The growing reuse of packaging calls for reference frameworks

By Josquin Peyceré
The 28/03/2022

It is indisputable that the reuse of containers (bottles and jars) is gaining ground,

as it seems so obvious that reusing packaging several times will save materials and energy. Those who have looked closer at the question of reuse have found that it is far from being a panacea for all our environmental problems and can even be cause for concern from a food-safety perspective. It is not Cetie's role to adopt a position regarding the comparative advantages of reuse as opposed to single-use ("one-way" packaging), and even less to advocate one solution rather than another. However, from the moment reuse becomes a growing trend, it is important to set a framework of rules in order to harmonise good practices and enhance the safety of this system.
Strictly speaking, the reuse of packaging implies that after a complete rotation it is reused for its initial purpose, via a system for reuse. This meaning is specified in the standard EN 13429, which is dedicated to the topic and itself helps to meet the essential requirements of the European Directive "Packaging and packaging waste" (94/62/EC). It excludes second domestic uses (for example a purchased jar of jam which, once finished, is refilled at home, or an empty container that is brought home and then used to buy products in bulk, such as cereals). Traditionally, the term reuse brings to mind glass containers, but it also concerns PET bottles and even secondary packaging items (e.g. cardboard boxes, pallets).

The vocabulary used depends on the country and its habits.

In some languages, the terms refundable and reusable are confused and reusable bottles are called refundable bottles. The refund simply means that there is a partial reimbursement when the empty bottle is returned. And this does not imply a reuse loop: packaging can be returned in order to be recycled, not to be reused. The refund for plastic bottles that are not subsequently reused is moreover very common practice in northern European countries and Germany. That is why we prefer to use the term reuse in this article to describe a complete loop.
The context in some countries that actively encourage reuse, particularly in Europe, enables small enterprises to obtain funding and grants in order to propose solutions for putting used containers back on the market. But acquiring an industrial-grade washer and a collection vehicle is not enough to offer products that are "like new". Cetie has decided to create a new working group to address the issues raised by this topic. This group is proposing that all the players concerned by reuse to reflect on the following points:
  • What initial intrinsic characteristics must a container have to be fit for reuse?
  • What specifications must a container meet when it is put back into the loop before a new filling, in terms of cleanliness, absence of washing residues, physical integrity (given that the previous utilisation or even the collection and treatment to return it into the loop can weaken packaging)?
Some of these questions also indirectly involve secondary packaging items such as closure elements and labels.
Today, almost all the major users of reusable bottles are large industrial groups equipped with highly sophisticated washers and sorting systems that best respond to these issues. But extending reuse more widely, particularly to smaller players, implies the possibility of calling upon outsourced washing systems. Such systems must satisfy extremely strict requirements. This makes it necessary not only to define the required result, but also to consider whether requirements regarding resources must be defined. Can we simply define an acceptable percentage of weakening defects for example, or must we define a type of checking means, indicating the purpose and the nature of the check and the statistical level of the search for defects (automated individual check, visual inspection on the line, or statistical sampling check)?

The ad hoc group created at Cetie will initially focus on glass packaging, bottles and jars, intended for the food market. Other types of packaging may subsequently also be examined, but as they will undoubtedly have to address other issues and will involve other players (glass and cosmetics, PET bottles, etc.), they will be dealt with separately. The group will not be directly involved in the setting up of returnable packaging systems (logistics chain, creation of standard container models, etc.), for which the solutions could differ from one country to another. The work of this group must result in specifications, requirements and recommendations that are useful all over the world, but it will be based on existing solutions and experience, and on studies that have already been carried out locally, such as those of Citeo in France.
As with all the Cetie working groups, the reflection will progress on the basis of consensus between the members taking part in the meetings.
It will also address the particular questions chosen by the participants.
Josquin Peyceré,  for French magazine "Liquides et Conditionnement" N°41
"Reuse of food and beverage containers" group first meeting,

 held on Monday 23rd May 2022 - 2:00 pm - 5:00 pm, at Cetie


The group will define what is expected in terms of cleaning, sterilisation, quality and consumer safety of reused containers:

Hygiene, cleaning and sterilisation
  • Bacteriological state and sterilisation;
  • Residues of water and of washing product and of other dangerous content;
  • Hygiene measures on washing process, in the collection, storage and transport;
  • Detection, ejection of foreign bodies.
Consumer safety and container integrity
  • how the defects from the use (consumers, logistic) are detected and rejected;
  • measures against defect creation on washing lines.
Requirements of a new container for reuse
  • Specific control points in the production of containers for reuse.
(This group deals only with glass containers for food and beverages)

Want to be part of the group? Contact-us on
PDF (FR) :
- Document 1
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