Text by Mandi Keighran / Photos by Carl Bergman
So, what’s the big idea?
RePack. A reusable packaging concept for e-commerce that its creators hope will reduce waste, improve the customer experience, and bring repeat business to web stores. “E-commerce is growing by about 20 per cent each year,” says co-founder Jonne Hellgren. “If we don’t do anything, we will soon be drowning in packaging trash.”
How does it work?
Choose RePack when placing an order online and pay a deposit of around €3 (NOK25.50). Once you get your parcel, flatten the RePack and mail it back at no cost from anywhere in Europe to be reused. You get your deposit back plus a €10 (NOK85) voucher for any online store that uses RePack. “It’s both a sustainable delivery alternative and a way to save money on your next purchase,” says Hellgren.
So customers get rewarded. What’s in it for web stores?
Web stores using RePack have reported increased customer satisfaction and, thanks to the vouchers sent on the return of the RePack, increased return sales of up to 30 per cent. RePack also gives their environmental credentials a big boost.
Who’s behind it?
Three guys from Finland: sustainability expert Jonne Hellgren, and industrial designers Juha Mäkelä and Petri Piirainen.
Where did the idea come from?
In 2010, after the trio formed Peruste, an industrial-design company with a focus on sustainability, they were working on a project for Finland’s post office when Mäkelä had something of a revelation. Seeing all the throwaway packaging being delivered to people buying online, he was reminded of his exchange year in Copenhagen in the early ’90s and how impressed he was by the local bottle reuse and recycling system.
What does bottle recycling have to do with packaging waste?
In Copenhagen, Mäkelä found he could buy one full bottle of beer if he returned three empty bottles. “There was real value in reuse,” says Hellgren. “Juha thought the same thinking could be applied to packaging. He wouldn’t stop talking about the idea, and after a few weeks we were also finally convinced!”
What happened next?
“We started to look online to see if anything like this existed,” says Hellgren. They found that reusable packaging was quite common in the B2B sector and offered a host of benefits across the supply chain, but nobody had developed the idea for consumers. They began talking to potential customers and testing various types of packaging. They soon signed up their first customer, eco-fashion label Globe Hope. “If their customers didn’t buy into RePack, we had no hope in hell,” says Hellgren. But they quickly did.
What does a RePack look like?
Not as cool as it used to. “The first RePack was made from recycled PVC advertising billboards,” says Hellgren. “The material is non-recyclable, so we gave it a second life. The problem was the bags looked really cool and people didn’t want to return them.” So, they created a new packaging design – in three different sizes – using polypropylene (the same material blue IKEA bags are made from). They’re also working on custom-designed RePack packaging for customers like Samsung.
So, where can I find RePack?
They’re still working with Globe Hope, and last year they partnered with Varusteleka, Europe’s biggest army and outdoor store. “Suddenly, we were sending out more than 100 bags a day,” says Hellgren. “We immediately had to automate our whole logistics system.” There are now several thousand RePacks in circulation. They’ve also just started working with Isku, Finland’s biggest furniture company on reusable packaging for furniture deliveries. “The Finnish market is small, though,” says Hellgren. “So we’re starting to look for new clients internationally who are really interested in sustainability.”