New reusable packaging for online shipping from Hey Circle.

Image source: hey circle

New reusable packaging for online shipping from Hey Circle.

Thomas Reiner | 22.03.2023

The race for reusable solutions in e-commerce is picking up speed. Among the younger providers is the Munich-based start-up Hey Circle. Its shipping boxes and bags are made of recyclable PP and PE plastics and can be rented by users. A network of partners is supposed to ensure simple returns. The upcoming EU regulations under the new Packaging And Packaging Waste Regulation, at the latest, will finally bring the issue of reusable shipping packaging to the market. Currently, many alternatives are still very complicated. It will be interesting to see which suppliers will ultimately win the race – and how “lean” their solution can be.



As a rule, shipping packaging is currently used only once and then (in the best case) ends up in the right collection container to be recycled. To conserve resources and avoid emissions, the industry is looking for more sustainable solutions. One possible concept is reusable packaging, as offered by the young company Hey Circle since the beginning of 2022.


The environmental aspects

  • The start-up offers boxes and bags in various sizes.
  • The patented solutions are lightweight and can be folded for return. They aim to minimize the climate footprint during transport.
  • According to the startup, 40 turns result in a 40 percent reduction in CO2 emissions compared to a fiber-based single-use solution.
  • The reusable packaging consists of more than 95 percent PP and a residual amount of PE. For both types of plastic, there are established material streams that enable recycling at the end of the (first) life cycle.
  • In the long term, new reusable shipping packaging with a high recycled content is to be produced from the recyclate thus obtained.


The handling

  • Users can rent the reusable packaging from Hey Circle and either bear the costs themselves or pass them on to their customers.
  • A network of partners is to ensure simple returns. In addition to the parcel service provider, Hey Circle also wants to build up a network of drop-off points, for example in drugstores, supermarkets and pharmacies.
  • To achieve a high return rate, the start-up relies on a downstream deposit system. If packaging is not returned, it will be invoiced.


Technical complexity as a sticking point

Until now, most reusable solutions for online retail have been very technology-driven and thus correspondingly expensive. For example, the Danish provider SwipBox offers a shipping box with an e-ink display, which is also known from the manufacturer Livingpackets who tries to establish its solution since 2016. The disadvantage: E-ink displays are not compatible with package redirections or any necessary address corrections, at least not at present. Technical solutions for tracking and security often become costly when the packaging gets damaged or lost.


The race is on

The race for reusable solutions in e-commerce is picking up speed. The development is being driven primarily by consumers’ desire for sustainability and pressure from regulators. A look at the EU Commission’s proposal for the new Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation shows how concretely and massively politicians are tackling the issue.

Many of the new suppliers seem to be relying on rather complicated solutions. It will be exciting to see how more streamlined solutions such as those from Hey Circle perform on the market.

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Refill for deodorant: Unilever equips its Dove brand with refill packaging.

Image source: reddot

Refill for deodorant: Unilever equips its Dove brand with refill packaging.

Thomas Reiner | 22.03.2023

Deodorant brand Dove has launched its first refillable and reusable packaging. It consists of a stainless steel casing and refill packaging made from 98% recyclable plastic recyclate. We see that refill solutions are increasingly arriving in care products and cosmetics. This is significant because the sector has a leadership position with signal character. Even if the refill theme is taking longer to gain acceptance. The development is picking up speed – also in North America. Awareness is growing.



With its new packaging solution, Dove is paying towards the goal of avoiding single-use plastic packaging. According to the company, the weight of all single-use plastic packaging worldwide would add up to around 12 billion tons by 2050 if the current single-use/reusable rate were to remain.

Currently, Dove offers its refill deodorants in selected US and Canadian retail stores as well as online through websites such as Amazon, Walmart, Target, Shoppers Drug Mart and London Drugs.


The Refill Packaging

  • According to Dove, the inner stainless steel casing of the packaging is “extremely durable” and holds forces of nearly 900 pounds in weight.
  • On the outside, meanwhile, the packaging is made of 98% recycled plastic, which itself is 100% recyclable. Dove explains that it is not possible to completely eliminate plastic for durability and hygiene reasons.
  • The packaging is deliberately kept compact and features a “sleek, minimalist aesthetic”, for which it received the reddot award in 2021.


The environmental advantage

  • According to Dove, the refill packaging solution saves 54 percent plastic compared to the packaging previously used.
  • Specifically, the new packaging was expected to avoid around 30 tons of plastic waste in the first year alone.
  • Dove assumes consumers will be able to refill a purchased package virtually endlessly and gives a “lifetime guarantee” on the stainless steel case. This applies as long as the product is actively marketed by the company.


Big Player – Big Step

Under its claim “Beauty Refillution,” Dove is the first big player to address the refill trend in cosmetics and skin care products within the field of deodorants. Until now, comparable solutions have only been offered by start-ups such as Myro and byHumankind in the USA or Wild and Holy Pit in Germany. Now, when a brand giant like Dove enters the Refill stage, it is significant – and a big step forward for the cosmetics industry.


Signal effect with significance

Dove’s move is given particular weight and signal effect because the cosmetics and care products sector has a leading position within the industry. We will see more and more refill solutions. So far, development has been rather slow. But certain topics simply take a little longer to catch on.

The new solution is also a “signal” for the North American market. It shows that sustainable approaches are also being pushed “on a larger scale” there. Awareness of environmental issues is growing not only in Europe.

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Reusable on the upswing: Slovakia’s new return system for beverage packaging achieves rates of over 70% in the first year.

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Reusable on the upswing: Slovakia’s new return system for beverage packaging achieves rates of over 70% in the first year.

Thomas Reiner | 15.03.2023

A deposit system for non-refillable PET bottles and metal cans was introduced in Slovakia at the beginning of 2022. The system relies on TOMRA return machines and a deposit return system. It is designed to meet the requirements of the EU directive on single-use plastics, enable higher return and recycling rates, and address the littering problem. The pre-specified return rate for 2022 reached 70 percent. From Germany, we already know the effect of a relatively successful return system. The example of Slovakia underlines our conviction that reusable and return systems will continue to gain in importance. The trend is only just beginning.



According to the Slovakian deposit system (DRS), more than 820 million beverage containers were collected and recycled via the new return system in the first year of its establishment.

The minimum return rate of 60 percent set in advance by the legislator was exceeded by almost 17 percent and reached 70 percent. Those involved consider this to be a success, and not without good reason. The aim is to achieve a return rate of 90 percent by 2025.


Deposit system

Slovakia’s return system relies on deposits. Consumers must pay a deposit of 15 cents when buying beverages in PET bottles or cans, which is refunded to them when they return the used packaging.



The Slovak system is reportedly financed through three pillars:

  • Administrative fees, which must be paid by beverage producers,
  • Revenue from the sale of collected material, and
  • profits from unredeemed deposits on containers.


Technical solution

The Slovakian system does not stipulate the way in which sales outlets fulfill their obligation to take back empties. Theoretically, therefore, empties can also be returned from person to person at the checkout. As expected, however, an automated solution using TOMRA reverse vending machines has prevailed. According to the company, it has currently installed around 2,000 of these automated return points in Slovakia.


Packaging / products affected

The vending machines are suitable for non-refillable PET bottles and metal cans with a size of 0.1 to 3 liters. Beverages with an alcohol content of over 15 percent, syrup, milk and milk-based beverages are exempt from the mandatory returnable deposit.


Retail outlets

All retail outlets with an area of more than 300 square meters are obliged to participate in the return system or to take back empty PET beverage bottles and cans. Smaller stores can join the DRS system voluntarily.



According to the Slovak deposit system (DRS), 77 percent of consumers were satisfied with the implementation of the system, and 55 percent were very satisfied. According to a study by TOMRA, 99.2 percent of Slovakian consumers were already aware of the Slovakian DRS three months after the system was launched.


System Responsible

Responsible for operating the DRS, raising public awareness, and engaging all stakeholders is a central system administrator. This was established in 2021 by four national associations:

  • The Association of Producers of Non-Alcoholic Beverages and Mineral Water,
  • the Slovak Association of Beer and Malt Producers
  • the Slovak Alliance of Modern Retailers, and
  • the Retail Association of the Slovak Republic


Reusable on the rise

We have been firmly convinced for some time that reusable and returnable systems will gain in importance. In Germany, such a deposit system has already been relatively successfully established for many years and is being extended bit by bit to more and more beverage packaging.

The trend toward reusable or deposit packaging will become increasingly established. We will see significantly more of this. Successful implementations such as in Slovakia underpin this. And the legal requirements of the EU are doing the rest. The recently presented proposal for the new European Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation, for example, places a special focus on reusable systems – and sets increasing quotas not only for beverage packaging.


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McDonald’s and Burger King introduce reusable packaging.

Image source: HAVI Logistics GmbH

McDonald’s and Burger King introduce reusable packaging.

Thomas Reiner | 09.03.2023

McDonald’s Germany has teamed up with logistics and supply chain company HAVI to develop a nationwide reusable packaging solution for its approximately 1,450 national restaurants. The reusable packaging is available for a deposit amount directly in the restaurant and can be returned in all German McDonald’s restaurants. Competitor Burger King has also launched a reusable system and has partnered with Recup to do so. We see: The regulations on the subject of reusables are having an effect – which is not always painless and not always successful. There are challenges, especially in the area of reverse logistics and consumer convenience.



In Germany, customers have been able to choose between disposable and deposit-refillable packaging for beverages and ice cream cups in all McDonald’s restaurants since the beginning of 2023. Drinks, milkshakes and ice cream have also been available in returnable deposit cups in Germany’s 750 Burger King stores since January 1.

In both cases, the deposit for the reusable packaging is added to the selling price of the food and refunded after it is returned.



The driving force behind the development is national legislation. In Germany, certain reusable obligations have applied in the catering trade and for take-away since January 1, 2023. For example, sales outlets would have to offer reusable packaging for their meals to go but above a certain minimum size.



  • At McDonald’s, the logistics and supply chain company HAVI manages the entire process from cup development to transport and return.
  • The returned cups are cleaned directly in the restaurants or by the recycling and service company Remondis and then returned to the system.
  • The cups can be returned at all McDonald’s restaurants in Germany.


Burger King

  • By choosing Recup, Burger King has opted for Germany’s currently largest reusable system for the catering industry.
  • From March to November 2022, Burger King had already tested the use of reusable beverage cups as part of a pilot project in selected restaurants in the Cologne area.
  • Burger King charges a deposit of one euro each for cups and lids. A beverage with a lid therefore incurs a total deposit of two euros.
  • For hygienic and resource-saving dishwashing directly in the restaurant, Burger King has been equipping its kitchens with dishwashers since the middle of the year.
  • The return and deposit refund is not only possible in every Burger King restaurant, but can also be made at one of the more than 16,500 Recup partners in Germany.


Pain Points

The obligation to offer reusable packaging in the catering and to-go sectors, which has been installed by German legislators since January 1, 2023, poses major challenges for the players.

This applies in particular to the area of reverse logistics – from reliable cleaning or disinfection to organization and management in the transport area. This is difficult to represent economically without appropriate partners.

Challenges also arise in the area of consumer convenience. This is because the various system and/or logistics partners each rely on their own systems. While this serves to promote customer loyalty and is to a certain extent “natural” in a system that thrives on competition. On the other hand, it is not practical in the long term because it makes things complex and complicated for consumers. An overarching, uniform return system would be much better in this respect – and would also contribute more to the underlying sustainability goals through increased acceptance and use.



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