Reusable Packaging Behavior: Study Emphasizes Communication, Norms, Values and Friendly Design

No running! Poolside behavior is crucial in managing reusables for many applications.

No running! Poolside behavior is crucial in managing reusables for many applications.

“There have been many attempts to reduce the amount of waste packaging through open dumping and burning, recycling, landfill, incineration, etc.,”  notes a recent paper, A system dynamics approach for enhancing social behaviours regarding the reuse of packaging, which confirms some practical truths that guide reusable packaging practitioners. (You can read the entire paper here until January 2016.).

“However,” the paper continues, “there has been little attention paid to reuse as the simplest way to reduce waste. In order to motivate consumers to perform reuse behaviour, it is essential to understand how this behaviour can be influenced and what variables predict it.”

There are some sobering facts listed about the decline of reusable consumer packaging:

  • In Canada, the average number of refillable beer bottles was reduced from 47 percent in 1985 to 5 percent in 1997.
  • In Western Europe, the percentage of refillable bottles dropped from 81 percent in 1979 to 60 percent by 1997.
  • In the U.S. reusable packaging for soft drinks tumbled from 100 percent in 1947 to just 1 percent in 2000.

The research also identifies some emerging, albeit at this point, mostly niche reusable packaging applications for consumer goods – with the exception of the ubiquitous Starbucks reusable mug. This, then, is the premise for the research – determining how to best shape consumer behavior to make reusable consumer packaging successful at that level.

The paper’s highlights are as follows:

  • Reuse behaviour is dependent on knowledge and communication emphasising reuse.
  • Personal and social norms positively influence reuse of packaging behaviour.
  • Personal and social values positively influence reuse of packaging behaviour.
  • Enable reusable packaging to enable reuse behaviour by its functionality.

These points resonate with my experience, and presumably many others, with respect to managing reusable packaging programs in industry. Over 20 years ago I used to talk about “poolside behavior” as it pertained to people on the frontline consistently doing the right things to ensure the success of a reusable pallet or container program. This information would be integral to applications at the consumer level if such opportunities emerge in a meaningful way. And maybe with trends such as the Circular Economy starting to gather momentum, perhaps they will.