Refillable packaging: a science based understanding of the basics

Refillable packaging has come a long way in the last 20 years.  Back in 2003 no major retailers in the UK operated any schemes in the reuse of primary packaging [1], and now there are many, especially in personal care, beauty and cleaning. By 2032, the global refillable packaging market is projected to reach $ 61.72 billion [2], creating significant opportunities to cut the use of single use packaging.

It’s interesting to reflect that many of the basics related to developing successful refillable packaging, that we identified in our DEFRA funded research project with Boots Alliance, back in 2009-10 still stand.

A key finding that is still very relevant, is that REFILLS are not one category of packaging but are a mode of product delivery that can be differentiated in many different ways.  They can vary with respect to:

  • the type of delivery mechanism;
  • their business model (who owns it, is it leased, is anything returned?)
    • the relationship to the consumer;
    • the relationship to the manufacturer
  • the type of product being sold (speed of repeats, viscosity, food safety requirement, H&S requirements etc);
  • the brand
  • the price point

Recognising this is critical to success – it means that what has worked in one context won’t necessarily work in another.  Identifying what is most appropriate for the context, sector and consumer for any given product will enable the development team to custom build the most appropriate refill system for the scenario in hand [3].

Another set of findings, which are still highly relevant, relate to the needs of the customer.  First and foremost, the product that is being dispensed or delivered via the refill must be of great quality – this is no negotiable.   Once this has been achieved, consumers want refills that are convenient, good value, easy to use and refill, clean and hygienic, and if it’s necessary, light to transport.  We now see these needs being met by the many refillable products which are offered via cost saving, flexible subscriptions that are delivered to the door [3].

Done well, refillable packaging offers numerous environmental benefits, from waste reduction and resource conservation to lower carbon emissions and promotion of a circular economy.

#refills #fussy #customer #refillablepackaging


[1] Darlow T. (2003) Waste Plans: Report on Categorisation and Pilot Studies. Scottish Institute of Sustainable Technology: Edinburgh

[2] Swapna Gawale, (2024) The Rise of Refillable Packaging in the Global Sustainability Movement 11 April 2024

[3] Lofthouse, V, Bhamra, T. and Trimingham, R. (2009) Investigating customer perceptions of refillable packaging and assessing business drivers and barriers to their use, Packaging Technology and Science.

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