A study conducted by researchers from the U.K.’s Lancaster University and the University of St. Andrews reveals that packaging waste could potentially be reduced with the introduction of a reusable packaging scheme featuring a system of digital trackers and unique barcodes.

To reach that conclusion, researchers asked manufacturers, retailers, regulatory bodies, reuse experts and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) what factors prevent them from participating in a reusable packaging scheme. According to their responses, these stakeholders resist reusable packaging investments based on the lack of affordability, the health risks associated with incomplete cleaning, recall issues and various other penalties.

However, the researchers, in collaboration with U.K. startup Reath, determined that digital trackers and unique barcodes could potentially address such concerns.

Digital trackers could potentially enable stakeholders to track the lifespans and the rate that such containers are returned, thereby addressing the affordability concerns expressed by stakeholders. Meanwhile the unique barcodes could be used in the event a packaged item is recalled and could also serve as proof of cleanings before and after each use.

“Being able to tag and track packaging through digital passports has long been hailed as a cornerstone of resource efficiency because it allows for monitoring of reuse,” added Dr. Katherine Ellsworth-Krebs, of Lancaster University’s Imagination Lancaster laboratory. “There are currently no government targets for reuse of packaging in the U.K. or EU due to this monitoring challenge.

“Advances in digital technologies open up new possibilities for a cooperative circular economy, including stopping packaging becoming waste soon after it leaves the shop floor.”

The study, Circular Economy Infrastructure: why we need track and trace for reusable packaging, is published in the journal of Sustainable Production and Consumption.

To contact the author of this article, email mdonlon@globalspec.com