Reusing containers is one of the most effective and inexpensive ways to reduce the environmental impact of packaging. Some plastic containers can be made durable enough to be refilled and reused about 25 times before becoming too damaged for reuse. Refilling and reusing plastic containers directly reduces the demand for disposable plastic. Accordingly, lowering demand for single-use containers reduces waste and energy consumption. Based on 1990 data, if glass and PET bottles were refilled and reused 25–35 times, the overall weight of beer and soft drink container waste would be reduced by 73.6%. Significant reductions in waste and energy consumption can be achieved with just 7–8 reuses of a single bottle.
One toxicity study investigating the use of PET for refillable bottles tested various toxic substances to see if they would be absorbed into the PET plastic during one use, then released in the next use. After test substances were removed and the plastic washed, the bottles were filled with food, and the contents were analyzed. The analysis showed that none of the test substances was absorbed into the PET. This study concluded that PET could be considered as a practical candidate for refillable containers. As discussed above, migration of additives from the PET itself is still a problem.
Reusing glass containers was standard procedure in this country through about the 1950s, and there are still a few products distributed in reusable containers. For example, milk is sold in both plastic and glass containers that have been washed and refilled. However, with a long history of proven performance, glass remains the most practical candidate for reusable containers.