Many Happy Returns aims to enable reusable plastic packaging systems and so reduce the need for single-use plastic.
We need to change how we use plastic. In the UK alone, plastic waste from single-use packaging amounts to 2.3 million tonnes each year. But it’s not just the waste that’s a problem – it is the waste of a valuable resource such as plastic.
Recycling has become the norm for addressing plastic waste. But recycling is challenging – and it encourages a throwaway culture. Instead of focusing on recycling, Many Happy Returns (MHR) explores reusable packaging systems. By keeping packaging material in circulation for as long as possible, reuse systems could reduce the environmental impact of plastic.
Building on Plastics: Redefining Single-Use, MHR will provide research into consumer reactions to reusable packaging, the role of language in encouraging reuse, and the technical and scientific basis for making reusable packaging. Plus we are working closely with manufacturers, designers, brand owners, retailers and policy makers.
This £1 million project is funded by UKRI as part of the Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging Challenge (SSPP). You can stay up to date with all our Many Happy Returns enabling reusable plastic packaging news by following us on Twitter.
Want to know more about plastic? Our Many Happy Returns team and Clear On Plastics, a campaign from WRAP, have created a series of videos about the history of single-use plastic ↓
To learn more about the potential of reuse systems for takeaway food and drinks, the MHR team approached Accommodation & Commercial Services at the University of Sheffield. They came up with a plan to explore a scheme for reusing packaging in University cafes.
As a result, from September 2021 TUoS will be trialling a system from VYTAL in some TUoS cafes. VYTAL allows people to reuse containers for takeaway food and drinks. It is easy to use, and if successful, may be extended.
A project to reduce plastic use in cafes which began life at MHR's parent project Plastics: Redefining Single Use made the BBC news. Three of the busiest cafes on campus will swap to churns from single-use plastic containers. The change will avoid the use of 27,000 plastic bottles each year. Local dairy farm Our Cow Molly will wash and refill the churns.
To find out how this project began, look at this news story about our first big meet up for Plastics: Redefining Single Use.
Did you hear our Sarah Greenwood and Tony Ryan on BBC 4's Extinction Compendium? They joined presenters Gillian Burke and comedian Jon Long on this plastics special. The Grantham Centre gets a mention from Jon as being like 'an X Men mansion for the environmentalists of tomorrow' which is rather delightful.
Listen to: Plastic. Scourge of the planet, or synthetic scapegoat?
To make reuse systems successful, both the environmental impact and the willingness of consumers to engage need to be considered. In order to do this, the MHR team has published a paper that looks at 2 studies: a life cycle assessment and a survey.
Results from the life cycle assessment show that reusable containers outperform single-use plastic containers on most measures of environmental impact. However, the survey found that given the choice of disposal, reuse or recycling, that recycling is the preferred method.
Additionally, the paper discusses insights about what makes people more or less willing to engage with reuse. If you want to find out more, then you can read: Many Happy Returns: Combining insights from the environmental and behavioural sciences to understand what is required to make reusable packaging mainstream.
The recent paper from the Many Happy Returns team got a mention in this overview of LCAs (life cycle assessments) from Footprint.
Life cycle assessments are increasingly being used by corporations to justify their sustainability claims. But can we trust them? Businesses that rely on life cycle assessments to substantiate their green claims must commit to full disclosure or risk breeding mistrust, argues David Burrows. Read the full article in Footprint.
MHR's Sarah Greenwood was interviewed for Plastic and the Pandemic: Consumer Priorities in a Changing World from The Grocer.
This report looks at how the pandemic has impacted plastic use. It argues that 'without sustained and urgent action the crisis facing our planet risks becoming the next – and arguably greater – global emergency.'
For more information and a link to the report look here.
As with all our research, the Many Happy Returns team are from varied disciplines. For instance, we have people from the University of Sheffield’s English and Psychology Departments as well as chemists and engineers.
'Packaging fairy' Sarah Greenwood and Grantham Centre director Tony Ryan lead this project with Thomas Webb. All three are part of the Plastics: Redefining Single Use group. Find out more about the team.
Project partners include: Morrisons, Ocado, Co-op, M&S, Nestle, packaging manufacturer Berry Global, design agency Touch, and zero-waste store pioneers Unpackaged and OPRL (On Pack Recycling Label).
This project is a multidisciplinary one. That means we have experts from a range of fields working together to create reusable packaging systems. Our chemists and engineers will be conducting life cycle analyses to study reuse systems ‘from cradle to grave’ and therefore identify which systems confer the most benefit, for what and when. But what role does a linguist have in reducing plastic waste? And why are insights from psychology useful?
Well, a reuse system is no good if people won't use it. So, we will explore the language that is used by people and organisations to describe plastics and identify how language can be used as a tool to change behaviour. The School of English wrote a great piece explaining more about this.
Alongside this, psychology will help us to identify what people are willing to reuse, what factors influence these decisions, and at what point reuse becomes unacceptable.
Many Happy Return's Emma Franklin has written a blog about the role English has to play in reducing plastic waste.
In the blog Emma explains how the Linguistics team are of gathering data that will help to understand consumers’ attitudes towards plastic and reuse. Further, Emma explains how they're looking into how best to present reuse systems to the public.
If you want to read more, then follow the link to read the full blog.
The Linguistics team from MHR got a mention in this article about new OPRL refill labels.
New OPRL refill labels support reusable pack increase
(Excerpt): Margaret Bates, executive director of OPRL added: “Our extensive testing of these designs with over 5,000 consumers means we’re confident they convey the information consumers need.
"For consumers ‘Reuse’ means any further use of packaging, from jam making to craft projects, so we were pleased to draw on Sheffield University’s English Department’s work in choosing the right terminology and then testing that.”
Read the full article here.
Many of the Many Happy Returns team took part in #GRIPS2021, as speakers, chairs and in the audience. This UKRI, KTN and UK Circular Plastics Network conference gathered together sustainability experts to share knowledge about sustainability. Keelan Meade, Tom Webb and Rorie Parsons were all speakers. And Racheal Rothman and Tony Ryan both chaired panels.
Many Happy Returns (MHR) was announced in December 2020. The funding for MHR is part of the Enabling Research competition in the Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging Challenge (SSPP). SSPP aims to establish the UK as an innovator in developing sustainable plastic packaging, with a view to significantly reduce plastic pollution by 2025.
You can read the UKRI news story about this funding award here.
Packaging in Focus magazine celebrated the start of the Many Happy Returns project with an article by Sarah Greenwood. In this she explains why we need reusable packaging systems and how the MHR team will work to create them. You can read this for free online from page 9.
The start of MHR was written up in Footprint, the UK’s leading ESG and sustainability expert in the food and drinks industry.
MAJOR REUSABLE PACKAGING PROJECT SEEKS FOODSERVICE PARTNERS
How do you encourage consumers to adopt reusable packaging systems? When are they most willing to reuse and why? What materials should the packaging be made of? And what are the environmental benefits of reuse versus single-use? All questions that often leave foodservice companies scratching their heads. But worry no more: experts from the Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures at the University of Sheffield have just received funding to answer these and more.
Read the full article in Footprint here.