Circular economy infrastructure : why we need track and trace for reusable packaging

Ellsworth-Krebs, Katherine and Rampen, Claire and Rogers, Emily and Dudley, Lauren and Wishart, Lucy (2022) Circular economy infrastructure : why we need track and trace for reusable packaging. Sustainable Production and Consumption, 29. pp. 249-258. ISSN 2352-5509 (

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Information and communication technologies are recognised to be sufficiently mature to support traceability for reusable packaging at large scale, however, issues of data management, data integration, trust and collaboration in this complex ecosystem remain under-explored. We suggest that Digital Passports and mandatory reporting could provide a way to audit and incentivise reuse of packaging, allowing governments to focus on prevention and framing packaging as an asset, rather than inevitably turning into waste after a short single-use cycle. Digital Passports can address business' concerns (or excuses) for not investing in reusable packaging from helping with determining affordability through measuring packaging lifespans; meeting health and safety standards through batch coding and evidencing cleaning checks; addressing reputational concerns through clear documentation on the environmental impact of reusable items; and making reusable packaging competitive through waste taxation that actually measures reuse and not weight. We explore Digital Passports, not simply as a technical intervention but as boundary objects that are useful in supporting collaboration, identifying points of miscommunication between key actors along the value change, from misconceptions of health and safety regulations to a distinction between retailers and manufacturing brands appetite for investing in reuse. Thus, we provide a solid foundation for future research on Digital Passports, the digital circular economy and reusable packaging to build.