In an article published on October 13, 2021, in the peer-reviewed journal Sustainable Production and Consumption, Katherine Ellsworth-Krebs from Lancaster University, United Kingdom, and co-authors explore the potential of Digital Passports and Open Data Standards to make reusable packaging more attractive for businesses.

Ellsworth-Krebs and co-authors reviewed the literature on reusable packaging to estimate “the potential of digitalisation to support collaboration and also to enable the re-imagining of packaging as an asset, rather than waste once it passes onto the consumer.” They found data management and integration, as well as trust and collaboration have not been well researched and addressed these topics in their study. The authors used a qualitative research approach, including discussions between the authors and semi-structured interviews with 26 professionals from manufacturing brands, retailers, environmental compliance, and health and safety bodies. Ellsworth-Krebs identified affordability, health and safety compliance, brand reputation concerns, and competition as the four main business barriers for adopting reusable packaging.

The scientists discuss that Digital Passports can provide solutions to these concerns. With a Digital Passport, one can measure packaging lifespan to help assess affordability, use “batch coding and evidence cleaning checks” to meet health and safety requirements, facilitate “clear documentation on environmental impacts of reusable items” to address reputational concerns, and by incorporating “waste taxation that actually measures reuse and not weight” a Digital Passport could make reusable packaging competitive. In addition, the authors argue that Digital Passports and mandatory reporting prevent misunderstanding and promote knowledge transfer and collaboration between stakeholders in a circular economy.

The authors conclude “that the digital economy is ready to meet the circular economy, with digital traceability presenting exciting possibilities for reuse of a diversity of products and sectors” and that their study “provide[s] a solid foundation for future research on Digital Passports.”



Ellsworth-Krebs, K. (2021). “Circular Economy Infrastructure: why we need track and trace for reusable packaging.” Sustainable Production and Consumption. DOI: 10.1016/j.spc.2021.10.007