A literature review and analytical framework of the sustainability of reusable packaging

Elsevier, Sustainable Production and Consumption, Volume 37, May 2023
Bradley C.G., Corsini L.

Over 161 million tonnes of plastic packaging is produced annually, yet only a small fraction of plastic packaging is recycled. To help eliminate unnecessary plastic packaging and its associated pollution, interest is growing in reusable packaging systems, such as returnable and refillable packaging. However, it cannot be assumed that reusable packaging systems will be more sustainable than single-use alternatives. This article conducts a literature review of 107 articles on reusable packaging to develop an analytical framework that identifies 22 major factors which influence the sustainability of reusable packaging systems. This framework helps readers to better understand the complex interplay between the environmental, economic, social and technical aspects which affect the implementation and scale-up of reusable packaging solutions. The findings highlight that customer acceptance and retention is key to unlocking long-term sustainability. In addition, improving the return rate of reusable packaging, shortening the supply chain and increasing system standardisation are important factors for enabling sustainability. Switching from single-use to reusable packaging systems involves a complex systems change that requires greater collaboration between industry stakeholders, as well as greater academic collaboration between different disciplines. To progress the field, the authors call for future research to incorporate more multidisciplinary perspectives, which may include perspectives from product-service system design, circular design and policy roadmapping.