Three million items: Behind Again and Milk & More’s reuse revolution

By Teodora Lyubomirova

- Last updated on GMT

GettyImages/Daniel Grizelj
GettyImages/Daniel Grizelj

Related tags Milk Dairy reuse recycle Sustainability Pet bottle glass bottles Packaging

Cleantech startup Again and UK grocery delivery service Milk & More have teamed up in a bid to promote the adoption of reusable packaging, save millions of packaging items from landfill, and boost dairy suppliers’ sustainability credentials.

UK-based Again was founded in 2021 with the idea to set up a ‘decentralized network of cleaning tech’ to efficiently sort, clean, de-label, dry and palletize reusable packaging that can then be shipped over to other businesses, from independent retailers to FMCG brands. The company has secured US$3.3m in pre-seed investment and has an ambition to ‘create a world where reuse surpasses single-use on every metric’ by 2025.

How, you might ask? Again says its technology competes with single-use packaging on cost and emits less carbon than recycling; there is no upfront investment required to access it, either. The reconditioning of the used items takes place in Again’s two shipping container-sized automated facilities, CleanCell, which can process up to 500,000 units per month. The offering is rounded off with a monitoring and management platform able to display live return stats, inventory availability, and more.

“Again collects packaging from the retailer’s distribution centres,” explained Again founder and CEO, Matt Kennedy. “The packaging is then cleaned at a local CleanCell. The packaging is scanned and sorted using Again Tag to understand the packaging type, brand and size. Again Tag also gives valuable data around the number of reuses, return rates, and environmental data including how much CO2 and water the brand has saved, which can be integrated into the brands’ marketing material and sustainability portfolio.

“The packaging is sorted, de-labeled, closures are removed, cleaned, dried, automatically visually inspected according to the brand’s specification. The packaging is then approved and palletized for redistribution back to the brand after ATP swabbing. Finally, we deliver the reused but clean packaging to the brand direct to their filling facility.”

Again says that more than 85% of packaging is being shipped back by retailers for reconditioning, and each item is reused more than six times. Right now, the company can process glass bottles, reusable PET and PP packaging.

But scaling up this circular supply chain would be crucial if the company wants to hits its 2025 target. So far, the company has processed only 100,000 packaging units, although a high-profile trial with Diageo and Budweiser over the reuse of bottles from London bars and stadia has shown that there’s interest towards this type of service. “Our stadium and bars pilot successfully proved high collections could be achieved to enable reuse and gave us valuable insights into the infrastructure required to enable reuse at scale,” Kennedy told us. “We are now supporting multiple global drinks brands to become approved cleaning suppliers for their packaging.”

Again's Kennedy added: “We have had increased interest from brands with regards to their requirements to lower their packaging costs through our solution, be more sustainable, as well as the incoming Eco-Taxes such as PRN and EPR. We are seeing a huge increase in the cost of virgin glass, as well as the volatility within the PRN value.”

“Our technology is designed to be scalable and will be able to support brands reusing 200,000 bottles per month in a dedicated CleanCell, which can be installed directly before their filling line.” - Matt Kennedy, founder and CEO of Again

To bring its service to more consumers, Again recently joined forces with Milk & More, an online grocery and milk doorstep delivery company, for which the cleantech firm will process an estimated three million additional items. The scheme will run on a trial basis with two suppliers - Tom Parker Creamery and The Village Press  - and plans are to roll it out nationwide later this year.

There will be no additional cost for shoppers , who shall return their packaging for reuse in the usual way – by placing it on their doorsteps. The suppliers meanwhile get to improve their sustainability credentials, as Patrick Müller, CEO of Milk & More, told us. “We currently collect Milk & More glass milk and juice bottles – which are reused, on average, 28 times,” Müller said of the company’s current efforts on recycling and reuse. “We also collect glass bottles from Fill, ReRooted, Oato, the Village Press, Tom Parker Creamery, Good Club and the Organic Orchard Juice Co.

“More recently, we introduced a returnable and reusable fruit and veg box that will withstand the elements, as well as local wildlife.”

“97% of all the packaging we deliver to our customer’s homes is either reusable, recyclable or compostable – and for anything else, we recommend that our customers reuse, recycle or upcycle packaging wherever possible.” - Patrick Müller, CEO of Milk & More

In this new partnership, the online grocery delivery firm will provide information of total products collected and recycled as part of the overall partnership with Again.

“Our partnership with Again offers a tangible benefit to our customers, saving them time and offering an easy way to recycle household glass packaging,” Müller added. “[The partnership] extends our own service – and one that our customers are already familiar with. We are hoping to extend this trial to other brands and glass products, with our proven logistic capabilities to extend our model even further.”

Similar businesses, such as Milk & More competitor The Modern Milkman and organic food delivery service Abel & Cole, are also set to partner with the cleantech startup. “We are in close partnership with The Modern Milkman and we expect this to start within the next two months,” said Kennedy. “The partnership will mirror Milk & More whereby The Modern Milkman will be collecting empty packaging from consumers’ homes, which is returned to central collection points, collected by Again and taken to our London CleanCell for de-labeling, cleaning, visual inspection and approval, ready to be returned directly to partnered brands to be refilled and reused.”

For Milk & More, the benefits of their work with Again are apparent for both suppliers and consumers. “We are always trying to find ways to help our customers reduce their single use plastic as well as our own, in line with our commitment to no pointless plastic,” Müller concluded. “Just last year, we worked with our customers to save an amazing four metric tons of plastic with our ‘no pointless plastic’ fruit and veg packaging pledge. Our product range is becoming increasingly more environmentally conscious as we continue to strive in being more sustainable.”

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