonzalez | July 8, 2021

EEB.Org; COMMUNICATIONS OFFICER, Marie-Amélie Brun, +32 2 790 88, July 6, 2021

New report shows a reusable packaging target of 50% in key sectors could drastically reduce CO2 emissions, water consumption and waste.

A reusable packaging target of 50% by 2030 in the EU for three key sectors could lead to the reduction of 3.7 million tonnes of CO2, 10 billion cubic metres of water and nearly 28 million tonnes of material, according to a new report from the Rethink Plastic alliance and the Break Free From Plastic movement. That’s equivalent to CO2 absorption by 170 million mature trees, and the saving of nearly 4 million olympic swimming pools’ worth of water and nearly 3.5 million truckloads of material.

Based on a study conducted by Circular Economy Portugal, the report highlights the capacity for reuse to thrive with the right sector specific targets, policy frameworks, contributing significantly to circular economy and Paris Agreement objectives, while saving companies and consumers money.

The study focuses on 3 sectors: 1) take-away food containers and cups, 2) mailing packaging for e-commerce clothing and accessories and 3) household care product containers used in large retail.

“Virtually all packaging sectors are currently dependent on single-use packaging, and this comes at a huge cost for the environment and for society,” Larissa Copello, Consumption and Production Campaigner at Zero Waste Europe commented. “If we look at case studies of  reusable systems for household products in the UK, France and Germany for example, we see there are numerous existing models that can be implemented to provide the best option for various scenarios.” 

In the absence of standards on how to design reusable packaging formats and run interoperable reuse systems, businesses face high unnecessary costs that make it difficult to compete with single-use. The EU could see  reusable packaging flourish if EU policy-makers finally agreed to set requirements for reusable packaging formats and systems, at great benefits to the environment and society.” added Samy Porteron, Programme Manager at the Environmental Coalition on Standards (ECOS).

“For decades European policies on packaging have been focused on end of pipe solutions and recycling. Consequently, reuse is at its lowest level and packaging waste at its highest level in history. If policy makers are committed to the circular economy its time reuse is taken seriously. The upcoming revision of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive presents an ideal opportunity to do this” commented Jean-Pierre Schweitzer, Policy Officer for Products and Circular Economy at the European Environmental Bureau.

Key recommendations include a 100% reusable target for eat-in consumption in the hotel, restaurant and catering sector, and a 75% reusable target for food takeaway and delivery, a rapidly growing industry which has seen a significant increase in single-use plastic production since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sector-specific targets, harmonising and simplifying packaging composition and formats, capping single-use plastic usage and investing public funds into research and development are also proposed. Some of these solutions are discussed today at the REUSE conference organised today by Environmental Action Germany (DUH), CEGROBB, Private Breweries Germany and Reloop.



Link to Realising Reuse report here.

This briefing is based on a study realised by Circular Economy Portugal, which makes the case for scaling up reusable packaging in Europe. The study shows that under the right conditions including a supporting policy framework, reuse can thrive in the EU, and more importantly it can reduce the environmental impacts of packaging and save companies as well as consumers’ money.

Break Free from Plastic is a global movement envisioning a future free from plastic pollution made up of more than 2,000 organisations from across the world demanding massive reductions in single-use plastic and pushing for lasting solutions to the plastic pollution crisis. More info :

Rethink Plastic, part of the Break Free From Plastic movement, is an alliance of leading European NGOs working towards ambitious EU policies on plastics. It brings together Carbon Market Watch, the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), ClientEarth, Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), European Environmental Bureau (EEB), European Environmental Citizen’s Organisation for Standardisation (ECOS), Greenpeace, Seas At Risk, Surfrider Foundation Europe, and Zero Waste Europe. Together they represent thousands of active groups, supporters and citizens in every EU Member State working towards a future free from plastic pollution. More info :

ECOS is an international NGO with a network of members and experts advocating for environmentally friendly technical standards, policies and laws. We ensure the environmental voice is heard when they are developed and drive change by providing expertise to policymakers and industry players, leading to the implementation of strong environmental principles.

EEB is Europe’s largest network of environmental citizens’ organisations. We bring together over 170 civil society organisations from more than 35 European countries. We stand for sustainable development, environmental justice & participatory democracy.

Zero Waste Europe is the European network of communities, local leaders, experts, and change agents working towards the elimination of waste in our society. We advocate for sustainable systems and the redesign of our relationship with resources, to accelerate a just transition towards zero waste for the benefit of people and the planet. Visit our website :


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