The battle between single-use and reusable materials continues to rage on in the packaging industry.

Accessibility and cost struggles are barriers often cited by companies who are reluctant to make the transition to reusable systems.

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To instigate this change, the software platform Reath aims to provide data and visibility on the reuse performance of individual products for businesses to reach their ESG goals.

At the Global Connected Packaging Summit, Reath CEO Claire Rampen discussed the link between data and sustainability in helping companies launch and optimise reusable products.

How can data be used for sustainable business practices?

Rampen: Reusable packaging is both age old and brand new. What we have seen in the last few years is a bigger focus on how we can start to embrace reusable packaging as a way to meet challenging waste and greenhouse gas emission reduction goals. But this is still a new area and there are many unknowns, so companies are taking a stab in the dark in terms of where to begin.

Our software was built to try and meet that challenge and guide businesses through making decisions about what kind of reusable packaging and model they want to adopt. So, in the beginning, there are questions like what product would be best suited to reusability? What materials should be used for what packaging type? How many times can it be reused? What do different levels of recycled content look like within those materials?

Then once a decision has been made on packaging, there’s the launch and making sure that operational data is being gathered from the beginning. Specifically for reuse, information is needed about what the packaging has come into contact with and what allergens are associated with it, as consumers are increasingly health-conscious.

Data is also provided on performance, return and loss rates and customer types so the system can make commercial and environmental sense. We use passive trackers for both cost and privacy reasons for personal data. Businesses can choose any type of machine-readable code, such as RFID or QR, and then are responsible for deciding what kind of scan points they want to have.

Companies can give permission to certain suppliers to send data that is verified and submitted according to a data standard. API can then be used to share that data in a read-only format with whoever.

What industries are using sustainability data for packaging?

Rampen: We’ve seen hospitality and retailers getting involved with reuse, as well as brand manufacturers. But I’m excited for packaging manufacturers and converters in that space because it’s an opportunity to launch new product development ideas and move more data-gathering materials into it.

Our mission is whether we can get to the point where all packaging across all different industries is reused rather than packaging manufacturers churning out more units that are essentially going in the bin. The requirements for packaging to be reused are minimal when it comes to washing, manufacturing or repurposing.

For example, Amazon knows how to pack a van before they’ve even received the orders because they have incredible predictability on their sales data, so that is the point we want to get to with reusable packaging software across all industries.

How can businesses practically implement reusable packaging?

Rampen: My key point would be don’t think you need to do everything at once across every product and packaging type. Figure out the one that you will get the quickest wins on and then build from there.

There will be a use case within your business and a packaging type where it is relatively low-hanging fruit to move to reuse. It might be that you can find cost savings or environmental savings and it can fit into existing operating standards.

Use a methodical approach with systemic data analysis based on the packaging type, the tax and the projected cost of increasing materials and put them into easy and hard categories. The success of a reuse system starts at the planning stage.