Posts with term Häagen-Dazs X

An old-school plan to fight plastic pollution gathers steam

Companies like Coca-Cola used to collect 98 percent of their bottles, and new entrepreneurs are learning from their tactics. TRENTON, NEW JERSEYIn the flood of innovative solutions that have emerged in the last several years to save the world from plastic pollution, Tom Szaky’s fix may be one of the most audacious. Don’t misunderstand. He has not tried to come up with yet another formula to make plastic magically biodegrade like leaves on the ground, a goal of many entrepreneurs that remains elusive. Nor has he devised new ways to remake disposable plastic packaging into new plastic packaging. Instead, Szaky has gone old school with a concept that dates to the turn of the last century—returnable, refillable containers. The idea was introduced to the world by Coca-Cola in the early 1920s, when Coke was sold in expensive glass bottles that the company’s bottlers needed back. They charged a two-cent deposit, roughly 40 percent of the full cost of the soft drink, and got about 98 percent of their bottles back, to be reused 40 or 50 times. Bottle deposit programs remain one of the most effective methods ever invented for recovering packaging. Ten months ago, Szaky launched Loop, an online delivery service that uses sturdy, reusable containers. The bold part of his venture—or risk, if you are one of his financial backers—is that Loop pushes far beyond the uniformity of returnable beverage bottles and sells more than 300 items, from food to laundry detergent, in containers of various sizes and made from various materials. His signature product is Haagen-Dazs ice cream that comes packed inside a sleek, insulated stainless steel tub guaranteed to prevent its contents from melting. Slightly disheveled in jeans and a hoodie, Szaky looks every bit the millennial entrepreneur. Now 38, he dropped out of Princeton 17 years ago to become an innovator in the garbage business. He founded TerraCycle, a small waste management company, 10 miles from the Princeton campus. He figured out a way to recycle diapers, cigarette butts, and a long list of other non-recyclables. In time, he became more interested in restoring the circularity of that earlier era and eliminating the disposability from packaging altogether. “Loop’s theory is let’s learn from the past and go back to a model where when you buy your deodorant, you’re borrowing the package and just paying for the content,” he says.   This refillable steel Häagen-Dazs ice cream container is from Loop, a company that packages everyday items into reusable containers. Loop is part of the resurgence of refillables as a serious option to plastic waste. The beverage industry is expanding its use of returnable bottles; an Oregon brewery claims to have started the United States’ first state-wide refillable beer system. More significantly, efforts like Loop’s to reinvent packaging for products that don’t fit easily into the refillable category have attracted startups and some of the world’s largest corporate players. Starbucks and McDonalds are partnering in a pilot program in California known as the NextGen Cup Challenge to sell coffee in reusable cups. If it works, the companies could spare the world the remains of billions of paper cups lined with a thin film of plastic that prevents leakage. And in Chile, a small startup called Algramo is working to replace single-serving packets known as sachets that are sold by the billions in Africa and Asia. The concept was to make coffee, toothpaste and other products affordable to impoverished people who couldn’t afford to buy in larger amounts. Sachets are mostly not recyclable and have made the glut of plastic litter in those nations worse. Algramo, whose name means “by the gram” in Spanish, is creating a vending machine system to dispense food and cleaning products into reusable containers. Last December, it won the National Geographic and Sky Ventures Ocean Plastic Innovation Challenge’s prize for using circular economy principles and a $100,000 purse. As Szaky tours Loop’s warehouse, where newly filled containers are shipped out and returned empties taken in, he notes the irony that this age-old method has only flowered again because waste has become a global crisis. “Five years ago, we couldn’t have done this,” he says. No one would have signed on. Not consumers, who pay a healthy, refundable deposit. And not the companies he’s convinced to join his experiment. Consumers and product retailers might have laughed at the idea as too unrealistic and inconvenient, neither being the ingredients for success.The shipping expenses alone, which involve up to six transfers, would have given investors pause. Then, almost overnight, the game changed. Szaky pitched his idea to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and convinced Nestle, Unilever, Proctor & Gamble, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, among others, to sign on.

A spotlight on plastic waste grows

It’s easy to lose sight of how quickly the landscape of plastics has shifted. Only a decade ago scientists and plastic manufacturers and retailers were still arguing about whether disposable plastic was even a serious issue. In 2011, when Ocean Conservancy met with scientists, activists, and plastics industry executives in an effort to set up what eventually became, in 2012, the Trash Free Alliance so all parties could work together, no consensus on the issue existed. “There was the question, is this just unsightly or a real problem?” recalls George Leonard, the conservancy’s chief scientist. “People retracted back into their corners. The NGOs said, ‘The world is coming to an end,’ and the industry sector said, ‘We don’t think it’s a problem.’” The debate effectively ended with publication in 2015 of the first solid numbers showing plastic waste washing into the ocean at an average rate of 8.5 million tons a year. The years that followed produced a glut of anti-plastic campaigns, bans of shopping bags and other products, pledges by retailers to use more recycled plastic in new packaging, industry investment in recycling facilities, and cleanups of existing waste. A count of scientific studies assembled by Richard Thompson, the British marine scientist who coined the term microplastics, reveals how rapidly plastic came to be considered an environmental crisis. In 2011, the year of Leonard’s meeting, 103 scientific studies containing the words “plastic” and “pollution” were published. The count in 2019, using the same code words, was 879 studies. “Thank goodness we’re over the hump,” says Chelsea Rochman, a marine scientist at the University of Toronto who is leading a working group of scientists trying to sort out which of the various solutions are most effective. The consulting firm Systemiq, with offices in London, Munich, and Indonesia, is also making a similar assessment. The results of both projects may further shape the debate on how to proceed. In the meantime, it helps to consider where things stand today: Of the 9.2 billion tons of plastic ever manufactured, 6.9 billion tons have become waste. Most of that—6.3 billion tons, or to put it another way, a whopping 91 percent—has never been recycled. The number seemed so shocking that the UK’s Royal Statistical Society named it the international statistic of the year in 2018. That’s the same year that China stopped buying the world’s waste, and recycling has only become more troubled since. Beyond recycling, 12 percent of plastic waste is incinerated, mostly in Europe and Asia. About 79 percent goes to a landfill or leaks into the natural environment. As a measure of how quickly plastic production accelerated in recent decades, half of all plastics ever made has been produced since 2013. Production is projected to double in the next 20 years, according to a 2016 report by the World Economic Forum. Finally, plastic is exceedingly cheap to make. And its low cost is one of the main impediments to developing an economically viable, global system for recycling or otherwise disposing of plastic waste. “Recycled and reclaimed plastic has little value. Virgin plastic is cheaper to make,” Leonard says. “Why would you do anything else other than make more new plastic? It’s not a good business decision to do anything else.”

Back to the future

Aside from the economics, most of the solutions that might reduce plastic waste are hobbled by a passel of problems: still-to-be-solved technical challenges, misinformation, a lack of uniform standards that leaves consumers confused. Biodegradables often don’t actually biodegrade, especially in the oceans, where they’re much more likely to fracture into microplastics. Most compostables need very high heat to break down, requiring processing in special, industrial composters. Compostable material will not biodegrade, for example, in landfill. The two terms are often used interchangeably by consumers, but are not the same. Material labeled biodegradable can contaminate compostable material if added to the mix. Mechanical recycling, which involves grinding plastic waste into small bits that are melted and remade into new plastics, is also easily contaminated by incompatible types of plastic, dirt, and food residue. Plastics reprocessed by this method can only be remade so many times before losing strength and other characteristics. Chemical recycling, which returns plastics to their requisite molecules, alleviates much of both problems. Industry analysts regard it as the option showing the most promise, and the numbers of companies involved in developing chemical recycling is growing. But it’s still a big bet. It’s expensive and questions remain as to whether it can be scaled up enough to make a difference. In any event, both forms of recycling, as well as composting, are dependent on what remains the most dysfunctional component of dealing with plastic waste: Someone has to collect it all and sort it. Loop first launched last May in and around New York and Paris. It plans to expand to the UK, Toronto, and Tokyo later this year, and to Germany and Australia in 2021. The product line, Szaky says, grows by one or two a week and a new retailer joins, on average, once a month. Because consumer behavior is very hard to change, Szaky thinks the refillables business must come as close as it can to mimicking the ordinary shopping experience. He has partnered with Walgreens and Kroeger to set up aisles of refillables, similar to bulk food aisles, making refillables even more convenient to use. As technicalities of handling plastic waste are eventually resolved, it is the consumers who may become the toughest challenge of all. Plastic as a material is not the villain, but the way it’s used, he says, and the idea of single-use plastic is a concept that is now 70 years old. He poses a rhetorical question: “What do we as shoppers care about? Convenience, affordability, and performance. Not one of those three things has anything to do with sustainability.” He argues that consumers are the most important actors in sorting out the plastics mess, with the ability to effect corporate change with their wallets. “We vote blindly, day after day after day, with money, telling companies what we want, and we need to take that seriously,” he says. “We should buy less and make sure the things we buy are circular.”

Giant brands love Loop’s zero-waste packaging—and now it’s coming to a store near you

A year ago, a coalition of some of the world’s biggest brands embarked on an experiment: If they started selling everyday products like shampoo in reusable, returnable packaging instead of single-use plastic, would customers buy it? Could a modern version of the milkman model—where customers shop online, and then return empty containers via UPS to be cleaned and refilled for a new customer—make business sense? For brands, the new platform, called Loop, was a radical step to test fundamental changes to how they package and deliver products, driven by consumer pressure to deal with the problem of plastic pollution. The first pilots started in May 2019. The tests have been successful enough that the system is now rapidly expanding and will soon launch in retail stores. [Photo: courtesy Loop] “Companies are looking for new ways to address packaging and reduce waste, and consumers are demanding it,” says Steve Yeh, a project manager at Häagen-Dazs, the Nestlé-owned ice cream brand. The brand committed major resources to developing new packaging for the pilot: a novel stainless steel ice cream canister that’s designed to keep ice cream cold longer. It then can be sent back, sterilized in a state-of-the-art cleaning system, and reused. (It also looks a lot nicer on your counter.) The system is designed to be simple for consumers—in theory, nearly as easy as buying something in a disposable package and throwing that package in the trash. Online orders are delivered in a reusable tote, and when a customer has an empty container, it goes back in the tote, the customer schedules a pickup, the packages are returned for reuse, and the customer gets back a deposit that they paid for the package (or, if they’ve reordered the product, the deposit stays in an account and they don’t pay it again). Despite using heavier packages, more transportation, and cleaning, it has a lower carbon footprint than single-use packaging. And it keeps packages out of landfills and the ocean. “We all know that recycling alone will not be enough,” says Sara Wingstrand, who leads the innovation team at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, an organization focused on the circular economy. “This is a whole new way to actually think about how you can bring products to people.” [Photo: courtesy Loop] In Nestlé’s case, an internal team went through 15 iterations to reach the final design of the ice cream container, which has benefits beyond reducing waste. The package has a double metal lining, so it’s comfortable to hold, but keeps the ice cream inside from melting; it’s also designed to melt a little more quickly at the top, so it’s easier to scoop than it otherwise would be. Rounded edges mean that ice cream doesn’t get stuck in the bottom corners. And it looks better than a disposable package. The aesthetics, surprisingly, have been a bigger driver in the pilot’s success than the environmental benefits. “People actually are attracted to Loop first for design, second for reuse,” says Tom Szaky, CEO of Terracycle, the recycling company that first helped create the coalition of brands to test the platform, who is now also CEO of Loop. “The design is so important to consumers—more than I ever thought it would be.” It’s proof, he says, of what’s possible when the economics of packaging change. “If you go back 100 years and look at what your cookies came in or what your beer came in, it was a significantly greater investment in the package. As we make packaging lighter and cheaper, it becomes less recyclable, essentially growing the garbage crisis. And as we spend less money, [packages] clearly become less exciting and less desirable. The response to Loop is a simple one: Let’s shift ownership of the package in the end back to the manufacturer. And as such, they treat it as an asset and they can start investing in the pack again.” [Photo: courtesy Loop] The investment in the packages means that for the system to work, consumers have to put down a deposit for each container. In the pilot, Loop says that customers haven’t been sensitive to the price. “It’s not money out of your pocket,” says Donna Liu, a customer in New Jersey who has been using the system for several months. After the initial deposit, customers don’t have to pay again as they continue reordering the same products, and they can ultimately get the money back. But the deposits are steep, and would likely deter lower-income customers. In one review, a Huffington Post writer noted that she paid $32 in deposits for only six items (in addition to $20 in shipping, and the cost of the products themselves). Loop says it plans to have the costs come down as the system scales up. “Today, in small scale, it makes no economic sense because everything is inefficient in small scale,” says Szaky. “But a lot of our retail partners and our brand partners have modeled this in large scale. And it’s come out very exciting—it’s going to be able to be executed at scale and not cost the consumer more.” Wingstrand, who is not involved with Loop, notes that some other reusable models are already economically viable at scale, such as reusable water jugs delivered to offices. The e-commerce pilot has faced some challenges. Some customers complained about the small selection of products. Those who live in small apartments don’t like the bulky size of the reusable tote, which has enough padding inside to accommodate 16 wine bottles; one reviewer said that she was forced to use it as an ottoman until she was ready to send packages back. But moving to retail stores could help alleviate these issues. [Photo: courtesy Loop] Today, the online store has more than 150 products, including Tide detergent and Pantene shampoo in stainless steel containers, Nature’s Path granola in glass jars, and products from smaller brands like Reinberger Nut Butter. But that’s a tiny fraction of the hundreds of products online at, say, Walgreens, and one of the biggest questions from customers in the pilot has been when more products will be available. Szaky says that Loop is adding a new brand roughly every two days—but there’s a long development process for new packaging after a company joins. “This is not an overnight thing,” he says. “It takes maybe a year to get a product up and running.” In retail stores, though, customers can pick and choose which Loop products to use. “By the retailer listing in-store, the benefit to the consumer is they can go shop the Loop section, which will grow every day and get bigger and bigger, but whatever they don’t find in the Loop section they can still buy traditionally,” says Szaky. Customers can also avoid the hassle of shipping empty containers back and the size of the reusable tote; for retail returns, customers will toss containers in a reusable garbage bag and then bring them back to the store. It’s still designed to be simpler than traditional refill systems in stores—rather than cleaning and refilling your own container, you bring back dirty containers, drop them off, and buy already-packaged products on the shelf. As with online orders, you’ll pay a deposit on the container and then get it back when the container is returned. [Photo: courtesy Loop] The online pilot launched last May in and around Paris, New York City, and a few nearby areas; the startup has since added Massachusetts, Connecticut, Delaware, Vermont, and Rhode Island. It will soon expand to California as well as the U.K., Canada, Germany, and Japan, and will launch in Australia next year. Retail sales will begin later this year with Walgreens and Kroger in the U.S., Carrefour in France, Tesco in the U.K., and Loblaws in Canada. Loop won’t share specific numbers, but says that it’s seeing high numbers of repeat orders from its initial customers. The size of the pilot was limited, but more than 100,000 people applied. The startup envisions the model growing like organic food. “Every store started having a small section dedicated to organic products, but not all products had an organic alternative,” Szaky says. “That’s how it began, then it got bigger and bigger. And some stores like Costco have moved everything over to organic.” He notes that organic food still represents only about 5% of the market, and that has taken decades, but it’s a reasonable comparison. [Photo: courtesy Loop] The number of options will continue to grow. In a recent report, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimated that converting just 20% of plastic packaging to reusable models is now a $10 billion business opportunity. But Szazky sees it not as an opportunity, but an imperative. As he told Harvard Business Review in a recent interview: “I think that we’re going to see some organizations die because of this. Others will pivot. . . . Some organizations, like Nestlé, Unilever, and P&G, are taking these issues seriously and making the difficult decisions that may negatively impact the short term but lay the foundation to be relevant in the long term. Inversely, organizations—like many big food companies in the U.S.—are blind to what’s coming and will likely be overtaken by startups that are building their business models around the new reality that is emerging.” [Photo: courtesy Loop] For the brands that are pivoting, Loop is helping push them to experiment with reusable packaging. Häagen-Dazs is already using the container it designed for the system in stores in New York City, where customers bring it back an average of 62% of the time. (At the ice cream shops, customers don’t pay a deposit, but buy the container outright and then get discounts on ice cream each time they bring it back.) It now plans to roll out the container in 200 of its other stores. Unilever—which has products from brands like Love Beauty and Planet on the platform and is preparing to launch more products from Seventh Generation, Hellman’s, Dove deodorant, and others this year—is also experimenting with in-store refill systems and partnering with startups like Algramo, a Chile-based company that offers a mobile refill system on electric tricycles. “I think Loop provides a really good platform to start testing reusable packaging without setting everything up yourself,” says Wingstrand. “But I do think it’s very important to go very broad and make sure that not only are you putting and testing new packaging formats on the Loop platform, but you’re also trying to understand how the user might interact with a refill system, or how you might supply things in a compact format, or how you might even completely design out the packaging.”

In a Circular Economy, Leaders Look to Eliminate Waste

Proponents of the circular economy say recycling isn’t enough to solve our waste issue. But how far are consumers willing to go with reusable packaging?

The circular economy is creating a buzz as startups pop up across the globe. But innovators are counting on consumers to opt-in, and behavior change isn't always easy. I gave the latest circular economy trend a try and found that it wasn't what I expected.   In 2014, I made a New Year's resolution to stop purchasing beverages in single-use plastic containers. A year later, I included snack food. But when I tried to go plastic-free, I was stumped. Plastic is everywhere. My local grocery store sold broccoli wrapped in plastic. I couldn't find the food, supplies, or things I wanted, without throwaway packaging — and I wasn't willing to part with my essentials. Since then, I've been keeping an eye out for innovative ways to reduce disposable plastic — a growing interest for consumers, to which innovators are responding.

Innovators Lead the Way

Some companies are making products from recycled materials, like Adidas, who partnered with Parley for the Oceans to make sneakers from ocean-plastic yarn. Others opt for making products that can be repaired, like FairPhone, which makes smartphones with modular, upgradeable components. Companies like LoopGreenToGo, and Humankind aim to reduce packaging waste by replacing disposable containers with tough ones and creating a system to return and reuse.   "The real garbage problem comes from the idea of disposables, and that is where we need to start." ANTHONY ROSSI, VICE PRESIDENT OF GLOBAL DEVELOPMENT, LOOP   Unlike the linear "take-and-trash" economy, the circular economy, also known as circularity, strives to cut waste completely while embracing alternatives like refurbishment, repair, and reuse. Experts argue that "recycling" doesn't always come into play because circularity isn't only about reducing trash. It takes into account resources. Recycling reduces an object down to the "material" level. The inherent value gained from other resource inputs like design, manufacturing, shipping, etc. is lost when an item is recycled. Proponents of circularity say "recycling is a last resort." Being steps ahead of me, tossing an item in the trash, wasn't even on their mind. "The idea of the circular economy is that we need to be preventing waste. Solid waste, but also waste that comes from inefficient systems or inefficient design," says Jennifer Russell, Assistant professor at Virginia Tech Department of Sustainable Biomaterials. She was a lead author on a UN report that quantified the benefits and impact of transitioning to a circular economy. She says while reuse and repair may be the most energy-efficient options, remanufacturing and refurbishment isn't too far behind. "Even in the most intensive remanufacturing process, it's still significantly less than the effort and energy required to make a brand new one. If we start to design (products) better, we can get more efficient at those circular processes, and we can reduce the impacts even more," Russell says, adding that of the products she surveyed, refurbishing industrial digital printers had the highest impact, which was still lower than building a new one.   Illustration by Andrew Brumagen / Freethink.

Changing Behavior

When I was in Durham, North Carolina, I gave GreenToGo a try. You can bring your own container to restaurants for leftovers, but the FDA doesn't allow restaurants to prepare take-out food in containers customers provide. Their only option is disposable containers, often of the plastic clam-shell variety. GreenToGo created a workaround. They stock restaurants with reusable take-out containers, then wash and sanitize them after they are returned by patrons at stations across downtown Durham. I ordered a sandwich from the restaurant Toast, to-go. Ordering was easy. For people that frequent downtown, it is just as easy to slip the container in the return bin during the next visit. Being a visitor, I made a special detour. Not everyone is as willing as I am to try a new system. Anthony Rossi, Loop's Vice President of Global Development, says that behavior change is one of the biggest challenges they face at Loop. The startup launched last year and is still in the early stages. "We don't believe in garbage, and we want to eliminate it," Rossi says. The company partnered with big brands like Clorox, Glad, and Haagen Dazs. Through a mail-order service, Loop offers patrons their favorite food or household supplies in durable — and admittedly adorable — reusable containers for a deposit. Then, they take the empty containers back, refund the deposit, and reuse the containers.   The US produces approximately 234lb of plastic waste per person per year. Studies show that if present trends continue there will be 12 billion metric tons of plastic in landfills around the world by 2050. Photo Courtesy of Pixabay. "What remains to be seen, and something worth studying, and I think that it's true, even if you are making it more durable and cleaning it multiple times and shipping something slightly heavier, it's still going to create a net benefit from an environmental impact perspective, relative to if we just keep making things brand new," Russell says. Rossi says companies have honed their production and distribution down to a smooth, efficient process. Asking them to change... well, it takes a lot of convincing. What's more, Loop is also asking consumers to consume a product differently. "Innately people want to do the right thing. People don't like garbage," Rossi says, adding that, "Behavior change doesn't come easy. If we tried this three years ago, I'm not sure we would have had the reception we have."

Recycling Won’t Solve the Plastic Problem

Loop is a corporate startup of TerraCycle. Rossi says the idea was born during a company conversation about innovative recycling efforts. CEO Tom Szaky asked the team if recycling was the goal they should have in 50 years. The resounding answer was "no." "Recycling everything and making everything out of recycled content is a utopian idea. We are very far from that. The real garbage problem comes from the idea of disposables, and that is where we need to start," Rossi says.   A repurposed aluminum bottle for laundry detergent. Image courtesy of Loop. Daniella Russo, CEO of Think Beyond Plastic, says recycling plastic is a challenge. Today's low oil prices render new plastic the cheapest and most durable option for packaging. "Recycling (plastic) is non-viable economically because the recycled material is more expensive than the use of virgin plastic," she says, adding that metal, glass, and paper are economically viable because manufacturing them costs more than recycled material. What's more, plastic is a catch-22. It is durable and cheap but comes with a hefty waste burden and potential public health concerns due to chemicals that can leach into food or beverages stored in plastic containers. Think Beyond Plastics helps organizations find alternatives to plastic. "We're not against recycling, we just don't think it will solve the plastic problem. Not everything needs to be packaged and overpackaged in plastic," she says.

Eliminating Plastics Could Bring Additional Challenges

Still, plastic has its upsides. For example, a product's weight drives negative environmental impacts — heavier objects require more energy to produce and ship. But heavier doesn't always mean reusable, unless there is a system designed to collect and clean them. Recently, packaging designs have been evolving to be lighter and thinner. "Light-weighting" packages use fewer materials and less energy to manufacture and transport, when compared per unit, such as thinner plastic water bottles. Thin plastic wrap, which is so hard to avoid at the supermarket, has been shown to reduce food waste in commercial settings, Russell says. (At home, however, glass containers or Tupperware will work just fine.) Finally, plastic is durable and cheap. Companies can easily have it designed to meet their needs. So, it is a balancing act. Tipping the scale away from plastics will solve some problems, but could present additional challenges. I sat down to give Loop a try earlier this week. I planned to order my household essentials — granola, dried fruits, shampoo, laundry detergent, etc. I'm a sucker for attractive packaging — and Loop nailed that one. I'll admit, doing laundry would be a lot more fun with a cute aluminum bottle of laundry soap. But as I added items to my virtual shopping cart, the cost, plus deposit made my jaw drop. Also, I couldn't find enough products that I wanted that would put me into the minimum order size for free shipping. The $15 shipping fee for small orders was the final dealbreaker. Rossi says there are 300 more products in development. I'm keeping an eye on Loop's progress and plan to try their subscription option when they have more of my favorites.

Can aesthetics cure our throw-away society?

https://retailwire.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/tide-reusable-loop-container-666x333-1.jpg Like many environmentalists, Tom Szaky, CEO of TerraCycle, believes reuse must play a large role in solving eco-challenges, but he doesn’t think sustainability guilt will be enough to change behaviors. Aesthetics, however, might. At a session at the NRF Big Show, Mr. Szaky provided some early learnings on Loop, a service the waste recycling company developed that allows shoppers to purchase orange juice, laundry detergent and other CPG items in reusable containers. Users put down a refundable deposit via the Loop website when ordering. Loop delivers the items in reusable glass or metal bottles to shoppers’ doors and then retrieves the empties for cleaning and reuse. Participating retailers, including Carrefour, Kroger and Walgreens, act as pickup and drop-off points.   Mr. Szaky assumed consumers would embrace Loop due to sustainability concerns. He admits, however, that it’s hard to overcome the “unparalleled convenience and affordability” that came when the “disposable lifestyle” was commercialized in the 1950s. “Even with all that awareness, even the enlightened folks are constantly voting over and over again for a disposable world with their money,” he said. Encouragingly, many consumers are embracing Loop because of the aesthetic appeal from upgraded packaging that includes stainless steel. “Most people come into it because of beautiful design, then love that it is sustainable,” said Mr. Szaky. Can aesthetics cure our throw-away society? In some cases, upgraded packaging adds features. A Häagen-Dazs stainless-steel reusable in the Loop program is thermally insulated to not only keep the ice cream frozen longer but to keep the surface warm to the touch. The concave vessel also makes the ice cream easier to scoop. Said Mr. Szaky, “It’s just a way better overall experience.” Some containers may even help improve flavors. Coca Cola, which is bringing back its original iconic package, said Coke tastes best in a glass, followed by aluminum and finally PET plastic. Convenience may also play a role in converting shoppers. With hand or dish soap, many households already pour store-bought bottles into different containers. Mr. Szaky stresses that the ease of returning reusables has to match the ease of disposables. “Our overall mission here is to give consumers a disposable experience where they throw out the packaging, don’t clean it, don’t sort it — a completely disposable experience. But act reusable behind the scenes,” he said.


Old car seats. Cigarette butts. Used contact lenses. Most people think of this kind of detritus as future landfill, but Tom Szaky sees all this and more as recyclable. He’s the CEO and founder of TerraCycle and its newest initiative, Loop. Both are circular economy solutions that bridge the gaps between consumers, corporations, and waste. TerraCycle, founded in 2001, is a private recycling company that focuses on capturing and repurposing hard-to-recycle items by partnering with corporations and governments. Loop, launched publicly in mid-2019, takes on the problem of waste even more aggressively by working with brands to provide reusable packaging for common consumer products — think Tide laundry detergent or Häagen-Dazs ice cream. HBR asked Szaky, a global leader on reducing waste, about what he’s learned about how consumers, companies, and the government are — or aren’t — helping to reduce the massive amounts of waste humans create on a daily basis. In this edited interview, he also offers advice for business leaders who are interested in pursuing circular models. You’re sitting in a unique position between brands and consumers. What conversations are you having on each side? And which side is more resistant to the argument for sustainability? In the past two years I’ve seen a big shift in how consumers view waste. They’ve woken up to all the negatives of garbage and have started to see it as more of a crisis. That said, consumers are still voting with their dollar for things that benefit them personally, like convenience, performance, and overall price. They’re very vocal, but they’re not necessarily shifting their actual purchasing. Now, the vocal nature of the consumer alone does create a really exciting thing: Brands are waking up to this trend. Even more so, lawmakers are waking up and passing legislation that is affecting consumer product companies, like banning plastic bags and straws. In France in a few years, takeaway food packaging — plastic plates, cups, and utensils — will not be used if you eat in restaurants. These laws are then creating ripples across the consumer product retail industry. Is your feeling that governments are filling gaps that businesses have left? Or are they nudging consumers along, encouraging them to take the action they profess to support? It’s more complicated than that. Plastic straws weren’t seen as a problem up until maybe two years ago; then they became the icon of what’s wrong with plastic and disposability. After a huge public outcry, lawmakers started passing legislation banning the straw. Then companies proactively banned straws before even more legislation actually took hold. So a push from consumers led lawmakers to take action and then corporations jumped in. Now the plastic straw is effectively dying. But it took all three nudging each other. Tell me about the kinds of conversations you’re having with investors and other stakeholders as part of starting and leading two companies. What’s it like to be in the sustainability sphere, especially as a new startup? We started developing the concept for Loop just two years ago, which absolutely makes it a startup. TerraCycle is 16 years old and more of a growth company. So I have two different perspectives. TerraCycle has grown every year since the beginning, but in the past two years it has exploded. Corporations that wouldn’t have signed with us before are now signing on. And corporations that are signed on are going deeper. We grew our revenue 30% organically in 2019, compared to 2018, and expect the same in 2020. This is driven primarily by everything moving faster and companies wanting to go deeper versus big new surprises or new industries that have been asleep now waking up. In parallel, we also raised about $20 million for Loop Global and about $20 million for TerraCycle US. The key change there is that investors are looking much more for authentic impact investments. This is entirely correlated to garbage becoming a crisis. I don’t think Loop could have existed even five years ago because of the ask. Essentially, we’re asking CPG [consumer packaged goods] companies and retailers to fundamentally redesign packaging and accept major changes to the economics of packaged goods delivery — in other words, to treat packaging as an asset instead of a cost. Because of changing views on garbage, they’re increasingly willing to say yes to that. So what is happening now in the startup world is that more audacious ideas that solve these issues — like Loop — are on the table. Do you think existing companies are going to be able to make this shift? Or is it going to have to be new companies that are entering the market? Both. I think that we’re going to see some organizations die because of this. Others will pivot. And new companies will fill out the balance, just as with any shift. Look at tech, for instance. How many retailers survived it? Some did a great job, right? And some, like specialty big-box retailers — Toys “R” Us, Linens ’n Things, Staples in Europe, et cetera — died in the process. The key in this instance is to pivot and reinvent the organization, noting that this is easier said than done, as it takes tremendous short-term sacrifice. I believe that it won’t be industries or sectors that pivot versus die, but individual companies. Some organizations, like Nestlé, Unilever, and P&G, are taking these issues seriously and making the difficult decisions that may negatively impact the short term but lay the foundation to be relevant in the long term. Inversely, organizations — like many big food companies in the U.S. — are blind to what’s coming and will likely be overtaken by startups that are building their business models around the new reality that is emerging. When you’re having conversations with investors for TerraCycle or Loop, what are they concerned about? What do they want to know? There’s suddenly a lot more interest in this topic in the investment community, and I think investors would tell you that they really think sustainability is almost a requirement for the future. Fifteen years ago, when we were raising capital for TerraCycle, people invested because of impact and purpose; it was like they were considering giving money to an NGO. Today, investors would tell you that they really think sustainability is a requirement for the future. They are looking at the sustainability index not just as “Oh, I am feeling good about where I’m putting my money” — now it’s moved to sustainability being critical for business longevity. A lot of what we’ve seen major corporations do is market sustainability in that “purpose” bucket, and not in the “business” bucket, with pledges and other high-profile commitments. Is this changing? Are large corporations able to move from the emotional bucket to the business bucket the same way investors are? The most famous of the pledges is the Ellen MacArthur Foundation pledge, which more than 400 businesses and organizations have signed, signaling their intent to eliminate their use of new plastic. It basically says that, by 2025, they will make their products compostable, recyclable, and reusable. And they will significantly increase their use of recycled content by this date. Now, let’s be candid about why they’re pledging. Since waste has become a crisis in the past two years, many companies have come to the position that they have to solve it or they will be legislated out of it. The best way to get ahead is to make future promises, partly because you don’t have to do anything between today and the promise day, right? If everyone promises that by 2025 all this great stuff will happen, they are not really responsible in the present. I’ve talked to chief sustainability officers of some of the world’s largest CPG companies who honestly have no idea how they’re going to pull it off. They have no f—cking idea what they’re going to do and are saying things like, “Well, the industry will figure it out.” That’s scary. Here’s what I think will happen come 2025 with this particular promise. There is a difference between the promises to be “recyclable” and made from “recycled content.” In other words, most companies, via the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, have pledged that by 2025 they will be 100% recyclable and independently made from a high percentage (typically 25%) of recycled content. I think that the majority of companies will say that they made their package “technically recyclable” but that the recycling industry is to blame for not then “practically recycling” them. I think maybe 90% of companies making these promises will fail and then point to the fine print, saying, “Oh, we made our packaging recyclable, but the recycling systems don’t have the capability to recycle it today.” That’s going to create a big reckoning that will piss off consumers even more, backfiring on brands. So those 10% that succeed, how do they do that? They’re just getting ahead of it. Here’s an example: Some companies are now buying futures on recycled plastic so they know they will have the volume, which is an unheard-of thing in procuring plastic. A good example is Nestlé. The key line in their recent press release is this“To create a market, Nestlé is therefore committed to sourcing up to 2 million metric tons of food-grade recycled plastics and allocating more than CHF 1.5 billion to pay a premium for these materials between now and 2025.” One of the things that interest me about your company is how you collaborate with so many companies. How difficult is this? Could you go it alone? We absolutely need to collaborate. These are systemic problems, and to solve the system you need multi-stakeholder collaboration. Loop could only exist with massive multi-stakeholder collaboration. There would be no other way to pull it off. And I think we need more and more of that. What makes collaborations like this work? Trade groups and consortiums don’t work. The problem with an industry group, at least in my experience, is to get the group together so they can publicly say that there is a multi-stakeholder discussion. But the outcomes are usually nothing. So how do we create true multi-stakeholder system change? Because if you’re going to change the system, you need all the stakeholders to agree. With Loop, we consciously tried to create a multi-stakeholder collaboration. And look at what happened: It’s working. We’re adding a brand every two days since we launched, and most major multinational CPG companies have joined: Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Mars, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, et cetera. We’ve also added a retailer every three weeks since our launch, including retailers around the world. Loop is live in France (via Carrefour) and the U.S. (via Kroger and Walgreens) via e-com, and is expanding in both countries to in-store later this year. It is also launching in Canada (via Loblaw), the UK (via Tesco), Germany (via a retailer we will announce in February), and Japan (via AEON), all this year. And finally, we have seen tremendously positive consumer insights — people want Loop, and they like the experience when they get access to it. I don’t see too many companies with similar models out there yet. Loop is a major systems change that requires a large coalition of multi-stakeholders. That is, no company can do it on their own — everyone has to act together. What I am seeing is a lot of groups calling us and saying, “How did you do the Loop thing, and how can we apply that type of system or process to whatever our topic may be?” They ask this because, typically, multi-stakeholder collaborations are slow and hard to drive results from. What do you tell them? I tell them that you cannot run such a platform by committee. There needs to be a “chair” that makes the decisions, even if the decisions are unpopular, and creates the urgency to make sure everything is moving forward quickly. You also set public deadlines that everyone can agree to. For example, it’s why we launched at the World Economic Forum last year — that was a deadline everyone could align on.

Consumer Demand for Better Packaging Might Just Save the Planet

  When he founded TerraCycle in 2001, Tom Szaky was in the business of keeping tough-to-recycle products out of landfills. In 2019, he expanded that mandate with a service called Loop, which focuses on reusing packaging instead of merely recycling it. In partnership with several well-known brands, Loop offers household goods from olive oil to laundry detergent in reusable containers that are either delivered direct to consumers or available through two major retail outlets, then collects, cleans and refills them—much like a modern-day milkman. When Szaky sought to better understand why people were purchasing items through Loop, he was surprised by the results. Survey data revealed that two-thirds of Loop customers were mainly drawn to the program because of its packaging design; only one-third prioritized the sustainability aspect. Since Loop is all about saving the planet by eliminating waste, Szaky had expected the inverse. “A better experience with packaging is the primary driver,” Szaky told Adweek. “The secondary driver is sustainability.” Earlier this week, during a presentation at the National Retail Federation’s annual conference in New York, Szaky stressed the importance of aesthetics in consumer decision-making. While people often buy shampoo twice as often as they buy conditioner, Loop shoppers purchase an equal amount of Pantene shampoo and conditioner, according to Szaky. Why? Although he didn’t disclose exact figures, internal polling revealed that people thought the bottles—which come in a matching gold-and-white color scheme, and feature images of sea life—looked good together. But it’s not just about beauty. Szaky argued that tubs of Häagen-Dazs ice cream sold on Loop are simply better than the typical cardboard cartons found at grocery stores because they’re dual-layered, providing thermal insulation so that consumers’ hands remain warm while the ice cream stays frozen. The inside of the container is also concave, making the ice cream easier to scoop out. Szaky added that even the product itself can benefit from better packaging. The team at Coca-Cola apparently told him Coke tastes best in a glass bottle, then aluminum, then plastic. One key change that allows for better packaging design through the Loop system, as opposed to a convenience store or vending machine, is the transfer of package ownership from consumer to manufacturer, Szaky said. When a company is responsible for a durable container meant for multiple uses, it’s treated like an asset as opposed to the cost of goods sold. Since Loop requires a security deposit with each purchase, companies are given extra leeway to invest even more money into their packaging design, generating better functions and features. “Can you imagine what you could do with a package budget of $30 per unit?” he said. He noted that customers have shown little to no sensitivity to the deposit price, either. A can of Clorox disinfecting wipes, for instance, costs $5.49 to purchase, plus an additional $10 deposit. Despite this, Szaky said Clorox wipes are one of the top five best selling products on the site. Last week, another Clorox brand, Glad, began selling sandwich bags on Loop for $4.99 with a $10 deposit. Once ordered, consumers receive 100 plastic bags in a square metal tin, along with a yellow zippered pouch to put the used bags in for recycling later. According to Nick Higgins, Glad’s marketing director, the package took six weeks to design, and consumer feedback throughout the process was positive. “If you think about our traditional manufacturing system, it’s been engineered to deliver products in a way that people use them and then it’s their responsibility for how they ultimately want to dispose of them,” Higgins said. While it’s still too early to tell how Glad’s metal tin is performing on Loop, Higgins said the brand is excited to gain insights into how people might reuse its products. “As a brand, we want to continue to make progress in this area,” he said. “Using something like Loop as a learning partner to understand consumer habits and practices, and the business models associated with that, is what makes this really attractive to us.” Loop, which debuted in May 2019 in select cities in the U.S. and France, is scheduled to roll out in the U.K., Canada, Germany and Japan later this year. Presently, the platform works with retailers Walgreens and Kroger, and about 100 major CPG conglomerates, including Pepsi, Nestle, Unilever and Procter & Gamble. While Loop has yet to make an official announcement, Szaky said the company will soon reveal new partnerships with a fast-food company and high-end cosmetics brand.         Szaky added that since Loop began, it has, on average, added a new brand every two days and a new retailer every three weeks. While the program remains in test mode, he’s optimistic that Loop will continue to grow. “Disposability is our competition,” he said. “It’s an easy enemy to hate, thank God.”

Has this company solved the recycling crisis?

The next time you reach into your freezer for a pint of Haagen Dazs Amaretto Black Cherry Almond ice cream, or perhaps grab a bottle of Pantene Moisture Renewal shampoo, you might be putting your hands on something unusual in the world of consumer goods — a reusable container.   More than 150 companies have signed up to work with Loop, an innovative alternative to Amazon where the products ± as well as the box they arrive in — are all shipped back to where they came from.   We are talking reusable here, not recyclable. The cold container for ice cream, as well as the shampoo bottle, are made of durable products and designed to be returned, cleaned and reused dozens, if not hundreds of times.   Loop is the brainchild of entrepreneur Tom Szaky, who created TerraCycle as a Princeton drop out to recycle the food waste from the university dining halls into fertilizer — using worms. His company is now worth $20 million, and he’s branching out.   Customers order their products online from a list of name brand items, all delivered via UPS in a sturdy tote. The empties go back into the tote, which UPS takes back to Loop’s New Jersey processing center. They are cleaned and refilled by the suppliers to be shipped out by Loop again. Even though consumers are buying just the contents, the products cost about the same as those sold in single-use containers — in part to offset the cost of the development and manufacturing of the more durable containers, as well as cleaning and refilling.   Although the selection is limited compared to Amazon, there is still an array of well-known staples to fill up the pantry: Hellman’s mayoTropicana orange juiceColgate toothpasteHidden Valley ranch dressingTide detergent, among many others — courtesy of some of the world’s largest consumer goods companies, including Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Danone, Mars Petcare and Mondelēz International.   Currently, Loop has about 25,000 customers in its test markets in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maryland and Washington, D.C., in the United States, and in Paris, France. But they are in the process of expanding across the United States and internationally, including the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany and Japan. Watch how Szaky says he plans to grow his business into a juggernaut. Loop just recently announced it was partnering with Walgreens and Kroger to start offering its products in stores. So you can perhaps pick up that pint of that Amaretto Black Cherry Almond ice cream and return the container the very next day. Some video imagery courtesy of UPS and Loop.


Phil Graves speaks at NRF 2020 “This session is probably the one I am most excited about. In every conversation, the word sustainability comes up,” said PSFK Founder Piers Fawkes. “We hear it on the stages, we hear it in the corridors, we hear it on the floor. But I don’t think many of us really know how to leverage it, how to really use it. What do we do with all these products? How do we return these products? What happens then?”   Everything can be recycled, it’s just a question of whether it’s profitable to do so.   TerraCycle CEO Tom Szaky has the answers. TerraCycle’s new Loop initiative is a circular shopping platform that lets consumers shop online for household goods in durable, reusable packaging that can later be picked up, refilled and redelivered. Loop has allowed leading CPG brands including Tide, Häagen-Dazs and Clorox to eliminate single-use packaging, replacing it with reusable, recycled materials such as stainless steel and reengineered plastic. In addition, stores such as Carrefour in France and Kroger and Walgreens in the United States are stocking Loop packaged items.   “Everything can be recycled, it’s just a question of whether it’s profitable to do so,” Szaky said. “An infinitely durable item is infinitely profitable.”   Accommodating the desires of eco-minded consumers has also presented exciting new business opportunities for brands like Patagonia. “Historically these circular supply chains and business models used to be a competitive edge for brands like Patagonia, but going forward, I firmly believe that they are going to be a means for companies, brands and retailers to survive,” said Patagonia’s Head of Corporate Development Phil Graves. Repairing, reselling, upcycling and recycling has been part of the outdoor retailer’s business model since the 1970s; Patagonia has 70 global repair centers that fix more than 100,000 items every year.   In 2017, Patagonia went all in on re-commerce and launched the Worn Wear resell business unit. Customers can take Patagonia items to a store or mail it in and receive a gift card for the item. The item is then handed off to logistics and technology startup Yerdle, where it is inspected, cleaned, photographed, stocked in inventory and posted for sale online. “Since 2017, we have kept more than 130,000 used items in play and given them a second life,” Graves said. “As a brand, we love that we get to control the entire customer experience and ensure that it is top notch.” That brand control is an important component in re-commerce, noted Yerdle CEO Andy Ruben. “Because third-party marketplaces buy these products back from all of us, we’re in a moment where there is no longer brand control of how the products are showing up in the world,” Ruben said. “It’s why I’m increasingly convinced that brands and retailers must own their re-commerce. They must have control of their experience.”   Branded re-commerce is certainly working for Patagonia: The Worn Wear business unit has had 40 percent growth in revenue and profitability since it launched, Graves said, and has attracted customers that are on average 10 years younger than the typical Patagonia customer. To build on that momentum, Patagonia launched its first Worn Wear pop-up store in Boulder, Colo., in November and created a new line of products made from clothing that was beyond repair, the ReCrafted Collection. “Buying used is in,” Graves concluded.

NJ Service Delivers Household Products—Without Plastic

If you carry your own shopping bags and refill your water bottles, Loop might be your next step in the movement to cut back consumer waste. The loopstore.com service, launched by the Trenton-based recycling company TerraCycle, delivers Cascade detergent, Hidden Valley dressing, Häagen-Dazs ice cream and other branded products to customers in reusable glass and steel containers. Once they’re empty, Loop retrieves the containers in a special tote. Customers pay a refundable deposit on the products; shipping (including return shipping) runs from $10–$20 per order. Most orders are delivered within 48 hours. “We want to make reusability attractive and simple,” says Anthony Rossi, vice president of global business development for Loop. TerraCycle founder/CEO Tom Szaky is founder and chief executive of Loop. Loop launched its pilot program in May, serving 5,000 households in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Washington, D.C.
[RELATED: The Push to Nurture New Businesses in Trenton] TerraCycle announced Loop at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January, partnering with Kroger and Walgreens for the mid-Atlantic region, with deliveries through UPS. More than 100 brands have committed, though not all are part of the service yet. Selling through Loop means rethinking packaging and labeling. Loop’s plastic-free vision is on trend. Numerous towns around New Jersey have banned plastic bags, though a statewide ban has stalled in the Senate. Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club, says changing attitudes about recycling is crucial to the fight against climate change. He applauds companies like TerraCycle for leading the way. Says Rossi: “We are a mission-based company, and our mission is to eliminate waste.”

Can Loop disrupt society's packaging habit? Inside TerraCycle's grand experiment

The reusable shopping platform, which launched with big hype and is now eyeing retail, has already raised one key question in its early days: What are the true costs of convenience? https://www.wastedive.com/user_media/cache/4f/64/4f647d68810b54052f6342aeecab9ad3.jpg Tom Szaky, CEO of recycling company Terracycle, firmly believes that ditching disposable packaging doesn’t have to mean disposing of its benefits. Affordability, mainstream selection, "having the cool, new thing," and, most of all, convenience, are all elements of modern retail Szaky feels can be preserved in a package-free economy. Brands, he believes, just need the right model. In May, Terracycle launched a venture in circular economy shopping called Loop, bringing mainstream food and personal care products to consumers’ doorsteps in reusable, refillable packaging. The products come from some of the world’s biggest plastic polluters as defined by a 2018 Greenpeace audit across six continents. The idea has been to even out a skewed playing field between disposable and reusable packaging options, turning the complicated process of refilling and returning empty containers into a simple, one-click act. Since the launch, Loop has been hailed as a new take on "the milkman," a nostalgic reference to the dairy industry’s unique, circular model of distribution that once had so much consumer buy-in across the United States. Yet far from the simple routes of the neighborhood milkman, Loop is reverse engineering circularity onto products and supply chains designed for recycling or disposability. Its direct-to-consumer trial has been a virtuosic case study in marketing and reverse logistics. But the pilot – the object of much hype in the last six months, with a reported waitlist of 85,000 – was never designed to exceed 5,000 households in North America and another 5,000 in France. The company is planning to launch a more integrated approach and expand into multiple new countries next year. And while TerraCycle says it is too early to know how these pilots will perform, many in the recycling sector are curious to see just how disruptive this concept might be. The experiment, as it has unfolded until now, begs a pressing question: What are the true environmental and logistical costs of convenience? Rethinking convenience Szaky has good reason to want to bring convenience to a niche, package-free market. Currently, it’s in short supply. Catherine Conwaya package-free consultant based in the U.K., said she has found one of the main challenges for this form of shopping to be the behavior change it asks of consumers. Her business Unpackaged targets waste by reinventing stores’ bulk aisles to encourage reuse and refill with bring-your-own containers. "For the last 30 or 40 years, consumers have been told that all they should care about is convenience and price. So currently all they care about is convenience and price," explained Conway in an interview with Waste Dive. "You’ve now got to get across the message of why it’s going to be a bit inconvenient for them." This, she says, is why package-free shopping has remained on the fringes of retail. Many are put off by the limited offerings available in bulk, or simply aren’t willing to perform the extra work it entails. "I think there’s a lot of misconceptions out there about the number of hoops a consumer will jump through in the name of more sustainable packaging," Adam Gendell, associate director of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC), told Waste Dive. After all, any system is only as good as the number of people who will actually use it, and most people will only use it if it’s easy for them to do so. Gendell lauded the "milkman style" distribution model that Loop has adopted, where little is asked of consumers and the company is "not asking people to take 20 steps to get the package back" but instead "saying 'Here’s your reusable package, please get the stuff out of it, put it back outside, and forget about it.'" For shoppers, Loop’s direct-to-consumer model appears to do just that. The only behavior change required is to place used containers back in the Loop tote and schedule a pick-up online. Customers are incentivized to perform this last step because they have put down fully refundable container deposits on each item (a requisite for participation in the service), though these can be quite high. In her review of the service, Supply Chain Dive’s Emma Cosgrove commented that in addition to some products being more expensive – Loop’s dry black beans, for example, were 60% more than a bulk price in a grocery store – the deposits were cause for some sticker shock. "On my first order," she wrote, "I paid $30.50 in deposits including the $15.00 deposit for the shipping box – 23% of my total order." For brands, who also put hefty down payments and investment in new packaging to participate, Loop acts as an accommodating plug-in to a relatively hands-off reusable model. "Everything we do is always as a third party," said Benjamin Weir, Loop’s North America program manager, in an interview. The company's first task is working with brands to develop and test reusable packaging for each product. This can be simpler when brands request a "stock" container (a glass jar or an aluminum tin). It can get more complicated when they require customization, like in the case of the Häagen-Dazs stainless steel container or the Crest glass mouthwash bottle designed in conjunction with Kohler, featuring a silicone sleeve and a stainless steel cap. Once packaging is selected, a sanitation system is determined and then audited by brands. Loop outsources this portion of its work to specialized vendors at a cleaning facility located in Pennsylvania. It’s a learning curve, Weir told Waste Dive, as vendors providing sanitation services typically clean medical-grade equipment or aerospace parts – products far too valuable to dispose of after a single-use. For Loop’s purposes, they must be trained to clean consumer product-sized goods. In addition to cleaning services, Loop also provides brands with fulfillment – not to be confused with product refilling – at a warehouse in New Jersey, where orders of Loop totes are packed and prepared for delivery. These warehousing services are also outsourced. Finally, once the orders are prepared, totes are delivered to shoppers’ homes by UPS, the carrier Loop has partnered with for logistics. Balancing sustainability with availability Preserving ease-of-use for brands and consumers doesn’t come easy. The dairy industry to which Loop is so often compared enjoyed the luxury of managing just one product, produced and distributed regionally, with a standard package that had been designed with reusability and sanitation in mind from the very start. Production, cleaning, fulfillment and distribution all happened in the same place and dairy farms had relative control over their local supply chains. And milk, a product consumed regularly, was delivered on a "subscription" basis making the demand for refills constant and stable. Loop enjoys almost none of those advantages. The pilot offers 123 products on its website featuring over a dozen different types of packaging, each with its own distinct sanitization process. And being a third party means that, while Loop is responsible for sanitation of containers in regional warehouses, refilling remains in the hands of manufacturers located throughout the country. Nestlé, who is trialing Häagen-Dazs ice cream with Loop, told CNN they’re trucking refills of product from California to the East Coast. The winding reverse logistics for products that are – unlike the milkman – not locally sourced have caused some to question whether the additional impacts aren't nullifying any sustainability goals. "Loop is trying to minimize waste, but does that process still take into account the emissions to take that product back and reuse it and wash it and reprocess it and send it back out?" queried Alexis Bateman, director of the Sustainable Supply Chains program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in an interview with Waste Dive. "I think that overvaluing one impact over another is usually the pitfall that these kinds of solutions come into." Weir said Loop is aware of some of the environmental impacts posed by adding mileage to the supply chain and using higher grade materials. "We’ve always said that this system is not always designed to service a large quantity of households. You’ll never see more than 5,000 households in our system right now, as is," he said. Working with the consulting firm Long Trail Sustainability, Loop has performed life cycle analyses (LCA) on all of its packaging to determine the cradle-to-grave environmental impacts. Rick Zultner, Loop's vice president of research and development, told Waste Dive these assessments showed that at 10 reuse cycles, the Loop e-commerce trial had a 35% reduction in global warming potential as compared to a "similar model." "The Loop system is very proficient at solving the waste problem, but we have to think beyond that," said Weir. "We have to think about the sustainability of the entire ecosystem and whether we are creating new problems with new solutions. That’s of course never the goal." Limits of LCAs Reusable systems like Loop open the door to a larger debate within the field of environmental accounting. In recent years, officials at the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) have surveyed literature and pioneered studies assessing the sustainability of reusable systems in a range of contexts, from water bottles to beer kegs. "There’s no simple answer to the question of disposable versus reusable packaging," said Peter Canepa, an LCA practitioner at the DEQ, in an interview with Waste Dive. At the request of local brewers in Oregon, the DEQ performed an LCA to determine the impact of the industry’s traditional reusable stainless steel kegs when compared with the rise of new single-use plastic beer kegs. "Even with the washing and sterilization, all those steps were accounted for and reusable stainless steel kegs were more beneficial," said Canepa, referring to the LCA results. "But there started to be a point of inflection." Reuse made sense for breweries in Oregon who distribute their product locally, but numbers began to tilt in favor of disposable as distance was added to the supply chain. According to Canepa, breweries distributing East of the Mississippi found there were sufficient environmental implications, to the point that "making a new plastic keg, using it once, and disposing of it was actually less impactful." It is at this point that the LCA school of thought diverges from the one Loop more closely adheres to. Advocates of circular economy theory (like SPC’s Gendell) still promote the use of LCA as a tool, but put far more weight on systems being regenerative. The idea is that waste from one system forms a resource for another. "That can’t always be measured with any type of precision with a tool like LCA, which is an important, but imperfect science," Gendell explained. LCA, for example, does not yet have a way to quantify the effects of litter on marine or land environments, a category in which disposable materials score very poorly. Unpackaged’s Conway agrees that literature on reuse can often be difficult to decipher. "The thing that’s annoying is that it’s very hard to get independent environmental data … These industry-sponsored studies are not 100% reliable." She argues that just because reusable systems like Loop require more upfront resources than disposables shouldn’t be a reason to discount them, even if the LCA initially says otherwise. Especially in the beginning, it may be the case that they just require a bit of scale to make it worth it. "I don’t think that’s a bad system until they get to that point, I think they just have to be aware that it’s probably going to be inefficient to start off with," she said. The experiment continues Loop’s pilot model (the length of which is said to be undetermined) preserves extreme convenience, but that likely will not be way this service grows in the future. "What we’re doing now, to make it as convenient for consumers as possible, is really allowing them to order and return packaging at any time," explained Weir. "The purchasing of the products and the returning are truly two separate interactions." In an ideal world, pick-ups would coincide with drop-offs and vice-versa. And retailers, who have their own fleets of trucks, would leave warehouses full in the morning and come back full with returns (as opposed to returning empty, as they do now). In the future integrated version, consumers will purchase and return Loop products at retail locations directly. Confirmed partners include Walgreens and Kroger in the United States, Carrefour in France and Tesco in the U.K. The advantage to this model is that products would be sold in locations many shoppers already frequent, side-by-side with disposable counterparts of the same items. "That kind of brick-and-mortar shopping is going to open up additional avenues for the consumer," said Patrick Browne, director of sustainability at UPS, in an interview with Waste Dive. The company continues to work with Loop on the e-commerce model, but Browne said that retail deliveries would pose less of a logistical challenge. They take place in more dense settings, where drivers are delivering multiple packages per stop, making them more efficient. Whereas "in e-commerce, which is residential, typically your stops are a little bit farther in between houses." Loop’s decisions about reuse and disposal are not purely determined by environmental impact, sparking further complications. This comprises perhaps Loop's biggest challenge: balancing the complex, fragile world of environmental accounting with the extremely qualitative world of corporate branding, which has an altogether different set of values. For the companies Loop works with, packaging isn’t just about getting a product from here to there, or even strictly about safety. It’s also about maintaining brand uniformity and image. Disposable packaging, where each purchase yields a fresh container, does this quite well. Conversely, "packaging that is reusable will naturally scratch. It will naturally bend," said Weir, "There are very few ways around that. Especially when we’re looking at high, high numbers of reuse cycles." Loop’s challenge has been encouraging companies to reconsider their traditional stance on wear and tear, which is typically viewed as a performance failure. In the end, participating brands determine what is the standard for reuse, and where to draw the line between refilling and disposing. It is Loop’s job to adhere to that standard, meaning disposal may occur on the hundredth cycle, or the tenth. “The positive side is that I think these solutions are important to start to change the dialogue on end-of-life packaging and waste that’s become so normalized in American culture,” said MIT’s Bateman. "Even if the future of Loop looks very different from what it is now, the trials of today are essential to shifting the discourse on disposables." At the end of the day, Loop reveals an inconvenient truth about reusable systems: In the current market, it takes more work to make less waste. According to DEQ's Canepa, that extra work is necessary because, in a reusable world, more durable materials with a higher lifecycle impact raise the stakes. “This sounds really banal, but if the thing made to be reusable is not reused, or more specifically is not reused a specific number of times,” he explained, “then you actually may be doing worse [sic] for the environment.” Reusable programs thus require vigilant stewarding to ensure proper use, an inescapable part of Loop's grand experiment. "They can’t be left to operate to themselves,” emphasized Weir. “There needs to be certain rules, there need to be certain frameworks. Because one-to-one, a stainless steel container versus a paper pint, I mean, there’s no comparison.”