Master's Thesis: Reusable Takeaway Packaging

Investigating how signs of use create behavioural barriers to the mass-market success of shared, reusable packaging systems.
June 2021
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61%

of all EU plastic waste comes from packaging
Academic Research
Behavioural Design
Sustainability
Packaging

I am fascinated by sustainable packaging systems and am driven to try and make them work. In this project, I identified a crucial issue with reusable packaging that every single startup in the area had ignored: what happens to their nice, shiny reusable packaging products after they've been used 100 times? This lead me to explore some interesting topics, going deep into our ingrained single-use behaviours which have created a preference for pristine packaging void of any blemishes: a deadly consumer sentiment for the future of reusable packaging.

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Reusable takeaway bowl: brand new

Reusable takeaway bowl: after 76 uses

My core experiment involved presenting physical examples of brand new & used reusable packaging to a series of unbiased users. Interviews followed, questioning their willingness to use, opinions on hygiene, and what they thought about sharing with strangers. The findings were conclusive, unearthing clear sentiments of disgust towards the used packaging items and an unwillingness to reuse visibly aged packaging items. I present some explorative design solutions in my dissertation (available at the bottom). 

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My Collaborators: The Univeristy of Sheffield and Vytal

I took the initiative early on to gain 2 key collaborators, one academic and one private sector. Firstly, The University of Sheffield supported me by issuing a substantial cash grant to help me gain over 400 survey responses making my finding statistically significant. Their Psychology department was working with a £10 million grant from the government to investigate general sustainability issues. Secondly, Vytal is the largest reusable takeaway packaging company in the world and agreed to send me used packaging items that had been organically aged in the field by real users, as well as brand new versions. This was free of charge as they too were eager to discover the outcome of my research. 

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The inspiration for this project: The Tiffin Box. A 200 year-old reusable packaging system.