waitrose unpacked refill station customer

Source: Waitrose

In our fast-paced, convenience-driven world, single-use has become the norm. An age-old model of reuse and repair has been replaced with today’s throwaway culture. This shift was once hailed as a step forward for humanity. Now we know the truth.

We are stripping away our ecosystems at increasing rates. Our single-use society, enabled by plastic, is inherently destructive.

As the world has begun to wake up to the critical need to reset our relationship with the planet and tackle the throwaway poster boy – plastic – recycling has become an alibi for “business as usual”. It feeds a pretence that the planet can withstand ongoing production of plastic if only there were a recycling system at scale. Big brands continue to deflect responsibility onto consumers, despite the fact the infrastructure doesn’t exist.

The plastic recycling narrative is a convenient placebo pill we have been fed by Big Oil for decades. A major ingredient of the heady cocktail of distractions and manufactured doubt we are fed, all to perpetuate the lie that we are not destroying our liveable planet, and it’s all going to be fine if we just put waste in the right bin.


For too long, there has been an assumption that the majority of single-use is ‘necessary’ or ‘unavoidable’. We must challenge that assumption at every turn, because the “take, make, waste” model is simply not sustainable.

There is another way. After years of tokenistic refill pilots, industry is fortunately waking up to the enormous opportunity of returnable standardised packaging. In partnership with A Plastic Planet, Reposit is developing a universal returnable packaging platform.

Instead of time-consuming refill systems that tend to be marketing initiatives never intended for scale-up, Reposit introduces ‘packaging as a service’ with standardised packaging formats. In partnership with competitive brands and retailers, a centralised co-operative will manage all logistics for collection, washing and redistribution. And the good news? It’s not a theory. It is already happening in UK big CPGs and retailers like M&S, Amazon and Lush, committed from 2024.

At such scale, the returnable experience will soon become our new normal. Shoppers still enjoy the convenience of buying their favourite brands, filled by the brand owner, so product safety and quality is assured.

The ‘empties’ can be returned to thousands of drop-offs at stores, coffee shops, etc. Shoppers instantly collect rewards for the smallest behaviour shift, whilst brands enjoy the immediate ESG benefit – less carbon, less energy, less water – for their investment. One day, of course, we should all have a ‘returnable bin’ in our kitchens.

The new ‘Unlocking a Reuse Revolution’ report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation is proof positive that just as we created a single-use system, industry must now embrace a multi-use system like Reposit, and meet the growing demands of the consumer. When asked whether they would return packaging, nearly 100% of respondents claimed they would likely or very likely return the packaging.

At high scale, with highly collaborative systems and standardised packaging, the GHG emissions savings achieved could be up to 70%; water and material use are reduced by up to 70% and 80% respectively. The Reposit revolution finally puts the consumer at the centre of the system, rewarding them for returning packaging at their own convenience, no longer making them complicit in the waste crisis.

Asda refill zone 3

Asda refill zone

Industry has the power to truly collaborate, share investment and therefore share risk. With the various plastic or carbon taxes coming thick and fast, this shared burden should be an attractive proposition to the risk-averse multinationals – the household names who are the biggest polluters. No one brand, however big, can do this alone. It is an enormous but achievable shift, taking us from our deliberate single-use society to a deliberate multi-use and truly collaborative way of living.

If you can save on plastic and carbon taxes, achieve your ESG targets and build stronger loyalty with your consumers, it’s a no-brainer to change the system. The new EMF Report also states converting 20% of plastic packaging into reuse models is a $10bn business opportunity.

Operating in a standardised model of the future is not a case of eco-warriors shoehorning in a communist utopia. It is an exciting opportunity for brands and the creative industry to ask ‘what else can my brand be and stand for?’. New research from Reposit shows over 60% of shoppers would actually switch brands to buy returnable versus single-use. That’s a risk no business should countenance considering the upsides to both their own and the environment’s bottom line.

We must designing single-use out of our lives, and create a business framework that ensures the products and packaging of tomorrow are genuinely useful again and again and again. Just like nature, circularity is wasteless. This is the new nature economy we must strive for.