New guidance for plastic packaging design


Plastics recycling charity RECOUP has launched new guidance to assist stakeholders with the design of reusable plastic packaging.

The guidance aims to meet the needs of the value chain from packaging manufacturers, packers/fillers, brands, retailers, consumers, and service providers through to waste management companies.

The ‘Reusability by Design’ guidance has been produced as part of the TRACE (Technology-enabled Reusable Assets for a Circular Economy) project, funded by UKRI’s Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging (SSPP) Challenge. Led by Pragmatic, with RECOUP, The University of Sheffield, Topolytics, AMRC (Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre) and Ken Mills Engineering as partners, TRACE aims to address some of the challenges that currently prevent large-scale reuse, such as consumer perception, packaging traceability and the lack of available design guidance.

Based on research, surveys, workshops and interviews, the guidance highlights the need for collaboration alongside consideration of the whole value chain needs when designing reusable packaging. The main design-related barriers to the large-scale adoption of reusable packaging identified included customer uptake, implementation cost and traceability.

The guidance details a number of technical characteristics that must be considered at the design stage of reusable packaging, including material choice and durability, size and shape of the packaging, visibility of the product, closure type, tamper evidence requirements and decoration. At the same time, these design decisions must also acknowledge consumer needs, food safety, washing and cleaning requirements, and impact on transportation.

The design implications for end-of-life scenarios for the packaging, when it leaks or leaves the reuse system, must also be taken into consideration.  In addition, the guidance includes a comprehensive review of how tracking technologies have been used within reuse systems for food and drink produced by The University of Sheffield.

“Reuse represents a key element of achieving the circular economy for packaging and while we have seen the implementation of a number of small-scale trials of reuse systems, large-scale implementation has not yet been achieved,” Katherine Fleet, head of sustainability and circularity at RECOUP, said. “It is hoped that these guidelines, which reflect stakeholder’s views, along with the wider findings of project TRACE, will assist with progress towards a world where reuse is more commonplace for packaging.”

Nick Cliffe, deputy director of the SSPP Challenge, said: “One of SSPP’s priorities is to understand and address some of the key barriers to making reuse and refill a viable mainstream alternative to single use plastics. Projects like TRACE, and the important guidance it has produced, are vital steps on the road to achieving this.”

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