Trust and reusables – the magic combination?

29 July 2021

Over the last six months, I’ve been looking at ways to introduce reusable alternatives to replace every day single-use items such as cups, takeaway containers and cutlery. This ‘Plastic Free July’, many more have also been exploring reusable alternatives to reduce their own plastic footprint and reduce the amount of single-use plastic ending up in our environment and oceans.

The more times a reusable item is used, the more carbon and waste is saved. For example, a reusable cup made from Polypropylene and manufactured in the UK has a lower environmental impact than single-use paper cups after just three uses. After seven uses, the environmental impact is 41% less, and after 182 uses (six months), the impact is 95% less. In short, the more uses the merrier!

Positive, sustainable behaviours are underpinned by our relationships. Our relationship with our environment, our society and our economy. One of the most important factors to any successful relationship is trust. When providing reusable alternatives to others, we trust that they will be returned to be used again by someone else (once properly washed and sterilised of course!).

Examples of reusable schemes include The Shrewsbury Keep Cup Scheme and the Naked Takeaway in Flintshire, using metal tiffin boxes as a reusable alternative to the plastic disposable takeaway container. A key difference between the two schemes is the returnable keep cup in Shrewsbury requires a returnable £1 deposit. The reusable tiffin boxes in Flintshire – although of a higher value material – are supplied on a no-deposit basis. This scheme relies purely on trust and good will for customers to return the tiffin boxes once they’re finished with them. The Naked Takeaway collect the boxes from customer houses on next delivery, rather than expecting them to bring them back proactively, thus also reducing the effort required for the customer to return.

It’s well known that people tend to value what they pay for, but can you put a value on trust? If we operate on a trust-only basis around reusable schemes, can we in turn create more trusting, closer communities? Or are financial incentives crucial to ensure these reusable alternatives continue to be used and not lost to the depths of the kitchen cupboard?

The use of tools such as ISM (Individual, Social, Material) are helping to answer such questions. The size and culture of the community, the material type and value of the reusable item, and the steps required for an item to be returned, are all important factors in deciding whether an incentive is required for returnable schemes.

At Resource Futures, we’re using the ISM tool to great success in co-designing and evaluating behaviour change programmes. Get in touch with our Behaviour Change Lead Lucinda Brook to find out more.

In the words of Ernest Hemingway: “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them”.

Perhaps schemes like the Naked Takeaway can inspire us to design reusable schemes on the basis of trust, and we might just find that people are more trustworthy than we thought?

Relevant insights

Last year, following England’s ban on supplying plastic straws and stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton buds, Hanna looked at at the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on single-use plastics and reusables as we were faced with a drive in single-use plastics being used to tackle the spread of the virus.

Read blog: The rise of reusables