A new study is set to explore the convenience of reusable packaging systems as environmental concerns in the industry continue to grow.

The University of Sheffield study, which is part of the BUDDIE-PACK circular economy project, will investigate the packaging sustainability obstacles faced by consumers to identify how single-use plastics could be conveniently substituted for environmentally-friendly reusable alternatives.

Speaking about the study, Dr Kristina Diprose, a research associate at the University of Sheffield’s Department of Geography, said: “It can feel like disposable packaging is everywhere. For example, the average British worker generates 276 items of packaging waste each year just from buying lunch on the go. But reusable packaging is becoming more available. We want to talk to people who’ve given it a go, to understand more about the barriers and enablers of reuse.

“Most people don’t currently go out of their way to do something different, so we need to design reusable packaging systems that complement the way they currently shop and eat out.”

The BUDDIE-PACK project has 19 partners across six European countries and is working to implement a systematic approach for the large-scale introduction of reusable plastic packaging. The three-and-a-half-year project is funded to the tune of €7m ($7.6m) by the EU.

It is also operating against a wider backdrop of change for packaging companies in EU countries. The European Commission has made a series of proposals as part of the European Green Deal, aiming to make all packaging recyclable by 2030.

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The Commission reported that 40% of all plastic and 50% of all paper in the EU was used for packaging, and whilst the amount of packaging recycled has been increasing – reaching 64% in 2020 – the overall waste production has also been rising, hitting an estimated 177.9kg per inhabitant in 2020, up from 154.77kg in 2012.

GlobalData research indicates that this concern is also reflected within the industry, with mentions of ‘recycling’, ‘environmental’ and ‘sustainability’ in company filings from within the packaging sector having seen consistent growth from 2016 to 2022 as external pressure from consumers and government targets has pushed the issue of sustainable packaging into focus. Mentions of ‘sustainability’ increased in frequency by 726.9% over that period.

This data reflects that responsible packaging is now a significant concern for the packaging industry globally, and companies are looking to address concerns. The University of Sheffield’s study will consider reusable packaging as a potential solution, assessing its convenience and accessibility and looking at the consumer habits that could make it a feasible option.

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