The study says digital trackers, unique barcodes, can address these hurdles. Being able to track an individual container enables businesses to calculate packaging lifespans and return rates from customers. Both are crucial to determining affordability.
The unique barcode on a container is needed for recalling batches and evidencing cleaning between refills and return to the shop floor. These 'digital passports' also enable businesses to tell packaging stories in an appealing way, as they are able to verify and quantify their reuse activities for marketing purposes. A reusable container may require many uses for its environmental footprint to compare favourably with single-use alternatives, and so accurate accounting for refills is core to useful life cycle assessments.
Currently organisations pay environmental taxes when packaging is released onto the market, but with digital trackers, it would be possible, to exempt organisations from paying every time their packaging is re-filled. In this way, track and trace allows governments to create taxation that incentivises reuse.
"Being able to tag and track packaging through digital passports has long been hailed as a cornerstone of resource efficiency because it allows for monitoring of reuse," adds Dr Ellsworth-Krebs. "There are currently no government targets for reuse of packaging in the UK or EU due to this monitoring challenge. Advances in digital technologies open up new possibilities for a cooperative circular economy, including stopping packaging becoming waste soon after it leaves the shop floor."