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The Ellen MacArthur Foundation joins forces with Unilever, PepsiCo and Danone to scale up packaging return systems


The Ellen MacArthur Foundation joins forces with Unilever, PepsiCo and Danone to scale up packaging return systems

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Plastics Initiative is working with Unilever, PepsiCo and Danone to develop scaled reusable packaging systems that can perform as effectively as single-use models on economic, environmental and experiential levels. 

Source: PackagingInsights

The group uses future visualization and analytical modeling to show that reuse is a viable alternative and that decoupling plastic use from business growth is essential to realizing environmental sustainability goals.  

We need scalable solutions that don’t require single-use packaging to deliver products to users. Ambitious reuse policies are increasing, but the road to scaling reuse from niche to norm is still hard to imagine. 

says the foundation

In an announcement, the group says that many refill and returnable packaging pilots are “offering promise” but that they show that no one organization can achieve an overall advantage in economic or user experience terms. 

While pilots are crucial, now is the time for system design at scale to catalyze action toward building the returnable system of the future.

says the foundation

Aligning understanding

To unlock economies of scale that can compete with single-use, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation says it sees “an urgent need” for a common vision on returnable packaging, an aligned understanding and better data to create a common message to policymakers. 

Supporting the development of this shared vision, cross-sector partners are sharing their expertise and working collaboratively to explore possibilities. Unilever, PepsiCo and Danone are aiding the project with their respective knowledge and expertise. 

The work’s conclusions will be finalized over the coming months and the full modeling results will be published with a thorough technical appendix later this year. 

Danone is committed to accelerating returnable models, and reuse is one of the key levers to achieve our renewed sustainability ambition – Danone Impact Journey. Today, more than 50% of our global water volumes are sold in reusable format, and we have more than 15 pilot projects on reuse and refill models in our portfolio. This study, launched by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, paves the way for profitable scale-up, stressing the need for an industry-wide approach to address the challenge.

Nicolas Gregoire, vice president of Packaging Cycle, Danone

Reuse revolution?

Jolanda de Rooij, senior sustainability manager of circular economy at Unilever, says that cross-industry collaboration is essential in turning the “reuse revolution” into a reality. 

We’re pleased to be working with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and other industry partners to explore the economic, environmental, and experiential impacts of reuse models versus single-use. Only by better understanding these important variables can we make the case for scaling these systems all the more compelling.

Jolanda de Rooij, senior sustainability manager of circular economy at Unilever

Recently, Zero Waste Europe released a report based on an analysis of LCAs conducted on single-use versus reusable packaging models, finding that research methodologies can be manipulated to create beneficial outcomes for the companies commissioning them. 

A meaningful tool for PepsiCo and other companies committed to expanding reuse options in our portfolios. The systemic change needed to reduce packaging waste requires innovation, collaboration, and commitment across the entire value chain. Better understanding of the size, scale and impact of different scenarios of reuse across products, companies and industries can help play a critical role in addressing this global challenge.

Anke Boykin, senior director of global environmental policy PepsiCo

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