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April 2021

The Rise of Reusable Packaging: Understanding the Impact & Mapping a Path to Scale

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A list of the key (industry-specific) terms and their meaning frequently used in the report.


Executive Summary

Packaging, in all its different forms, is ubiquitous across the fashion industry. This is no more evident than the single-use plastic and cardboard packaging that enables the burgeoning e-commerce market.


The Growing Plastic Problem

Images of plastic contaminating the marine environment, causing harm to wildlife and the ecosphere are embedded in the public consciousness. There is a growing consumer focus on reducing plastics, most notably single-use plastic packaging. The sense of urgency to tackle this issue is increasing from all sectors of society. This is no different in the fashion industry – single-use packaging is ubiquitous.


Single-use vs Reusable System

An overview of the current systems in operation for single-use and reusable packaging. The single-use system is highly efficient and optimised; however, is not set-up for packaging to be returned. On the reusable side, there are two key models being implemented in the market: centralised vs decentralised.



For the purposes of this study, the ‘Fast-Track’ Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodology, developed by the Technical University of Delft, was used to compare the environmental impact of single-use versus reusable packaging systems.



The findings from our quantified impact analysis; including highlighting the impact hotspots within each model, as well as a series of sensitivity analyses to demonstrate the key variables which influence the environmental impact of reusable packaging.


Considerations for Implementation

The purpose of this section is to take the findings from the impact assessment and present the key considerations for implementing a reusable system to ensure its future potential success.



The exponential growth of e-commerce, coupled with optimised global supply chains has meant that we are consuming more packaging than ever.56 Whilst the current system of single-use plastic provides a low-cost and highly functional solution, it often comes at the expense of the environment. Increased consumption of packaging is fuelling the continued extraction of fossil-derived raw materials, whilst low recycling rates for flexible plastic packaging are leading to the generation of huge amounts of plastic waste.