A new display that uses the past as a guide for informing the future of sustainability in packaging is on show at the Museum of Brands in London.
Running until 15 May 2024, the Reuse, Refill, Rethink exhibit showcases a variety of products and demonstrates the difference between refillable, returnable (prefill) and repurposed product packaging of the past, present, and future. It explores how current developments in packaging have historical significance and how we might learn from the past when envisioning new models of reuse for the future.
The exhibit, which includes a series of interactive workshops, is a collaboration between the Museum of Brands and the University of Sheffield Grantham Centre for Sustainable Future’s ‘Many Happy Returns’ project. This is a £1 million research project, funded by UK Research & Innovation’s Smart Sustainable Plastics Packaging Challenge and delivered by Innovate UK and the Natural Environment Research Council.
The multidisciplinary project team has examined consumer reactions to reusable packaging in store and in the home, the role of language in encouraging reuse, and the technical and scientific basis for making reusable packaging mainstream, and worked closely with manufacturers, designers, brand owners, retailers, and policymakers to reduce the environmental impact of single-use plastic packaging.
With the growing spotlight on the role of reuse and refill in the transition to a circular economy, research by the ‘Many Happy Returns’ project shows that an item like a reusable plastic coffee cup needs to be used approximately 9 times to have a lower carbon footprint than the single-use alternative.
“Reusable packaging has enormous potential to help solve the single-use plastic problem and the climate crisis. If a container is used 20 times, the raw materials used and waste created will be just 5% of what they would have been if it was used only once. Encouraging people to return containers for reuse, e.g. with a cash deposit, gives those containers a value and they are less likely to end up as litter. We are delighted to be working with the Museum of Brands on this collaboration and hope that it will stimulate interest in reusable packaging.”Sarah Greenwood, Packaging Technology Expert/Leader at the University of Sheffield
“Using the museum’s collection of packaging we have identified many examples of how containers have been reused in the past. Historic labelling informed the consumer what to do with it – for example that a container had a deposit, or that they should save cardboard or return a bottle to the milkman. With this project we have been able to chart the changes in this messaging and the packaging materials themselves. We hope by using this information we can look at how systems of packaging are being developed today for a more sustainable future using models of reuse.”Alice Kain, Museum of Brands Curator
“The growing interest in reusable packaging and the move towards a circular economy often overlooks that it has a significant history, but one that is not fully understood or accounted for. As such, in addition to the display we are also planning several workshops where we will aim to record participants past experiences and memories of reusable packaging. We hope that by using reusable objects in the workshops, we will uncover recollections and stories from those who can remember when reuse was commonplace.”Rorie Beswick-Parsons, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the University of Sheffield