5 things to do when designing a reuse/refill solution

Single-use packaging is everywhere in our day-to-day life. Whether it’s straws, plastic bottles, or takeout packaging, it sometimes feels impossible to escape. By now, we know the problem. It’s of direct harm to wildlife, to ocean pollution and a contributor of greenhouse gases – the consequences are clear. 

To stop this, we should create models that stop single-use plastics from being produced in the first place. The best solutions include reusable and refillable packaging. However, it involves the difficult task of changing consumer behavior. Consumers are used to buying products wrapped in disposable packaging without questioning its impact, and that’s what we need to change. Therefore, the refill or reuse solution you want to design needs to be unforgettable. Thinking about building a reuse solution? Here’s a list of steps you don’t want to miss!

1. Make it easy to access

First things first, consumers won’t use your solution if there is too much effort required. Your solution needs to be easy to access and easy to use, this might look like having many drop-off locations, or by being located close to the consumer. For example, Qyos, one of our Indonesian ventures, came up with refill vending machines to reduce single-use packaging for daily products such as laundry detergent. All vending machines are located in residential buildings and housing complexes so that consumers can access reusable solutions right on their doorstep.

2. Make your offer inclusive

To create a real movement is to gather the majority of consumers. Therefore you need to set an attractive purchasing price that is accessible to many. You should analyse your competition and find out what price range is acceptable for your target audience in order to come up with a competitive price. A great way to attract consumers is to test alternative methods of purchase such as offering monthly subscriptions, or discounts on repeat purchases. This way, you can determine what price point is the best.

Nonetheless, you don’t want to cheap out on the reusable packaging itself. Since reuse and refill packaging needs to last hundreds of uses in order to be considered sustainable, make sure it’s built to last.

3. Choose the right business model

What is really important is to be efficient, and identify opportunities for scale. It all starts with the right business model. When starting a new business, it’s pretty tempting to want to do everything by oneself and to maintain full control. Take our reuse venture for household necessities, QYOS. If they tried to do everything themselves, they would have had to design their own packaging, open a shop to sell it, hire staff, open franchises and more. Instead, they opted for scale and by using a vending machine concept are able to have 24/7 availability and eliminate staff costs. Better still, by letting consumers use their own vessels, they didn’t have to spend on reusable containers or the associated logistics costs.

4. Reuse products, not the same messaging 

One of the biggest mistakes you could make is failing to consider your marketing and communication strategy. Indeed, it doesn’t matter how great of a solution you’ve come up with, if you don’t know how to promote it, you won’t find customers. To be successful, you need to adapt to your chosen market and audience.Don’t think that just because your solution is reusable and impactful, you will automatically attract attention. It is crucial to know your market in order to make your product desirable. For example, our venture Alas decided not to use the word “reuse” since it can be negatively interpreted by customers, a result of the idea that someone else has used the food box before them. Alas instead opted for words such as “returnable” and “guilt-free”, messaging that appeals to the majority of Indonesian Customers. A great way to avoid making this mistake is to use human-centered design. By directly speaking to, testing on and learning from your target audience you can identify the most appealing message before fully investing in a complete marketing strategy.

5. Make your goal big enough

It almost sounds too simple but… The cause you target has to be big enough in order to have a big impact! If you decide to tackle plastic waste, make sure to find a waste stream worth solving. For instance, single-use sachets are one of the biggest sources of single-use plastics, with 5.5M of them used and trashed on a daily basis. Due to their composition, sachets are virtually impossible to recycle, making them a problem worth solving. That’s why, when it comes to our venture Koinpack, we chose single-use sachets as a target!

Let’s make it happen!

Refill and reuse solutions have to go beyond being just good, but be amazing to change years of unconscious consumer behavior. If you want your reuse solution to be a success, you need to make sure that consumers have easy access to your offer, whether it’s geographically or financially, and make sure you know what message you want to spread. You need to be clear about your intentions, your values, be efficient and last but not least always, you need to always adapt what you say to your target audience and understand what they need from you.  

Curious to know what a successful reuse venture looks like? At the Zero Waste Living Lab we are building new ventures and pilots in countries heavily affected by packaging pollution such as Malaysia and Indonesia. Each one of our ventures focuses on one sector, such as Alas on takeaway packaging, Koinpack on single-use sachets, and Kecipir on farm to fork ecommerce and delivery. Make sure to check out our venture and pilot portfolio for an overview of what we do!Finally, as some food for thought, it’s important to acknowledge that even though refill and reuse are undeniably the best ways to tackle single-use packaging waste, it doesn’t automatically mean they’re always the most sustainable option. As a matter of fact, a product needs to be reused a certain number of times for it to be eco-friendly. Interested in the details? Anthropocene Magazine wrote a great blog about how reuse is not always the most sustainable solution.

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