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Will Consumers Embrace a Milk-Man Style Packaging Model?

By the 1970s, home milk delivery in America via the “milk-man” had become a rarity. 


Throughout that decade, however, there were still plenty of families who returned their glass cola bottles to the grocery store every week to avoid paying a bottle deposit when they bought a new batch. With those two exceptions, reuse of CPG packaging has been an unfamiliar concept to most Americans, but some brands are reviving it for certain products. 

Assuming consumers accept the practice, there is a strong business case for doing so. Reusable CPG packaging may represent a sizable up-front investment, but the payoffs long term can be substantial in terms of materials and supply chain. And reuse of certain packaging types can go a long way toward improving sustainability.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: The Order Matters

We have all heard the mantra of environmental friendliness that goes, “Reduce, reuse, and recycle.” There’s a reason the terms are in that order, because the practices are listed in order of importance as far as positive environmental effects. 

“Reduce” is first, because reducing the use of a product or package has the greatest environmental impact. After all, the package you don’t make because you don’t need it does not affect the environment. “Reuse” is a good second choice, because the material doesn’t have to be reprocessed to find a new use. Recycling is far better for the environment than sending materials to landfills, but the recycling process itself takes some environmental toll.

Adopting the “milk-man” style of packaging both reduces the total packaging created, and reuses as much of it as possible.

Bringing Back Reusable CPG Packaging

CPG titan P&G plans to launch reusable, refillable packaging for a range of products starting this year as a way to reach the company’s “Ambition 2030” goals, which focus on sustainable innovation and “circular” solutions to packaging to reduce waste. 


The initiative is a better fit for some products, and the ones they plan to start out with include:

  • Pantene shampoo and conditioner in refillable, durable aluminum
  • Tide detergent in stainless steel bottles
  • Crest Platinum mouthwash in refillable glass bottles
  • Febreze in refill-and-reuse packaging

The plans are part of TerraCycle’s LOOP circular e-commerce platform, which strives to transform CPG packaging from single-use, disposable packaging to durable, reusable/refillable packaging that includes consumer-friendly features. The goal is to package everyday essentials in durable, highly functional packaging that is attractive enough to display, and that can be reused without recycling.

It’s Already Normal in Some Parts of the World

Bottle deposits are uncommon in the United States, yet they’re a fact of life in much of Europe, particularly northern Europe. In Scandinavia, for example, returning empty soda bottles to the store is the norm. And it works, too: around 95% of all beverage containers with a deposit in Norway are returned for reuse or recycling, whether they’re made from glass, plastic, or aluminum. In urban spaces, public trash cans are designed with separate compartments for different types of beverage containers to benefit “pickers” who return bottles that other consumers don’t want to bother with for pocket money.

The introduction of reusable, refillable CPG packaging will certainly take getting used to, and will require some alteration of habits on the part of the typical American. However, two-thirds of global consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable goods, and this trend is even more pronounced among Millennials. This bodes well for uptake of P&G’s new initiative.

Sustainability takes many forms, and the introduction of refillable, reusable containers for many household products offers yet another way for the average consumer to contribute to global sustainability. And sustainability-minded consumers are likely to turn to (and develop loyalty to) brands that use innovation to support sustainability through their CPG packaging.

PKG Brand Design is always on the forefront of new CPG branding and packaging initiatives; please subscribe to our blog for the latest package design industry news!


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