3 ways the circular economy helps you rethink packaging to engage customers

The spotlight is still on plastics: a recent petition asks supermarkets to stop using an estimated one billion plastic bags each year to package bananas.  Headlines highlight the levels of waste: for example, we use 38.5m plastic bottles every day in the UK, but only about half are recycled and over 16 million are landfilled, incinerated or discarded, polluting our air, atmosphere, soil and water. Sales of re-usable cups and water bottles are increasing, with companies like Starbucks offering discounts to customers who bring their own cup.  Costa Coffee signed up to the Refill app, which encourages consumers to ask for a free water refill.

Consumers are starting to question how their favourite products are packaged: asking if all the packaging is necessary, and whether it can be easily recycled afterwards.  Waste charity WRAP announced the UK Plastics Pact in April, with challenging targets to create a circular economy for plastic packaging.  On board are major supermarkets, packaging producers and big brands including Coca-Cola, Nestle and Proctor & Gamble.

Circular economy approaches encourage more future-fit solutions, by addressing the systemic issues with our current ‘linear’, or ‘waste’ economy (take some materials, make a product, use it, then dispose of it).

The circular economy takes a different approach, where ‘waste = food’ for another industrial process, or for nature, and products and their materials are kept in use for longer.  Circular business models provide services and access instead of ownership, with durable products that can be used for longer, or by more people. Circular approaches aim to:

  • Use less– few resources, and less of each. Packaging examples include Ecovative, using a mushroom-like fungus to ‘grow’ packaging from straw and other waste materials.  Woolly Shepherd uses sheep’s wool to provide food-grade insulation for home delivery.  You could use corn or potato starch ‘chips’ instead of polystyrene filler, or simply shredded paper and cardboard.  Could you use less packaging?  Are you optimising product fill in the final transit packaging?
  • Use it more– (for longer) through durability, helping it be repaired or upgraded (admittedly difficult with packaging!). We’re already seeing how reusable coffee cups and water bottles transform people’s habits.  For household cleaning, Ecover provides refillable bottles, with many farm shops and wholefood outlets stocking the bulk product and providing ‘refill stations’.
  • Use it again– make it easy to resell, repair, remanufacture and at the end, to recycle into another high quality product. RePack offers reusable packaging for home delivery, with a reward system to encourage the successful return.

Circular strategies reduce risk and increase efficiency, including:

  • Security of supply – reducing the need to extract and produce new materials
  • Reduce waste by keeping products and their materials in use for longer, and use recyclable materials that can be made into new products
  • Reduce pressure on our planet and the living systems we depend on for our fresh air, clean water and healthy soils.

In todays’ world of information overload, attention is a precious commodity.  Engaging with customers and responding to their values helps build loyalty and trust, reducing the risk of losing them to a competitor.

“You can’t make profit on a dead planet” Tony Juniper, WWF

A circular economy means abundant materials, affordable and well-designed products that make like safer, cleaner, healthier and more enjoyable.  Recovering materials and regenerating living systems can mean enough for all of us, forever.

Guest blog by Catherine Weetman. More information can be found on her website: http://www.re-think.me.uk  

Catherine will be presenting at our ‘Introduction to the Circular Economy’ event on June 21st. For more information click the link: https://www.lowcarbonbusiness.net/circular-economy-for-smes/