The Reusable Revolution
Single-use packaging is a major contributor to the global plastic waste problem and environmental impacts. In 2021 single-use plastic waste increased to 139 million tonnes, despite it being in the spotlight.
“What we are all working towards, the gold standard, is that you will go to the supermarket and buy your beer, olives and shampoo, you’ll borrow the containers, and return them and they’ll be sanitised and refilled.”Nada Piatek, Again Again Founder.
Whilst this may sound like an audacious ambition for the distant future, when you speak with Nada, it becomes obvious the only thing missing to make this a reality is the incentive for behaviour change.
According to Nada, the key barrier to reusable packaging becoming mainstream in New Zealand, is the relative cost and convenience of single-use packaging versus a reusable system.
In countries where extended producer responsibility schemes have been put in place, the cost differential lessens. In other countries, governments are legislating single-use packaging options out. Both approaches make reusable, circular systems more attractive. Examples of this include France and Chile banning single-use items for dine-in customers from next year. In Germany, cafes and restaurants that offer takeaways are required to have a reusable takeaway container option.
We spoke to Nada to hear Again Again’s story in the reusable packaging revolution.
Nada, can you tell us about how Again Again came to be?
I was working in the leadership team at Sustainability Trust in Wellington. My education team and I developed a waste education programme for businesses, supporting their office waste reduction efforts. Our waste audits consistently showed at least half the waste was coffee cups and packaging from lunches, and we had no tools to offer them to solve this.
We had a lightbulb moment, and I quit my job within a week, with the first iteration of Again Again in mind—a reusable cup scheme using a deposit-return system.
From starting out as a reusable solution for single use coffee cups, you’ve evolved the business to tackle single use packaging waste from hospitality and grocery, can you tell us about this?
Again Again, is now a technology company—a digital platform that enables and manages the circulation of reusable packaging. When we started, we brought to market alternative reusable coffee cups to tackle the problem of waste from single-use cups. We put reusable cups, with a deposit return system, in a bunch of cafes around New Zealand. It went great guns, but then Covid hit, and collapsed the hospitality industry, and us. Once we got over the crisis of that, it gave us the space to go back to the drawing board and imagine what the next solution would be, one that would address the commercial problem of single-use packaging more broadly than coffee cups.
What we now have is a digital platform that connects the players in the value chain of circular packaging and makes it commercially viable to invest into their part of the value chain: the packaging, the consumers, the vendors, the packaging owners, the brand owners, the sanitisers and the reverse logistics people. The platform can be applied to almost any grocery or hospitality product currently using single-use packaging—beer, shampoo, takeaway food and beverages.
In your view what is the role of technology in solving the sustainability challenges we are facing?
We can’t do it without technology—it enables leaner, faster, and cheaper solutions. As an example, our technology drives a high return rate at 98 – 99% which is critical to ensure the packaging is reused enough times to make a genuine impact from a carbon reduction point of view. Also, taking cost out of sustainable solutions is pivotal in making the solutions investable, and until they are investable, they are not really a solution.
What are your plans for taking the Again Again platform international?
We are getting weekly enquiries from multinational companies overseas who see our technology as a solution to the commercial challenge they are solving. These are from countries where the regulatory environment has made single-use packaging less attractive and therefore reusable systems become more commercially viable. The fact that we can integrate with existing retail systems, reducing friction, makes us an attractive option.
In your Again Again journey, what is the thing you’re most proud of?
The agility with which we have, as a company, been able to keep responding to new information and our learnings, to keep improving, bringing better solutions to market. And the degree of resilience required from my team to do that. I’m proud of us all.
🌱 Top Three for Sustainability:
Who is the person you admire most in the sustainability space?
Bill McKibben – an American environmentalist who became an activist because, as a scientist, nobody was listening. Anything he says is worth listening to.
Hannah Blumhardt – part of the zero-waste movement here in New Zealand, and championing reuse through the industry.
What is the one tool that enables you to live more sustainably?
My bike. But also, having the mindset to imperfectly do everything and go easy on yourself when you aren’t perfect.
And finally, what advice would you give someone looking to start a for-purpose business?
Don’t ever, ever use the word ‘should’. If you have to use the word ‘should’ it is not going to happen. Your offer needs a stronger value proposition than saying that someone ‘should’ do/use it.
Glimmer is committed to supporting initiatives like Again Again, who like Glimmer, aims to use technology for good—helping people and our planet thrive.
If you’re interested in more information on other ways we can look after our planet better, check out some more of Glimmer’s articles.
You can also join the Glimmer community (it’s free) and share your own stories to inspire and empower people to make a difference in their lives and in the lives of others.
Glimmer proudly supports and promotes the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for a better world.
Plastic Waste Makers Index. https://www.minderoo.org/plastic-waste-makers-index
How does New Zealand compare to other countries in the war against plastic. https://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/300918696/how-does-new-zealand-compare-to-other-countries-in-the-war-against-plastic