Packaging in animation

Consumers are open to reusable packaging, but are they ready to adopt it?

Reusable packaging is here, and it is already observed in everyday applications like takeaway coffee and refillable home cleaning products. Considering potential changes to packaging regulations in Europe in the future, reusable packaging could feature more prominently in restaurants and retail establishments. Consumers are open to reuse systems, but what will it take for them to accept reusable packaging into their daily lives, and what do they prefer when it comes to materials?
We recently conducted a survey of European consumers on reusable and recyclable packaging, and our findings show that 77% hold a positive view on reuse. However, when asked in more detail, our survey discovered that consumers have a few key concerns keeping them from adopting reusable packaging primarily concerning cleanliness and convenience. This presents a potential challenge to brand owners and retailers when implementing reuse systems and communicating about their processes. 

Our survey also revealed that consumers are confused about what “reuse” means in practice with confusion as to whether it means reusing at home or returning to retailers for refill. Additionally, most consumers (75%) view recycling packaging as a form of reuse, especially true with everyday items that are recycled at scale, such as paper. When it comes to concerns, 78% of respondents would be worried about hygiene if a product was packaged in a reusable container, and 22% agreed it would take too much effort to return packaging to the point of purchase. Consumers are also thinking about their preferences concerning packaging material types. Our survey found reusable solutions cannot cater to all of consumers’ needs, and that recyclable carton packaging solutions are the preferred option across several food product categories. It’s also clear that recyclability drives preference: over half of respondents favor carton due to its recyclability (51%) and ease of recycling (52%).

What can be learned from these findings?

Reuse in Europe is taking shape and will be a part of the future packaging landscape. Consumers are intrigued, and as brand owners and retailers implement reuse systems, they will need to think not only about how to communicate critical topics like how their packages are cleaned and how to return them, but also consider important questions surrounding materials. For example, how will reusable plastic packaging resonate with consumers who seek to replace plastic? What is the lifespan of a reusable package, and what is its environmental impact over its life cycle? And what happens when reusable packaging is no longer fit for use? Can it be collected for recycling? What standards or expectations should be placed for the duration of reusable packaging in order to make it a smart choice?

Reusable packaging and renewable recyclable packaging, such as fiber-based solutions, each have their place in the packaging future. Fiber-based material also has a role to play in reuse systems as well, such as carton containers for soap and detergent refills. Where fiber-based options make sense, these renewable materials support an increasing number of applications while significantly minimizing plastic thanks to innovations like barrier coatings. For brand owners deciding on packaging formats, it’s important to consider the material. Consumers clearly have material preferences, but as a brand owner, the key to understanding the right choice depends on the end-use and the package’s impact across the full life cycle. 

To learn more about fiber-based packaging for food products, download our guidebook here. 


About the survey

Over 7,000 consumers aged between 18 and 64 responded to the survey, spread across the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Poland, and Sweden. Stora Enso’s full report can be found here. 
Download the surveyA practical guide to a renewable fiber-based food packaging future
Woman in grocery store choosing a renewable packaging.

Our findings show that 77% hold a positive view on reuse. However, when asked in more detail, our survey discovered that consumers have a few key concerns keeping them from adopting reusable packaging.