Tag: reusables

9 Ways to Reduce Your Packaging Use

9 Ways to Reduce Your Daily Packaging Use

These days it’s common knowledge that excess packaging is a bad thing. And you probably don’t need us to give you a list of reasons why. So instead, we’ve made this list of practical things you can do to minimise your daily packaging consumption. You don’t have to do all of them, honestly, doing even one or two will have a positive impact. We know from experience; even the smallest changes by many of us, can really add up to make a huge difference.

1. Bring Your Own (Non-Plastic) Bag

This might be one of the easiest things you can do to significantly cut down your packaging use.

Grab a tote bag, a net bag, a cotton bag, pretty much any reusable bag not made from plastic, and bring it with you whenever you go to the shops. Every time you do this, you’ll avoid needlessly consuming another bag.

Grey tote bag containing apples on white carpet.

2. Keep Your Fruit and Veg Loose (Or in Your Own Bag)

Buying fruit and veg in the supermarket?

Always best to go for the loose option instead of the pre-packaged option. The pre-packed carrots in the plastic bag are usually the same price by weight as the loose ones, and this is the case for most of the other pre-packed items too. 

Most fruit and veg have their own natural protective layer anyway, and you’ll be washing them before eating right? So just leave them loose, or bring your own bags to put them in if you prefer.

An assortment of fruit and veg on white surface.

3. Buy Larger Units Instead of Multiple Small Ones

For anything that won’t expire in the near future, buy the largest option available. Multiple smaller units usually always involve more packaging than a single larger unit.*

Supermarket shelves stocked with different sized soft drinks.

4. Use Reusables

Grabbing a coffee on the go, or in need of a bottle of water to re-hydrate? If you bring a reusable along with you, you can fill it up without the need for packaging.

Our reusable coffee cups and reusable water bottles go a step further when it comes to reducing packaging, as we make them out of discarded single-use coffee cups and plastic bottles.

And no need to stop there! If you’re picking up food at the deli counter, why not bring your own tubs and enjoy a packaging-free meal? You could also use reusable beeswax sandwich wraps if you’re grabbing (or making) a sandwich.

And when it comes to cutlery, your cutlery drawer at home has all the packaging-free answers. Pop a knife and fork in your bag every time you go out, and you’ll never have to use single-use cutlery again. 

Circular&Co. reusable water bottle range arranged on wooden shelf.

5. Reconsider ‘Best Before’ Dates

When a food item passes its best before date, it might have moved past its ‘optimal condition’, but it’s still perfectly safe to eat. So don’t throw it out!

Less food thrown out, means less food bought, means less packaging used.

(If something’s past its ‘use by’ date, don’t eat it, as it may not be safe. There’s a big difference between ‘best before’ and ‘use by’.)

Lady in supermarket reading label on chocolate muffin packaging.

6. Actually Empty Containers Fully

There’s often a little bit of toothpaste left in the tube when we throw it out, or a little ketchup left in the bottle. So roll the tube from the bottom, take the top off the ketchup bottle and get scraping. Do whatever you can to use the full contents of every item you buy.

It all adds up. Over time you’ll end up buying less, which means less packaging used.

Blue toothpaste tube with some white toothpaste coming out of top.

7. Cook With Local Produce Instead of Ready-Made Meals

Ready-made meals are usually heavy on the packaging, local/fresh produce, not so much. So whenever possible, cook with local produce.

Not only will this help you cut down on your packaging consumption, it will benefit you and your community in other ways too. 

Local produce is usually always better for your health, because it’s fresher, and therefore is likely to contain more nutrients. And buying local is also better for your community’s health because it helps to support your local economy.

When it comes to your carbon footprint, local produce doesn’t have to travel as far, so there are carbon-related benefits here as well.

Cashier handing customer an apple at a farmer's market.

8. Use Your Local Refill Shop

Of course, by far one of the most effective ways to significantly reduce your packaging consumption is to shop at your local refill/zero-waste store.

These stores offer a packaging-free solution for goods like pasta, cereals, cleaning products, cosmetics and many others. Just bring your own reusable container with you, and get what you need without all the needless packaging.

Glass jars filled with seeds on table in a refill shop.

9. Buy Less Stuff, Buy Circular

By taking any of the actions mentioned above, we can all quite easily reduce the amount of packaging we go through in day-to-day life.

But the truth is, if you don’t buy the thing in the first place, you won’t have to worry about the packaging at all.

So another great way to minimise your packaging use is; only buy what you really need.

And if you do really need something, searching for circular alternatives like our reusable water bottle is never a bad idea.

Revolut Visa card sitting on grey laptop keyboard.

*Regarding larger product units containing less packaging than multiple smaller units, an example of this is given here:

“Compare, say, two cylindrical containers, one that holds 32 ounces (a quart) and another holding eight ounces (a cup) that have the same shape, i.e., the same ratio of diameter to height. To match the volume of the quart-size container, you’ll need four of the smaller, cup-capacity ones, and they’ll require about 60 per cent more plastic to hold as much as the one big container. This is because there is not a constant ratio of surface area to volume.”

This article was created by Adam Millett of Word Chameleon, in collaboration with Circular&Co.

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Could ‘Returnables’ Be the Future of Coffee?

Be the Future
of Coffee?

Changing Coffee in a Changing World

The world is falling out of love with single-use plastic.

In fact, according to a global survey published just last month, three-quarters of people across 28 countries agree that single-use plastic should be banned as soon as possible.

And in the EU, England, and beyond, bans on some single-use plastic items have already been implemented.

So what does all this mean when it comes to grabbing your morning coffee? (Or afternoon coffee, or maybe even evening coffee; we know how much you love the stuff!)

Pile of rubbish on the ground up against a tree, mainly consisting of disposable coffee cups.

Maybe changing the way we drink coffee on the go could be a good thing? Photo by Jasmin Sessler on Unsplash.

It could be that soon, the days of grabbing a coffee on the go in a disposable cup will be over.

There is no legislation in place yet in the EU or the UK for specifically banning disposable coffee cups, but there is in some places.

And we think there’s a very good chance this idea might just catch on.

(If you read on, you will find that this certainly doesn’t need to be a bad thing. The future of coffee is upon us!)

Are Disposable Coffee Cups Already on Their Way Out?

According to the EU’s single-use plastics directive, by 2030, all plastic packaging placed on the Union market must be ‘reusable or easily recycled’.

And because the majority of disposable coffee cups are lined with plastic and are currently difficult to recycle, this means the coffee cup — in the EU at least — will require a redesign/rethink in the coming years. Beyond the EU, it’s happening too.

In both Western Australia and the Netherlands it’s already been decided that disposable plastic coffee cups will be banned by 2023.

Similar bans on disposable coffee cups are also strongly being considered in the UK and New Zealand. And in San Francisco in the US, many of the cafes themselves have decided enough is enough when it comes to the disposable cup, requiring customers to use reusables and returnables instead.

In San Francisco there are many examples of coffee shops taking the initiative and banning disposable cups outright. These brands and cafes have decided to make their own law!

Nip over to Vancouver in Canada, or Berkeley in California right now, and you won’t find that disposable cups have been outright banned, but you will have to pay a 25 cent added charge for every disposable cup you use. (They want people to stop using them!)

So could it be that the coffee bean-shaped dominoes are already starting to fall? And that disposable coffee cups are destined to soon become a thing of the past?

It definitely does look like a real possibility. But, particularly in the EU and the UK, is it going to become the law any time soon?

What is the Legislation on this exactly?

In the EU

The EU has actually already banned some beverage containers.

As part of the single-use plastics directive, in July 2021, 10 single-use plastic items were banned across the EU. This ban included beverage containers made from expanded polystyrene, and all products made of ‘oxo-degradable’ plastic.

But because the majority of disposable coffee cups are now made from paper with a polyethylene lining (not polystyrene), they were not included in this ban. (Plastic is a whole lot more complicated than you’d think isn’t it?)

So does the EU have any plans to outright ban disposable plastic coffee cups in the near future?

Quite simply, the answer to that is no, not as yet.

The ‘European Strategy for Plastics’ was adopted in 2018 to ensure that all new plastic packaging in the EU is ‘reusable or easily recycled’ by 2030, but there is nothing specific in there about how member states must achieve this.

So some member states might decide that a ban is the best option, while others are free to look for alternative solutions.

In the UK

It seems the UK government is strongly considering taking action on disposable coffee cups, but the exact action to be taken is yet undecided. So an absolute ban is, for now, only one possibility.

The UK’s ‘25-Year Environment Plan’ seeks to ‘eliminate all avoidable plastic waste’ by the end of 2042.’ (We can probably all agree that waste from disposable coffee cups is definitely avoidable!) (And that 2042 is maybe not the most ambitious target).

Back in the present though, the UK government has recently launched a ‘call for evidence’ to help them address sources of plastic pollution. This call only closed last month, and was aimed at ‘gathering further evidence’ on problematic plastic items such as wet wipes, tobacco filters, sachets, and disposable coffee cups.

The results of this call for evidence will ‘help inform future policy making’.

So it seems the UK government is strongly considering taking action on disposable coffee cups, but the exact action to be taken is yet undecided. So an absolute ban is, for now, only one possibility.

(But by 2042, at least, disposable coffee cups in the UK should no longer end up as waste!)

Something’s Gotta Give

Overhead view of three white coffee cups lined up side-by-side on white surface.

Change is important. And one thing’s for sure, things will need to change in the coffee world if plastic waste reduction targets are to be met. Photo by Sina Asgari on Unsplash.

Throughout the EU and the UK, there is no guarantee that we will see outright bans on disposable coffee cups any time soon. But if either’s eventual target of eliminating plastic waste is to be reached, something will certainly have to change.

In the UK alone we manage to get through 2.5 billion disposable cups every year, most of which aren’t recycled! So the current reality simply doesn’t match up with the new plastic waste-free world both the EU and the UK are planning for.

So what are all the possible solutions here? What will drinking coffee look like in this new and wasteless world?

What Might Drinking Coffee Look Like in This New World?

If the ultimate goal is for all plastic packaging to eventually be reusable or easily recycled, eliminating all unnecessary waste, what are the possible solutions when it comes to coffee cups?

Well the way we see it, really there are three possible options. (And one clear winner if you ask us!)

Potential Solutions

1. Switch from Disposable Plastic Cups to Compostable/Biodegradable Alternatives:

Green compost bin, red waste bin, and yellow recycling bin lined up side-by-side.

Most compostables and biodegradables are not as sustainable as you think. Most of the time, you can’t just throw them in the compost bin at home!

If disposable plastic coffee cups are causing so much pollution, why not just switch to compostable or biodegradable disposables? That way the switch would be seamless. We could all carry on getting our coffee in the same way, only it would be in a cup that naturally dissolves back into the earth when we discard it. Right!? No waste involved!?

Well, unfortunately that is rarely the case when it comes to these ‘sustainable’ disposables.

Issues With Compostable/Biodegradable Disposables:
  • To begin with, even with compostable and biodegradable disposables, resources are required every time one of these items is produced. Each item must be manufactured and transported — using up energy and creating emissions — only for the item to be used once. These plastic-free disposables still perpetuate throwaway culture, and really are far from ‘sustainable.’
  • Many compostable or biodegradable items only actually break down under very specific conditions. Simply chucking them on your compost heap at home or into the bushes is not going to do the trick here! Industrial composting facilities are often required for these items, and these facilities are not always widely available. Meaning many are likely to end up in a landfill.
  • For most of these items, if they do end up in a landfill, they will release methane as they break down. And methane is not a good thing to be releasing if we want to mitigate climate change!
  • Compostable and biodegradable plastics can also interfere with the recycling process for regular plastics if they get mixed in with them. (Which happens more than you might think!)

Because of all this, Zero Waste Europe has advised that if market restrictions are imposed on items like disposable coffee cups; ‘there must be no exceptions for bio-based or compostable products, and the shift should focus on promoting reusable alternatives rather than to another single-use material.’

Greenpeace has also championed ‘reusable and refillable’ systems as the best solution to the plastic crisis.

So maybe it’s time we move on to the next possible solution!

2. Make Disposable Plastic Coffee Cups Easy to Recycle:

Two volunteers sorting glass, paper, and plastic items into clear boxes for recycling.

Would it be feasible to redesign existing recycling systems to cater for disposable coffee cups? Photo by cottonbro.

As we’ve already seen, most disposable coffee cups today are made from paper, and lined with polyethylene. This is precisely what makes them so difficult to recycle.

To recycle the cups, the lining must first be separated from the cup, and this process is complex and expensive. This means recycling them just isn’t currently feasible, so the majority of the cups end up in a landfill somewhere.

One way to get around this could be to re-design recycling infrastructure to make recycling the cups easier. Or possibly provide financial incentives for recyclers to recycle the cups. This way we could avoid unnecessary plastic waste by ensuring all the cups get recycled?

Now we don’t claim to be experts on this, but we would imagine both of these solutions would be very expensive, very time consuming, or both! And it’s probably unlikely that anyone’s going to completely re-design recycling infrastructure just for the sake of coffee cups. And there’s also no guarantee that people would actually recycle the cups even if they were easy to recycle!

If we’re totally honest, we actually make reusables from discarded coffee cups, and we’d still prefer if there were no discarded cups for us to use! We’d prefer if there were no single-use coffee cups around at all. We would simply make our reusables from the next waste stream that needs diverting from landfill or incineration instead.

So this option feels like a bit of a no-go to us. (And remember the good folks at Greenpeace and Zero Waste Europe did say it’s time to move on from disposables!)

If we’re totally honest, we actually make reusables from discarded coffee cups, and we’d still prefer if there were no discarded cups for us to use!

Hmmmm. Maybe there’s a much better solution in here somewhere???

3. Make Returnables and Deposit Return Schemes the Norm:

Coffee beans arranged in a love heart shape on a light brown table.

Sharing is caring, and caring is love. How about we embrace returnables ASAP and start spreading around some love? Between people, and planet! Photo by Merve Sehirli Nasir on Unsplash.

How about, we follow the advice of Greenpeace and Zero Waste Europe, and ditch disposables altogether in favour of reusables? (Even if disposables aren’t banned by law yet, it doesn’t mean we can’t ban them ourselves!)

By using a reusable cup every time we grab a coffee, it would eliminate all that unnecessary waste. It would also fall in line with the long-term plans of both the UK and the EU.

Sounds like the perfect solution, but there is one major issue; convenience.

Bringing your own reusable cup with you every time you fancy grabbing a coffee just doesn’t seem feasible. Going for coffee can often be such a spontaneous thing, so unless you have your reusable cup literally glued to yourself, you’re just not always going to have it with you.

That’s where ‘deposit return schemes’ and ‘returnables’ come in.

Deposit Return Schemes

A deposit return scheme — in the context of a coffee shop — is a system where you pay a small deposit for a returnable (and reusable) cup. You can then enjoy your tasty beverage, and return the cup when you’re done with it. There are many different ways that this might work!

Here’s a few real-world examples to give you an idea:

  • At Circular&Co. we have been helping McDonald’s run trials recently in the UK where customers pay £1 for a returnable cup. Customers can then bring the cup back to any McDonald’s participating in the trial to receive their deposit back.
  • We’ve also developed reusables for Burger King and Tim Horton’s who are running similar trials in the US, Canada, USA and Japan.
  • In Freiburg in Germany you can pay a deposit for your cup in on cafe and then return it to nearly any other cafe in town. As multiple independent cafes are participating in the same deposit return scheme!
  • Returnable cups for free!: We are even working with companies looking to offer returnable cups for free! All you have to do as a consumer is place the cups in a bin once you’re done with them. Not even a recycling bin, just a regular old bin! See because we’ve placed an RFID chip inside these cups, the local waste contractor can easily scan and separate them. They can then just place them back into the return scheme system to be used again. (After sanitizing them of course!)

It’s possible for the consumer to pick up their coffee on the go as normal in a returnable cup. Then dispose of that cup in a regular bin, without actually creating any plastic waste!

And that’s the beauty of blending RFID technology with returnable cups. This allows the whole deposit return scheme experience to be digitised. The cups can easily be tracked across the supply chain and returned with minimal effort from the consumer. Meaning it’s possible for the consumer to pick up their coffee on the go as normal in a returnable cup. Then dispose of that cup in a regular bin, without actually creating any plastic waste! Now surely that’s about as convenient as it can get, for people, and planet.

This tech also allows consumers to be rewarded for their actions. The cup can be tracked, and linked to your profile on an app. So you can be rewarded for helping to minimise plastic waste. (One free cup of coffee for every ten returnable cups successfully returned maybe!)

Now of course bringing your own reusable cup is always an option too, and whenever you can, you should!

But for the times when you can’t, deposit return schemes and RFID technology can make it possible for you to still use a reusable cup, with minimal effort.

And at Circular&Co, we’ve spent 12 months designing, testing and developing the perfect returnable cup for these changing times we live in.

The Circular Returnable Cup

Man in cafe gripping the Circular Returnable Cup which is rested on counter top.

At Circular&Co. we make all sorts of award-winning reusable coffee cups & reusable water bottles that all the good folks out there can buy, and own. But we’ve found that 94% of consumers are still not actively engaging with reusables. It seems to us that this ‘direct ownership’ model for reusables is only having a limited impact.

And we want to have a big impact!

So we’ve decided to do something different. We’ve designed what we feel is the perfect returnable cup. A cup that perfectly complements the deposit return schemes and RFID technology that we feel is the way forward for hot drinks on the go.

We’ve called it the Circular Returnable Cup, and here’s why it’s perfect.

The Perfect Cup

As sustainable as possible: The Circular Returnable Cup is made from 100% recycled content, is 100% recyclable, and is designed to last.

Cost-effective: Our returnable cup can be produced at low cost, but is very durable. It’s designed to last 500+ cycles, and has a premium look and feel which should reduce the chance of littering.

Man pouring milk into the Circular Returnable Cup.

Produced at scale: The cup can be reliably produced at scale with its simple, controllable design.

Stackable: We’ve designed this cup specifically for commercial deposit return schemes. So it is lightweight and stackable to reduce storage costs. We’ve also designed in drainage to prevent water pooling during wash/dry cycles.

Advanced Technology: Our cup is both QR and/or RFID enabled, which makes tracking and identifying each cup as easy as possible.

Patented safety: The patent-pending heat-diffusing ribs on the cup protect the user from the hot surface. Meaning there’s no need for the extra wasteful sleeve! The ribs are also easily cleaned within a commercial wash and dry set-up.

Looks the Part: Importantly, we’ve designed the Circular Returnable Cup to really appeal aesthetically. We feel this is essential for driving engagement and breaking down barriers. These cups have gotta look ‘cool’ haven’t they! (Is it cool to say cool anymore?)

Man in cafe holding the Circular Returnable Cup up to his mouth.

As well as designing the perfect cup for the future of the coffee world, we also collaborate with partners to help them make it all work.

Partner Collaboration

We collaborate with our partners to offer a workable, scalable DRS solution. This involves working with a range of logistics and software partners to deliver the entire end-to-end ‘returnable’ process.

What good is designing the perfect cup if the rest of the solution doesn’t fall into place?

That’s why we collaborate with our partners to offer a workable, scalable DRS solution. This involves working with a range of logistics and software partners to deliver the entire end-to-end ‘returnable’ process. From delivery of cups, fiscal deposit and reimbursement systems, RFID programming, cup collection, washing, and final re-delivery.

We feel, when reusable, returnable solutions like this are available, there’s no need to wait for the legislation. Even if disposable cups aren’t technically banned by law, it doesn’t mean we have to keep using them!

Surely deposit return schemes and returnables are the way forward, so why not exclusively adopt them today!?

Why We Think Industry Should Act Today

So you’re a big coffee chain — or a beautiful independent cafe, or anywhere that sells hot beverages for that matter! — and the law doesn’t currently require you to ditch disposable coffee cups. What do you do?

Well, we think you should make your own law. Change is coming and it looks like it’s gonna be reusable, returnable change. So be done with disposables now and be one of the first to embrace the returnable revolution! Make the future your present! Become one of the game-changers.

Here’s why we think you should:

Why Brands Who Adopt Returnables Today Will Be at an Advantage

Cost Savings

Certainly if you’re using our Circular cup, you will get 500+ cycles from one single cup. We assure you this will save you money compared to purchasing 500+ disposable cups.

Brand Value

If you become one of the first brands to fully commit to this truly sustainable system, it’s bound to add value to your brand in the long term. Customers will take notice and see you as a brand that is truly committed to innovation and sustainability. Being a first-mover will give you a chance to make some serious marketing waves!

Streamline Processes Early

With all these plans the EU, the UK, and other countries are making, it really does seem like a complete switch to reusables and returnables is inevitable. It’s already happening in some places, and in the coming years it will likely become the norm. If you switch solely to returnables now, it will give you a chance to streamline your processes. So by the time everyone is forced to do it, you’ll be the most efficient place around!

Be One of the Good Guys

Basically, if you make the switch to returnables now, people will notice that you’re doing the right thing. Not because you have to, but because you want to. And there’s a big difference between those two.

But If Industry Won’t Do It, Customers Can Turbo-Charge the Transition!

Of course we think it’s a brilliant idea for industry to ditch disposable cups ASAP and fully embrace returnables instead. But many brands are probably unlikely to do that until they absolutely have to.

But there is one way we can convince them to make the change today. If we as consumers start demanding a complete switch to returnables right away, you can be sure it’s going to happen.

And we’ve got the proof!

Customer Choice Makes the Difference, and We’ve Got the Proof!

Some of the global brands we have worked with have explicitly stated that they do not yet offer these solutions because customers have not yet asked for them.

At Circular&Co. we consult with many big brands about circular design. We offer them advice, and even help them run pilot schemes where they test out circular solutions, just like these returnable coffee cups.

And the truth is, some of the global brands we have worked with have explicitly stated that they do not yet offer these solutions because customers have not yet asked for them.

So the reality is clear. If the coffee drinkers of the world start demanding a switch to returnables and deposit return schemes today, the change will happen.

So, what’s stopping us? (Yes we are coffee drinkers too!)

It’s All About Perception

Lady in yellow dress with floral pattern eating steak and vegetables in a restaurant.

There are some who might be concerned about switching to returnables for hygiene reasons. But would have no problem eating in a restaurant, with cutlery somebody else has recently had in their mouth! (Maybe it really is all about perception?) Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash.

Consumer uptake on reusables is so far only about 6%. So it seems something radical has to happen in order to change this.

From the technology side, this radical change is already happening. Deposit return schemes coupled with RFID and QR technology will soon make super-convenient returnable cups possible. Returnables that are just as convenient as disposables.

To help this solution really become widespread, it’s essential that we make another radical change alongside it. A radical change in our mindset!

It’s essential that if we see returnables become an option in our favourite coffee place, that we choose that option. That we overcome whatever reservation it is that’s stopping us from embracing this new system. Whether that be concerns about hygiene, convenience, whatever it is!

Some people might consider drinking from a coffee cup someone else has already used to be unhygienic. But then without a second thought they’ll head out to a bar and drink from a very questionably washed pint glass! Or eat in a restaurant with cutlery that someone else had in their actual mouth just an hour before!

Maybe some folks are concerned about convenience. But as the technology takes hold, and systems become more streamlined, this really shouldn’t be much of an issue.

We know for a fact that we as consumers have the power to make the big brands act on this. All we have to do is find the mindset to embrace this returnable revolution, and the big brands will embrace it too.

We have the power to leave the disposable coffee cup in the past for good. Regardless of what the lawmakers decide.

This article was created by Adam Millett of Word Chameleon, in collaboration with Circular&Co.

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Is ‘Single-Life’ the Next Big Issue As We Try to Eradicate Single-Use?

Is ‘Single-Life’ the Next Big Issue as ‘Single-use’?

‘Single-Use’ Products Are Painfully Wasteful, But We Need to Watch Out for ‘Single-Life’ Products Too.

Single-use products are painfully wasteful aren’t they?

All those precious resources extracted, energy wasted, and emissions created to produce these products and ship them around the world. Just so we can use them for a few fleeting moments. Maximum environmental damage in exchange for minimal use; painful!

But the thing is, the number of times we use a product is not the only problem. Because no matter how many times we use any product, eventually that product will have served its purpose. And what happens then?

Black rubbish skip overflowing with rubbish bags in front of red brick building.

If any product, even a reusable product, ultimately ends up in the trash, that’s still a problem, isn’t it? Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash.

That’s where, in a lot of cases, we run into another problem; products we at Circular&Co. have started referring to as ‘single-life’ products. And in our minds, the environmental threat posed by these single-life products is just as significant as the single-use issue!

(We could of course just use the term ‘disposable’ instead of single-life, but disposable has somehow become pretty much synonymous with single-use products only — even though many reusable products are also essentially disposable as they can’t be recycled — so we feel the term single-life is needed to cover all disposable products).

But what in the heck are we actually talking about when we say ‘single-life products’?

What Do We Mean by Single-Life Products?

You know those wireless earbuds you bought a couple of years back that barely hold a charge anymore? Or that reusable stainless steel flask with the fancy painted graphic that’s seen better days? Or even that wine glass you cracked last night after a questionable number of beverages?

All these things should be pretty easy to recycle shouldn’t they? Or at least with the earbuds, getting them repaired or replacing the battery shouldn’t be much of an issue? Well…

We must remember that not all reusable products are sustainable! Not if they’re designed to be single-life! Even if you use your reusable coffee flask 100,000 times, if you can’t recycle it, it will still end up as waste eventually!

SPOILER ALERT HERE! (In more ways than one): For multiple reasons which we’ll explore in the next section, none of these products are easily repaired or recycled. Once you’re done with them, they will all likely end up as waste, adding to a global waste crisis that gets worse and worse every day. This is what we mean when we talk about ‘single-life’ products, and sadly, they are much more common than you’d think.

We would define a single-life product as any product that cannot practically be repaired and/or recycled. Or in other words, any product that is most likely to end up as waste once it has served its original purpose. This of course applies to both reusable and single-use products.

(We must remember that not all reusable products are sustainable! Not if they’re designed to be single-life! Even if you use your reusable coffee flask 100,000 times, if you can’t recycle it, it will still end up as waste eventually!)

Yellow JCB digger driving up a large hill in a landfill.

Any product that ultimately ends up adding to the worldwide waste crisis once we’re done with it is a single-life product. Photo by Tom Fisk from Pexels.

Clearly then, single-life products, whether single-use or reusable, are a big part of the waste problem. But before we can start thinking about solutions, it’s probably best to consider some examples of single-life products, right? 

Maybe we can find out what’s making them so difficult to repair and recycle.

Examples of Single-Life Products

Any product that cannot be easily repaired or recycled is a single-life product.

This includes products that can technically be recycled, but are not likely to be recycled because the process is too inconvenient, complex, or expensive. (Just about any product can be recycled if you’ve got the time, technology, and money to do so). It also includes products that can be repaired, but to repair them is so expensive that it’s cheaper to just buy a new one.

Unfortunately, there are way too many products that fall into this category:

Disposable Coffee Cups

Brown and white single-life disposable coffee cup being held up against grey wall.

They may look perfectly innocent, but many single-use coffee cups are ultimately single-life products. Photo by Angela Roma from Pexels.

Although these may seem quite innocent and easy to recycle, sometimes that might not be the case. Many disposable coffee cups are made from both paper and plastic, which complicates the recycling process. Specialist facilities are usually required to recycle them, and unfortunately, there isn’t always one of these facilities close by. Meaning many of these cups have to be considered single-life products.

Of course you could always use a reusable cup instead, but be careful which one you choose!

Reusable Cups and Flasks Made From Coated Stainless Steel

Very often, companies and industries with the best of intentions believe that they’re developing a green, recyclable solution, but they might not have the links with recycling firms to understand the ins and outs of ‘real-world’ recycling.

We say real-world recycling because although many products are technically recyclable in theory, if they’re not cost-effective to recycle, the likelihood is they won’t actually end up being recycled in reality.

This can often be the case for coated stainless steel cups and flasks. For this steel to be recycled, the powder coating/paint must first be removed. Removing the coating is usually quite tricky, and can make the recycling process unprofitable for recyclers. So many of these cups and flasks are never actually recycled.

What is basically nothing more than a misunderstanding between manufacturers and recyclers often ends up turning these beautifully designed, reusable, potentially sustainable products into single-life ones that are hardly green.

Beware of Single-Life Products Made From Recycled Content

Remember, not all reusables are sustainable, and that’s also the case when dealing with products made from recycled content.

Making products from recycled materials is a great idea when it’s done right. But if you can’t recycle the product again once you’re finished with it, it still ends up as waste. Just being made from waste doesn’t make it sustainable! Really it needs to not become waste too.

So it’s best to make sure that any product you buy that’s made from recycled content, isn’t a single-life product.

Remember, not all reusables are sustainable, and that’s also the case when dealing with products made from recycled content.

Pretty Much All Ceramics

White ceramic coffee mug on black slate counter top viewed from above.

Be careful with that coffee mug of yours because unfortunately, it is far from circular! More than likely, like most ceramics, it is a single-life product. Photo by Matt Hoffman on Unsplash.

This will probably come as a surprise to many, but most ceramics are pretty much destined to end up in the landfill. This is because, unfortunately, most recycling centres just don’t have the technical capability to recycle them.

There’s also not much profit to be found in ceramics recycling, so you should definitely hold on to that favourite tea mug of yours as long as you can (and even your least favourite!). As that’s a single-life product you’re dealing with.

Drinking Glasses (And Glass Cookware)

Drinking glasses, pyrex dishes, pretty much all glass cookware. These are all single-life products.

These items don’t get recycled because they’re treated with chemicals to help them withstand high temperatures. This gives them a higher melting point, and so they can’t be recycled along with other glass items. And it’s just not commercially viable to recycle them separately.

And good luck repairing them if they do happen to break!

Modern Electronics

Person using tools to fix illuminated blue circuit board on white surface.

As electronics become more advanced, repairing and recycling them seems to get more and more difficult. But does it have to be this way? Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng on Unsplash.

Electronic waste is now the world’s fastest-growing domestic waste stream. Less than 20% of this waste is actually collected and recycled worldwide. And repairing electronic devices is also becoming more difficult and expensive than it has been in the past.

One thing contributing to this low recycling rate and lack of ‘repairability’ is actually the design of some electronics.

As our devices get smaller, more advanced, or often both, their designs inevitably become more complex. This usually requires more and smaller components, different types of screws, and in some cases, parts being glued together. Meaning that increasingly, it just isn’t cost-effective to repair or recycle these items, making many of them single-life.

(Not all of these devices need to be designed as single-life products though. We’ve got some wonderful examples proving just that in the next section!).

Other Examples of Single-Life Products

Certain types of furniture, mattresses, carpets, lightbulbs, duvets and pillows, plastic toothbrushes, tampons and disposable razors, and clothes containing more than one fabric, are just some other examples of products that for one reason or another, can often be difficult or expensive to repair or recycle. Not every single product that falls into these categories is a single-life product, but unfortunately, many currently are.

And many of the companies producing single-life products probably don’t realise that’s what they’re doing! They’re creating products that are technically repairable/recyclable, but they might not actually realise how unlikely it is that their products will actually be repaired or recycled.

So how do we get to a point where all (or at least most) products are being repaired and recycled? How do we make this single-life issue a thing of the past?

What is the Solution to the Single-Life Issue?

Like most things in this mad, modern world of ours, the issue of single-life products is a complex one. A combination of solutions will be needed if we want to solve it!

Here’s our take on what needs to happen.

Make Circular Design the Norm

The truth is, most of the factors that make any product difficult to repair or recycle can be avoided by getting the design right. This is where circular design can make a huge difference.

Circular design is all about making resources last, and minimising waste. We can address a whole lot of the issues involved with single-life products by re-designing them using circular principles like:

  • Designing products to last as long as possible. (This includes making them easy to maintain, dismantle, and repair).
  • Design for recycling, simple as that! (How easy a product is to recycle needs to become just as important as anything else during the design process. This might include choosing materials that can easily be recycled, or designing products so components are easily separated. If we can’t make a product that’s easy to recycle, maybe we shouldn’t make that product?)
  • Basically, we need to start designing all our products with sound end-of-life management as a critical design feature. If we do this, then very few products should ever have to say YOLO ever again!

The truth is, most of the factors that make any product difficult to repair or recycle can be avoided by getting the design right. This is where circular design can make a huge difference.

Extended Producer Responsibility

How do we get companies to design their products with end-of-life in mind?

Well one way could be to make them more responsible for the eventual disposal of those products.

This is called ‘extended producer responsibility’, and might involve things like requiring companies to cover the waste disposal costs for products they produce. (If they design their products right, these costs never have to be very much at all!)

Policy like this is already on its way to becoming law in the UK for packaging. Maybe soon this might be the case for products too, which would surely make single-life product design much less prevalent.

Make Repairing Easier!

Man using tools to repair smartphone on blue/green table.

The easier products are to repair, the longer they last. And so, the less waste they create! Photo by Kilian Seiler on Unsplash.

Repairing, if possible, is always better than recycling. Making product repair as accessible as we possibly can is one of the more obvious solutions to the single-life issue. Remember it’s always been reduce and reuse first hasn’t it!? But the problem is, particularly with electronics, repairing has been getting less and less possible.  Thankfully though, in places, this seems to slowly be changing.

In the UK, a ‘right to repair’ law was introduced just this summer which requires manufacturers of some electrical products to make spare parts available to consumers and third-party repair services. And France actually introduced a world-first ‘repairability index’ policy this year which forces producers of certain e-products to tell consumers how repairable their products are.

Neither of these new laws are perfect yet, and they don’t cover all electronics, but they’re definitely a welcome start. We still feel a lot more needs to be done with the initial design of the products though.

(Stick those repairability scores on every product out there and we reckon those designs will soon get much more planet-friendly!)

(Maybe there should be recyclability scores too???)

Make Recycling Easier!

If all products are designed with recycling in mind, we should be able to use our current recycling infrastructure to recycle most things. But there is probably also room to re-think and re-design some of our recycling systems to meet the products halfway. (We by no means claim to be experts in recycling, but there’s always some room for improvement isn’t there!?)

It could be that government incentives and investment might help to achieve this, or even collaboration between manufacturers and recyclers.

Or to make things even simpler, companies could always start offering product takeback programs. That way customers can just send used products back to them directly for recycling.

Surely nothing could be easier than that?


Product takeback programs require a little collaboration between manufacturers and their customers. Manufacturers make it possible for customers to send back old products free of charge to be recycled. Customers then actually take the time to send the products back. And hey presto! The products get turned into new products, and everyone’s a winner.

Now imagine if manufacturers, customers, recyclers, governments, designers and everyone involved worked together in this way. We could make single-life products a thing of the past in no time.

For Now, Watch What You Buy

People walking through shopping centre aisle under Christmas decorations.

If you do your research before buying any new product, it’s usually possible to avoid single-life products! Photo by Heidi Fin on Unsplash.

Until that happens though, as consumers, what we can start doing straight away is paying attention! Whenever we can, before buying anything, we can do a little research into the repairability and recyclability of that product. If it looks like a single-life product, then maybe there’s a better option somewhere else?

Maybe, there’s a circular option?

Examples of Circular (Multiple-Life) Products Available Today

We feel these all count as proof that if you get the design right, no product ever has to be single-life!

Probably the best way to make sure you’re not buying a single-life product is to choose a genuinely circular one instead.

Below are some of our favourite examples of circular products. We feel these all count as proof that if you get the design right, no product ever has to be single-life!


Fairphone front and back cover side by side.

The Fairphone is proof that even complex electronic products don’t have to be single-life. It’s all in the design!

Like many modern electronic devices, smartphones can be difficult to repair or recycle for multiple reasons. Problematic to disassemble, parts glued together, spare parts hard to come by, you name it. But it doesn’t have to be this way!

Amsterdam-based smartphone brand Fairphone is proof that even modern electronics can be designed for complete circularity. Fairphone is a real game-changer in the smartphone industry for a number of reasons:

– 5-Year Extended Manufacturer Warranty:

Fairphones are designed to last, and each phone comes with a massive 5-year warranty to actually encourage repair instead of replacement.

– Modular Design:

These smartphones are designed so that each component can be easily replaced or upgraded. If an individual part stops working, you can replace just that part without fuss, instead of replacing the whole phone!

– They Sell All the Spare Parts on Their Website:

Acquiring the spare parts will never be an issue, because you can actually buy pretty much every individual component these phones contain through their website.

– Disassemble and Repair Yourself:

Fairphones are designed to be easily disassembled using a standard screwdriver. None of the parts are glued together, making it possible for you to repair the phone yourself. (Fairphone received a 9.3/10 score in that French repairability index we mentioned earlier!)

– Upgradable Parts!:

Fairphone’s modular design also makes it possible to upgrade certain parts on old models. So having a phone with a better camera than your current one doesn’t have to mean buying a whole new phone.

– Electronic Waste Neutral:

For every Fairphone sold, Fairphone recycles or gives an old phone a second life. So every time they sell a new phone, they ensure that a whole phone’s worth of potential electronic waste is avoided.

– Take-back programme:

When it comes to recycling your old phone, Fairphone makes this as simple as possible by doing it for you. You can actually send Fairphone any old model of phone and they’ll either refurbish or recycle it! They even give you a Fairphone gift card with the value of your old phone in return.

Clearly, Fairphone is making products that are about as far away from single-life as you can get. And they’re managing to do this with complicated electronic devices.

If this isn’t proof that single-life products can be avoided through thoughtful, circular design, then nothing is.


But here’s a little more proof!

Gomi, based in Brighton UK, make handmade portable speakers from recycled plastic bags and repurposed e-bike batteries. And these speakers are destined to live many many lives.

If your Gomi speaker ever breaks, you can send it back to them and they’ll repair it for a reasonable fee. If it’s unfixable, they’ll give you money off your next order, and recycle the whole thing into new products.

(Gomi designs their speakers so that all materials and components can be reused in next-generation products. So nothing goes to waste. Further proof that with the right design, no product needs to be single-life).


Tooth is another UK-based brand using circular design to overcome a common single-life product-related issue. (Plastic toothbrushes are famously difficult to recycle because they’re usually made from multiple types of plastic).

They make toothbrushes from recycled aluminium with detachable, industrially-compostable heads.

The aluminium base of these toothbrushes lasts for decades — Tooth suggests it should be robust enough to last a lifetime — and is 100% recyclable, and easy to recycle, as it’s comprised of a single material.

So you can keep this base for life, recycle it if you ever need to, and just swap out the head for a new one every few months. Tooth is currently working on making heads that are home compostable, meaning they’re very close to creating a virtually zero-waste toothbrush.

By switching to Tooth, you should never have to buy a single-life plastic toothbrush again.

Let’s Not Let Single-Life Become the New Single-Use

Whether a product is single-use or not, if it can’t easily be repaired or recycled once you’re done with it, it will more than likely end up as waste.

This is the problem we face with single-life products, but as we have seen, it is a completely solvable problem.

Brands like Fairphone, Gomi, Tooth and many others are already proving that it doesn’t have to be this way. If everyone starts embracing circular design like them, we can say goodbye to single-life products for good.

This article was created by Adam Millett of Word Chameleon, in collaboration with Circular&Co.

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