Zero waste: it’s time to think outside the box (or bottle!)


Chris Aukett

Director, London

Categories Uncategorized

Last week was Zero Waste Week and to mark the occasion we attended a great event run by Future Planet on how we can all take simple steps to reducing our environmental impact.

The war on single-use plastic is well and truly underway – the need to reduce, recycle and reuse has never been more apparent or front of mind for consumers. But the stark fact that only 9% of the plastic ever produced has been recycled means simply making packaging recyclable cannot be the sole solution!


Answer me this: if you had to find a secondary use for the packaging of your favourite shampoo, drink or shower gel once empty, what would it be?

Imagine that if you didn’t, your local town’s empties would be dumped on your doorstep on Monday. You’d probably find a solution, and who knows, it might even be a pretty useful one!


The area of reuse fascinates us, but until now the conversation has focused around refilling or reusing packaging to repeat the same purpose.  Now I’m not talking about turning a Fairy liquid bottle into a space rocket, but maybe that little kid from the advert was on to something!


It’s time to think outside the box (or bottle) and consider additional uses for our everyday waste packaging. Here’s three ways individuals from around the world have embraced the concept…

There are wonderful examples, many from the developing world, of taking ‘waste’ products and building something brilliant

In Central, South America and Africa, sustainably driven initiatives are looking to solve the housing crisis by embracing re-use and building houses from waste plastic bottles (and they have the potential to look rather pretty!)

Our ethnography work often uncovers how consumers hack ways to get more from their empties, especially when the packaging design is already rather delightful

Nutella and Gu packaging are both ripe for second-use ‘hacking’ once you’ve got the last of the yummy contents out.

(We weren’t the first to use the latter’s ramekins as candle-holders at our wedding!)

Start-ups and creative minds are always a source of ingenious solutions to getting the most out of everyday processes, as the D&AD recognised when awarding HangerPak with first prize in their Student Awards waaaay back in 2007.

These are all examples of individuals and entrepreneurs taking the initiative to innovate second uses for packaging.

But there is so much more potential to create impact via reuse. We’re talking big!

Imagine this: Coca-Cola sell 1.8bn bottles of Coke a day (!!!) If a campaign to promote a second-use of those bottles converted 0.1% of buyers, that would stop 18 million bottles needing recycling (or worse, ending up in a park or on a beach near you!)

So our challenge to brand guardians: how could you make your packaging part of the solution, rather than the problem?

Use this as an opportunity to think like the boy in the Fairy ad – put your crazy inventor hat on, set a competition with your kids, challenge the intern to impress you – whatever you want. Just give it some time thinking how your single-use packaging may help solve a pain-point somewhere in the world!

And perhaps we might not end up needing to fly to Mars on that space rocket!

Why don’t you share your packaging second-use hacks with us and your network? Maybe you’ll start something! Even better, tell the brand about it – they have the potential to start something on an even bigger scale!