08 Jul 2024

Written by

By Nathan Dufour, Reuse Systems Manager and Leader of the ReuSe Vanguard Project (RSVP) at Zero Waste Europe; and Larissa Copello, Packaging & Reuse Policy Officer at Zero Waste Europe

Embracing reuse: European cities lead the way

Consumption & ProductionPackaging ReuseReuse Vanguard Project (RSVP)

The packaging waste crisis

Packaging waste in Europe has reached endemic proportions. The European Union predicts a shocking 19% increase in packaging waste by 2030 if current trends continue. 

This grim projection is also a call for urgent action.

Recognising the gravity of the situation, the EU has introduced the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR) to prevent the anticipated increase and to mandate a 15% reduction in packaging waste by 2040. 

The task is enormous, and cities are among the most determined to tackle this challenge head-on.

Cities at the forefront

Reusable packaging is one of the main solutions to packaging waste. Cities, driven by necessity and a commitment to sustainability, are embracing innovative reuse systems. More than a need for compliance, these systems represent a fundamental shift in how we think about waste and resource management. 

The field trip organised by Zero Waste Europe to Rotterdam, and ZWE activities during the 2024 Reuse & Refill Fair in Paris – both of which took place in May 2024 and are deeply linked to the Reuse Vanguard Project (RSVP) – are great examples of how cities are taking reuse matters into their own hands.

The RSVP field trip to Rotterdam: a collaborative effort

We had three goals when organising the RSVP field trip to Rotterdam. The first was for the participants to have an in-depth demonstration and gather vital knowledge of the design and implementation of a reuse system for takeaway cups in an open and challenging context – like the one implemented in the Rotterdam central station as part of the Evernew Project

Secondly, we wanted to bring together part of the trusted network of stakeholders from across Europe that we have been building, committed to harmonising and scaling up reuse systems. Lastly, we used the field trip and the shared experience and intelligence of the participants to further develop a collective understanding of a European model for takeaway reuse systems. 

Photo credits: Zero Waste Europe.

During the morning, our field trip participants could learn, test, and discuss the Rotterdam reuse system on the ground. The afternoon was dedicated to strategic discussions, bringing together RSVP core partners, Dutch stakeholders, and representatives from the broader RSVP ecosystem, including some close partners from the United States. The discussions resulted in great insights from local stakeholders and valuable operational lessons, which are crucial for planning our next steps – such as the further development of the RSVP Reuse Blueprint, whose first draft was published in 2023 and which sets essential criteria for the development and implementation of reuse systems.

ZWE’s and RSVP’s presence at the 2024 Reuse & Refill Fair

Earlier in that same month, ZWE and RSVP were proud event partners for the 2024 Reuse & Refill Fair in Paris, which brought together over 2000 participants from around the world. Initially a purely French initiative, this trade fair has successfully become international. In 2024, it hosted over 30 conferences and masterclasses; as well as hundreds of solutions and various reuse initiatives. 

This moment was a great example of how reuse is not ‘niche’ anymore: it’s no longer a matter of IF, but of HOW, we make reuse the norm again in Europe, because the revolution is already happening. 

Photo credits: Kilian Berno / Salon du vrac et reemploi 2024. For more Reuse and Refill Fair photos, please click HERE.

To help us reinforce this, we hosted a panel discussion at the Fair with four of the most promising city reuse projects in the takeaway sector across Europe. These projects are all at different stages of development: either already implementing reuse systems at the city scale (Aarhus); piloting (Rotterdam); (at the time) about to start the implementation phase (Leuven and Ghent); or designing an ambitious city-wide project (Paris). Each of these projects is building on absolutely fascinating local ecosystems, bringing together public, private and not-for-profit partners. 

You can watch a recording of the panel discussion below:

The role of legislation and economic measures

The PPWR provides a good valuable basis to define, frame, and help promote reuse systems overall. The next step (and a crucial one at that) is to follow them with supportive local and national regulatory and economic measures that would make reuse the default option (if not the ONLY one) rather than a secondary choice for consumers, and support the hospitality sector as they adopt these systems.

Reuse is not just a business or policy matter anymore. It is a (big) city matter. As demonstrated during the Reuse & Refill Fair, cities like Paris, Leuven, Ghent, Berlin, Barcelona, and Aarhus – all part of the wider RSVP project sphere – are actively exploring and implementing similar reuse systems, demonstrating a widespread commitment across Europe.

Moving the reuse revolution forward

These latest activities on the ground reinforced three of our key beliefs for the success of reuse systems, and in driving the reuse revolution: 

  • Stakeholder Collaboration – local stakeholders show remarkable dedication to overcoming legislative and operational obstacles in a dynamic environment (e.g. like the one at Rotterdam’s central station). ZWE is committed to the success of this growing network of stakeholders, not least to taking the European blueprint work to the next level.
  • Practical learning is crucial for planning future steps in scaling up reuse systems and harmonising the implementation of these systems over time. This is also crucial to avoid future interoperability issues, and generate solid proofs of concept to drive bigger investments from both public and private actors,
  • Additional regulatory and financial incentives are a must to make reuse systems the default choice, in line with the waste hierarchy. We need to make sure businesses and consumers get to use the reusables and systems in the first place – getting key learnings from consumer interactions (e.g. on logistics and convenience) happens best once the systems are already in place. Over-focusing on designing the consumer journey from a theoretical perspective is only a delay tactic.

As more cities join this movement, their shared efforts are creating a sustainable future where reusable packaging becomes an everyday reality – leading the way for a safer, more sustainable, and zero waste Europe.

The  ReuSe Vanguard Project (RSVP) project is an EU-wide project creating the conditions for a large uptake of reusable packaging in the most strategic sectors, such as beverages and take-away food and drinks. Coordinated by Zero Waste Europe, it brings together Deutsche Umwelthilfe (Germany), Fair Resource Foundation (Netherlands and Belgium), Reseau Vrac et Reemploi (France), and Rezero (Spain). Learn more HERE.