Posts with term Kroger X

Zero-Waste Delivery Service Loop Announces Coast-to-Coast, International Expansion

Loop, the zero-waste, refillable packaging delivery service, has announced that it is expanding nationally in the US this summer and coming soon to the UK, Canada, Japan, and Australia. Terracycle, which runs the service, has partnered with Kroger and Walgreens in the US, Loblaw in Canada, Tesco in the UK, and Carrefour in France. Terracycle piloted the Loop service in New York and Paris and later expanded to a few regions along the US east coast. Consumers order products from over 200 brands, including products from major international consumer goods companies such as Unilever, Nestlé, Coca-Cola, and Procter & Gamble. Customers place orders online and receive it in a reusable Loop tote, with all of the products within coming in refillable packaging. Editorial photograph Goods range from pantry items, perishables, home goods, and personal care products. Once finished, users request a pickup for empties, which is then picked up. Your empty containers go back to Terracycle, where they are then cleaned, sanitized, and refilled for the next customer. The announcement comes as consumers flock to grocery delivery services from companies such as Instacart and Amazon over fears of contracting COVID-19 and being in the vicinity of possibly contagious shoppers in-store. While delivery services provide relief from possible contact with coronavirus, Loop is the only service that offers zero-waste packaging. Loop is currently inviting interested consumers to sign up on their waiting list.

Loop’s zero-waste everyday product delivery service is expanding to the whole U.S.

The platform, which ships things like ice cream in metal containers you then send back for reuse, is expanding this summer, after a huge surge during the pandemic.

If you’ve started buying basic supplies like shampoo and toothbrushes online during the pandemic, you may notice that you’re creating a lot of extra waste in your house. But soon you’ll also be able to buy versions that come with sustainable, reusable packaging. Loop, the milkman-style platform that partners with big brands to offer subscriptions to common products like Tide detergent in reusable packaging, will expand its delivery service across the contiguous U.S. early this summer. The startup, which began its first pilots in and around New York City and Paris in 2019, has seen record sales in March and April as consumers have turned to e-commerce to avoid shopping in crowded stores. The expansion is a response to demand from customers, but also offers an alternative to recycling at a time when the recycling industry is struggling even more than it already was. [Photo: Loop] “We’re in a waste crisis,” says Tom Szaky, Loop’s CEO, who is also CEO of Terracycle, the recycling company that first helped launch the new platform. “That’s only worse because of COVID. During COVID, recyclers are hurting even more because oil is at an extreme low, so it makes it hard for recyclers to compete. And many are struggling because of health and safety—recycling is crashing during COVID.” Instead of shipping products in packages designed for a single use before recycling (or going straight to landfill), the platform sells products in packages designed for multiple reuses. When a container is empty, a consumer drops it in a shipping tote, schedules a pickup, and then sends the packaging back to be fully sterilized and then repackaged for another customer. Reuse has faltered in some cases during the coronavirus outbreak—some grocery stores have banned reusable bags, and some coffee shops have stopped reusable cup programs. But Szaky says that hasn’t been the case for Loop. “We’re learning that consumers are comfortable with reuse during COVID, which is very important,” he says. “If you give a coffee cup to a barista at a Starbucks, it has no dwell time, no health and safety protocol, and no cleaning. So it’s pretty bad. In Loop, it’s a professional reuse system, which has all of those three things in a very, very big way.” The platform now offers around 200 products that major brands have redesigned for reuse, either in the packaging or the product itself. A new toothbrush from Oral B called Clic has a reusable base and a head that snaps off to be sent back for recycling. Pantene shampoo comes in a lightweight aluminum bottle instead of plastic. Puretto, Loop’s in-house brands, sells snacks like chips and pretzels in stainless steel tubs instead of plastic bags. The design process for each item takes months; a tub designed for Häagen-Dazs ice cream, for example, uses a unique structure that works in the system, but also keeps ice cream colder longer. Four hundred brands have now signed onto the platform and are working through the process of developing new packaging for their products. As the company tracks where orders are most popular across the country, that will help its retail partners—Kroger and Walgreens—decide where to prioritize offering the same platform in stores later this year.

Waste Free! Loop Expands Reusable Packaging Program Throughout the U.S.

With the coronavirus pandemic forcing me to order more things than ever online — from groceries to toiletries to fancy dried beans — I’m accruing quite a lot of single-use packaging at my house. And I feel bad about it. Maybe I’ll soon be able to assuage some of that guilt when Loop, the reusable packaging service, expands nationwide over the next few months (tip via Fast Company). Loop, an initiative from recycling company Terracycle, sells name-brand CPG products directly to consumers that are packaged in reusable containers made from metal and glass. After the consumers use them up, they put the empty containers back in the tote they came in and Loop picks them up to be sterilized and refilled. Loop launched in the U.S. last May with a pilot program in the Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. According to an Instagram post from the company, Loop will roll out its reusable-container service across the contiguous U.S. sometime this summer. Globally, Loop is available in Paris and has plans to head to Canada, Germany, Japan, and the U.K. this year. At launch Loop already had a roster of big-name partners like Kroger, Pepsi, Nestlé, and Walgreens. The platform has expanded to include roughly 200 products, including plant-based burgers and ice cream from Häagen-Dazs (my personal favorite). I know what you’re thinking — during a pandemic when we’re all anxious about contamination, are we really going to be okay with receiving groceries packed in containers that someone else has already used? Especially since bring-your-own mugs and reusable totes in retailers are becoming a thing of the past? Loop’s CEO certainly thinks so. He told Fast Company that Loop has seen evidence that “consumers are comfortable with reuse during COVID.” Since Loop has a reuse protocol in place — with stringent cleaning measures and pre-established health and safety checklists — he’s confident that they’ll be able to continue their closed-loop packaging practice without putting users at risk. If users are comfortable with this, Loop’s extended platform could be a real help to cut down on our persistent packaging problem. Even if your delivery boxes are technically recyclable, COVID-19 is causing challenges for the waste management industry as a whole. Many packaging elements — like styrofoam and ice packs — aren’t recyclable anyway. Considering that the EPA reported that over 32 million tons of packaging and containers went into landfills in 2017 — almost a quarter of the total waste from the entire year — this is an issue we need to take seriously. Today is Earth Day, so there’s no better time to take a moment and consider how we can help preserve our planet. Come this summer I know one small step that I’ll be taking cut down on the amount of packaging I’m tossing out. Bonus: I still get to enjoy my chocolate-fudge ice cream.  

How Safe is Reusable Packaging During COVID-19?

Last year, Loop launched its revolutionary shopping platform anchored by reusable packaging. Here, Tom Szaky, founder and CEO of TerraCycle and the driving force behind Loop, provides an update on the platform and how it’s faring in light of COVID-19. Tom Szaky, founder and CEO of TerraCycle, Inc., and founder of Loop Tom Szaky, founder and CEO of TerraCycle, Inc., and founder of Loop Packaging World: What progress have you seen with Loop since it launched last year in New York and in Paris? Tom Szaky: As you know, in May [2019], we launched in Paris with Carrefour and in the Northeast of the U.S. with Kroger and Walgreens. Those tests have gone incredibly well. The punchline is that all the retailers we’re working with are now working on going in-store. Carrefour will be the first retailer to put Loop in-store, which means really the retailer sells it [products in reusable packaging] in their physical stores, and there will be collection bins for the packaging at the store. Carrefour is going into stores starting in July, then 10 more stores in September, and then a much larger number at the end of the year. Kroger will be going in all Portland stores around September/October, and then more stores will follow. Walgreens too is making plans to go in-store in the Northeast. That has been a huge thing. Brands have been joining consistently and continue to join aggressively. We’re seeing really good rates of brands joining—on average, a brand every two days. We are also on track to be launching in Canada with Loblaw, in the U.K. with Tesco, with AEON in Japan, and with Woolworths in Australia, all in the next 12 months. I’d say it’s just off to the races, and we’re thrilled so far. It’s continuing, and it’s accelerating, even within the context of COVID. Actually, March will be the best-performing month to date so far. What have you learned through the pilot? The two biggest lessons by far are related to the three major stakeholders—manufacturers, retailers, and consumers—and then Loop as a fourth stakeholder. And what I’ve learned is that while they all see the benefits of reuse, they really want to try to make it as similar to disposability as possible. And noting that many other reuse models diverge from the concept of disposability, what has really resonated for brands is that they simply fill packages—the packages just happen to be durable versus disposable. Retailers just order the packaging in pallets and put it on their shelf, which is a very similar experience versus things that may be more disruptive in reusables, like refill stations. Then consumers just get to buy products and throw the packaging away—they just happen to be throwing it into a reuse bin, per se. That’s one thing: The desire of all stakeholders to have the convenience of disposable models is very, very high. Another key thing is we found that  shifting from disposability to reusability does bring a major sustainability benefit, but what has been interesting to learn is that what consumers like even more is how beautiful the packages have become, and that packaging beauty has also been a very big driver we didn’t expect before. I’m surprised to hear you say that March will be your biggest month so far, given that companies like Starbucks are banning reusable cups and some retail stores are banning reusable bags because of a fear of contamination with the virus. How do you think Loop has continued to thrive? It’s a very interesting question. I’ll give you the answer in two ways, if I may. The first is that you mentioned Starbucks, and yes, Starbucks has famously stopped accepting reusable coffee cups, and I think frankly, they made absolutely the right decision. And they did that I think because of three main things that are very different in an informal reuse system where a consumer is giving a cup to a barista versus a professional reuse system. In the Starbucks example, there are three things that are very different. One is there’s no dwell time. I could be an infected person giving my cup to a barista, and I’m giving it to them right away. There’s not a single second of dwell time. And there are many reports that show the virus can last maybe up to three days on the surface... . The second is that the barista does not have proper health and safety support, training equipment, or anything like that. They’re just a normal person in normal clothes. And then third, they’re not even cleaning the cup at all. So there’s no cleaning, no health and safety protocol, and no dwell time. In the professional reuse system, whether that’s Loop or whether that’s a Canadian beer [bottle] or Germany with beverage [bottles], which are all examples of very big national reuse systems, all three of those things are at play. There’s strong dwell time. We typically will take about a month before the package is clean. Two, there are major health and safety protocols because that was always a big concern, and we’re really pleased that our health and safety is so strong that nothing had to be upgraded once COVID came out. We were already thinking about really important health and safety measures. So all the team members who do cleaning are in full-body personal protective equipment. And that’s been the case even before COVID. The packaging is also cleaned in a proper cleanroom versus not even being cleaned, or maybe how a bar would clean your beer cup, with just a spray of water, or even like a restaurant doing it in the back of their kitchen. There’s an actual cleanroom environment. And then the third is that it’s being cleaned at very high standards with really sophisticated chemistry and technology. There’s a huge difference within reuse of how one reuses and what systems and measures are behind the scenes. And what’s been interesting is that with COVID, it’s still not even in the top-10 questions we get on customer service in any of the Loop deployment. Where I do get a lot of questions on reuse is in fact only from the members of the media. I say this with a smile and a joke, but I totally understand why you’re asking the question. But it’s interesting that it hasn’t come from the people participating. Do you think the growth of Loop right now is due to the fact that consumers are able to get their products without having to go to a store? And, do you think trend will continue, even after COVID is resolved? I definitely think that the growth is probably in some part linked to the general growth e-comm is having right now due to COVID—for sure. I don’t want to take entire credit that it’s just the platform, and I think the macroeconomic trends and how we are consuming are absolutely playing into it. The positive tailwind and just the general shift in consumption to online is definitely supporting the deployments we have of Loop today, which are mostly online. But do note that all the deployments coming up of Loop are in-store deployments. So we’re not necessarily an online play, we just happened to start online, and I think that’s an important distinction. But yes, today we’re seeing some nice tailwind just because of the way the models are set up today. I do think there’s this general question around the health and safety of reuse, as you just asked. And my hope is—so far so good—that people see the distinction in different reuse models, and that they’re not all the same. There’s a big difference between the systems behind them and how they operate. And during a COVID-type moment, which ones people should maybe temporarily stop using. Starbucks is a great example, and I really commend them for pausing. And really temporarily, by the way, I think it should come back after COVID is over. And then let’s see how much our life changes or not. There’s every sort of assumption. How much will we learn from this and how much will we change is unknown. I really hope, frankly, that we take a reflection that by slowing down the gears of the economy, the planet has improved greatly, from a pollution point of view. I have a funny feeling though, we won’t. We will simply try to work even harder to make up the time and revenue many companies have lost during this time. One thing I’ve seen with COVID is a lot of environmental groups saying that consumer brands are using it as an excuse to extol the benefits of single-use packaging, and that it will undo all the progress these groups have made. Do you think that’s true? Look, I think that I would answer it this way. I think that just like we commented, hopefully the world will reflect that slowing down the economy has made the world better from a climate change point of view and a pollution point of view. I’m sure you’ve seen lots of examples. I’ve seen a lot on my social media that are giving really objective feedback. Look at Italy before COVID, and the amount of emissions it was making during COVID is significantly down, and let’s see if people reflect on that. But that will be COVID creating an environmental improvement. I think on the other side, we are going to wake up to a heightened waste crisis, because people have been now purchasing way more disposable packaging, partly because we shifted our consumption say, away from restaurants and even more into packaged foods, and we will see a general increase in the waste crisis when this is over. I think that’s what we’re going to wake up to post-COVID: A better climate, but a worse environment from a waste point of view. And I think people will understand that it’s not the difference between disposable or reusable. Good packaging has good benefits. There’s really badly designed disposable packaging, and there’s really badly designed reusable, and vice versa. There is incredibly designed reusable packaging, and there’s incredibly designed disposable packaging. I think we shouldn’t necessarily link single-use versus multi-use to whether it’s well designed or badly designed. With the right systems in place, durable packaging can be more sterile or more clean than disposable packaging. Disposable packaging does have acceptable level of microorganisms on it. Yet when you go to a dentist office, and you get your teeth cleaned, they’re using metal tools that were used on hundreds of patients before you. And if they didn’t clean that to a surgically sterile state, that could be putting you at massive health and safety risk. Right? And we’re all totally fine with it. So this is this idea of single-use versus multi-use should be independently questioned from good design versus bad design, versus the cleanliness of the systems at play. They’re all independent concepts. I do understand completely why people link reusable to potentially greater risk, but I think it’s a misnomer. A disposable coffee cup sitting at Starbucks in an uncontrolled environment could collect a lot of dust and dirt and all sorts of other negatives. So these are unrelated questions. I do again, understand, but it’s weird. I’ll give you an example of the weirdness. Before COVID got really crazy, as it was just beginning, I was in an airport lounge, and there was a tray of apples, and they set a sign next to it saying, “To protect your health, each apple has been individually wrapped in Saran Wrap.” And I chuckled to myself and I was like, “Wait a minute. Okay, it’s lovely that they’re wrapped, but were they washed? Who touched them, and how did they touch them? Or did they just basically have a dirty hand?” It was a pesticide-laden apple, just being wrapped in Saran Wrap to make it seem better. So I don’t know, but I had a chuckle on it. I think there’s this weird psychological effect that’s not based in reality. And this is why I think the most important thing as anyone evaluates anything is to think about what are the systems behind it. And in a way, that’s where brands are very powerful. I trust, for example, that a Nestlé product has really good health and safety protocols behind it, just like someone who buys a Nestlé product on Loop should trust that Nestlé has evaluated the cleaning process and has signed off on it, or they wouldn’t put their brand on it. And not a single brand in Loop has asked us to do anything except continue to go. Do you think a reusable packaging program like Algramo where consumers use the same package over and over again is more prone to contamination? So here’s the difference. If you think about reuse systems, it all begins with a reusable package—a durable package. The real difference between any reusable system is not the package, but how the package is refilled. So I’d say Loop is a re-refill-for-you system. You throw it out, we pick it up, clean it, and then the manufacturer refills it, and it’s sold again. So let’s call Loop a re-refill-for-you system. We personally like it because it gives you the convenience of disposability. You can effectively feel disposable but act usable. Now, Algramo, which is a wonderful company, is a you-refill-for-yourself system, which is basically, you take it to a refill station, and they have a unique twist that their refill station can be static, but can also be mobile. It can be on wheels. And the consumer is charged with taking their package, cleaning it as they wish, and using it at the refill station. I think it’s important to note that they are not filling food products. They’re filling detergents, which have different health and safety protocols. I mean, they are literally cleaning agents. It’s not filling food. But one question that’s important to think about is what happens if a consumer who is sick—let’s just say with COVID or any other transmissible disease—is touching that package, and let’s say the virus or the bug can transmit onto the package, and what if the package then touches the refill station or any other aspect of it? And then a healthy person touches the refill station—maybe the walls of the refill station, it doesn’t have to be the nozzles, it could be any aspect of it—and it transmits? And I would say that’s the same as what happens if I should walk into a supermarket, and a sick person who had just looked at buying a can of pickles decided not to buy it and put it back on the shelf, and I picked it up a minute later. This is why Algramo is in no way different than a comparable example: If I’m sick and I evaluate a box of Cheerios and put them back, and you’re healthy and you pick it up a minute later. The same inherent risks are not more or less, right? So that would be my key answer. I think whether the consumer washes it themselves or not is not that relevant because the consumer is keeping the package for their own use. I think what’s really important is if the package goes from consumer A to consumer B, from consumer B to consumer C, and then from consumer C to consumer D, like Loop, then having a very strong cleaning protocol is critical. And I would in no way trust the consumer to clean the package. An example where I would be a bit more critical is there are a lot of reusable cup models where what they do is they have a float of coffee cups, let’s say between 10 coffee shops, and you can buy your coffee in a reusable cup, then you drop it off in a bin in the coffee shop, and then the coffee shop cleans it and then sells it again. Well in no way to disparage a coffee shop, I don’t trust a restaurant doing cleaning in a type of protocol that a big platform would. They would probably just throw it in their dishwasher. There wouldn’t be health and safety inspections, there wouldn’t be a cleanroom environment, which adds added health and safety. It’d be kind of the same as a restaurant setting though, wouldn’t it? It absolutely is. And during COVID, I would not eat in a restaurant and use reusable plates and forks. As soon as COVID is over, I would totally do it, because I don’t think we need to be as concerned post-COVID. Life was normal, and it worked just fine. And again, I think this is where we have to distinguish between today’s environment and a normal environment, and not assume that post-COVID we don’t go back to a normal state. I mean, most of our activities are very communal, and we’re sharing a lot of our microbes.  

IKEA, Nordstrom, Walgreens on the many opportunities for circularity in retail

Customers and staff in a busy clothing shop A couple of years ago, luxury retailer Nordstrom collected data from its customers to get a better sense of their actions and sentiments about circularity, shopping and its impact on the environment. Seventy percent of those surveyed said they would drop off items for resale or donation, and 35 percent said they worried about the environmental impact of the clothing they owned. Nordstrom used these data points and others to inform its sustainability efforts. "We’re seeing circularity as an opportunity as well as an impact area for us to think about," said Chelsea Evans, sustainability lead at Nordstrom, during this week's GreenBiz Group webcast about how retailers can embrace the circular economy.  (You can watch the discussion on demand by signing up here.) There is no one perfect approach for a retailer to embrace circular business models or practices. There’s also no one way to prove the return on investment that comes from shifting to this mode of doing business. But there are plenty of compelling reasons to explore it — from doing less damage to the environment to meeting consumers’ growing desires to support businesses that are sustainable. We’re seeing circularity as an opportunity as well as an impact area for us to think about. In Nordstrom’s case, the retailer is using several approaches to embed circularity into its business model. One way it is doing so is by driving demand for products that are made or sourced from recycled materials. It is also getting everyone — including consumers — "on the same page with language" about what it means for a garment to be made of recycled materials. For example, when a company says a piece of apparel is made from recycled plastic bottles, what that really means is that the garment is made from recycled polyester. The retailer has created a section on its site to help customers filter through products that are sustainably sourced. As part of this resource, it includes brands that use at least 50 percent sustainably sourced materials — organic cotton, recycled polyester and materials that are Fair Trade Certified. The decision to create this guide was informed by the 59 percent of customers that said their purchasing decisions had been influenced by information about a company’s social or environmental policies, Evans said. Additionally, Nordstrom recently has launched a recommerce shop through a partnership with Trove (formerly Yerdle) where it takes back products and refurbishes damaged items for resale. "We’re excited to show our customers another way Nordstrom is striving to leave the world better than we found it, and circular fashion is another piece to this puzzle," said Pete Nordstrom, co-president at Nordstrom, in a statement.

Connecting circularity to emissions

Retailer IKEA, which sells an entirely different portfolio of products from Nordstrom and therefore has different needs when it comes to circularity, likewise started with the data to inform its priorities. In 2016, IKEA measured and cataloged the main source of the greenhouse gas emissions attributable to its operations. It found that more than 60 percent came from raw materials and consumer product use — at 38 percent and 23 percent, respectively. Lisa Davis, sustainability manager at IKEA, said one of the biggest challenges the company is trying to tackle is unsustainable consumption. "That brings us to how we connected those emissions to our strategy," Davis said, noting that one of IKEA's commitments is promoting circular and sustainable consumption to its customers. In 2016, IKEA collaborated with Goodwill to run a pilot take-back program in Charlotte, North Carolina, inviting customers to bring back furniture that was no longer of use to them. Workers from both organizations inspected the furniture and determined whether it would be taken to a Goodwill store to be resold or broken down and recycled. The following year, IKEA expanded the pilot to 41 stores. Davis said success for the program varied across sites, but IKEA is using its findings to inform future programs and has been working to implement circular economy principles in other parts of its business. Two places where strategies are under development: eliminating food waste and revamping its reverse logistics protocols.

The allure of reuse

Walgreens is another retailer that is embracing circular economy ideals, in partnership with Loop. Loop, a shopping service created by parent company Terracycle, enables customers to buy everyday products  — from deodorant to ice cream — that are packaged in reusable containers. "They’re basically operating off of the milkman model from the 1950s and a little after that but really looking at this very wide variety of products that people are using on a daily basis," said Lauren Stone, director of corporate social responsibility at Walgreens, during this week's webcast. In Loop's current, launch iteration, customers must ship back or find a UPS location to drop off the totes that are used to deliver products. Now in partnership with The Kroger Co. and Walgreens, customers will be able to drop off packaging in person at return kiosks that located are in physical stores. The launch is aimed for fall 2020 in Walgreens stores. Stone said that the Walgreens-Loop partnership will help customers who want to make more sustainable decisions about the retail products they purchase. While the concept of reuse is still novel to many people, by including exclusive, reusable options in stores, Walgreens is seeking to resolve consumer confusion while adding a layer of convenience for consumers who aren't comfortable with an entirely online experience. Don’t wait for a perfect solution because it doesn’t exist ... Take a first step in an area that is of importance to you, learn from that scenario... Walgreens acknowledges both the opportunities and challenges that come with implementing a reuse model in stores. The benefits include the chance for Walgreens to offer exclusive products and improve the sustainability of its operations, while the challenges include educating consumers about the process and making accommodations for the space that the return kiosks and merchandise will take up in stores. Each of these retailers on this week's webcast is implementing different strategies for embedding circular economy processes, and those initiatives will continue to adjust along the way. When the webinar wrapped up, each speaker offered advice to people working in other businesses thinking about embedding circularity into their work. They all echoed the line of thinking that you have to just start. "Don’t wait for a perfect solution because it doesn’t exist," Davis said. "Take a first step in an area that is of importance to you, learn from that scenario, get the data from consumers, get the results and use that to look at how you move forward."

Sustainable packaging goes beyond traditional recycling

When buying food and beverage items, consumers are looking for delicious treats and drinks, but younger consumers are also looking to enjoy products that can help the environment. The average consumer is more aware that single-use containers, often made of plastic, are negatively affecting the environment. A Consumer Brands Association report found 86% of Americans believe we are experiencing a packaging and plastic waste crisis. What are producers doing to address this crisis? CPG brands create their own sustainability solutions Most legacy food and beverage companies have set sustainability goals for their organizations. Many of those goals include increased availability of products that come in sustainable packaging. ConagraNestle and Unilever all made recent pledges to increase sustainable materials in their packaging over the next five years. Conagra intends to make all of its plastic containers renewable, recyclable or compostable while Nestle and Unilever both signed the European Plastics Pact, which designates that participants are committed to boosting the recycled plastic content for single-use products and creating reusable packaging. In California, PepsiCo is testing a better substitute for plastic rings on beverage six-packs: molded pulp and paperboard packaging. This trial demonstrates how CPG producers are working to address customer desires for sustainable packaging that still fills the durability needs of companies. “[W]e’ve worked collaboratively with our suppliers to ensure the two solutions that we’re testing meet the needs of our consumers and customers while also addressing our functionality and sustainability requirements,” Emily Silver, PepsiCo Beverages North America’s vice president of innovation and marketing capabilities, said to BeverageDaily. While many brands are creating their own packaging solutions or reducing their virgin plastic use, several are also investing in a broader eco-friendly packaging infrastructure. Nestle is planning to purchase roughly $1.6 billion worth of recycled plastic over the next five years, and Perrier has launched an investment program for startups that are developing packaging options that have a “positive environmental and social impact.” Loop takes reusing to the masses Rather than simply reducing or recycling virgin plastic, some companies are addressing waste by offering accessible, reusable packaging. Recycling business TerraCycle debuted its circular delivery service Loop to consumers in 2019, and it is currently available in Paris, France, and the northeast region of the US. Loop’s online platform allows users to shop for consumer packaged goods products in reusable packaging from a variety of brands, which are shipped in a reusable container -- the Loop Tote -- that rids the need for single-use shipping materials. “While disposable design focuses on making our packaging as cheap as possible, durable design focuses on making containers as long lasting as possible, allowing us to access unparalleled materials, design, and function,” the Loop site states. After using up the products, Loop customers return the empty packaging via free UPS pickup where it is returned to Loop to be cleaned and disinfected in preparation for reuse. “Customers are demanding that brands step up and provide solutions that produce less waste,” said Loop Publicist Eric Rosen. “Brands are responding to this push by investing in sustainable packaging solutions such as Loop’s reuse model.” The service is currently available online, but Loop products will be available in Walgreens and Kroger retail locations in the US later in 2020. Once Loop products arrive at retail, customers will also be able to make in-store returns of reusable containers instead of shipping them. Loop’s brand partners include food brands such as Haagen DazsHidden ValleyTropicana and Chameleon Cold Brew. The service also offers personal care and cleaning products from brands such as GilletteDoveTide and Clorox. Rosen said that Loop welcomes participation from any type or size of CPG brand as long as they are committed to transforming their packaging from single-use to multi-use. “One challenge is redesigning packaging that lasts many reuse cycles,” Rosen said. “Brands must find the right material and design to suit their product. TerraCycle acts as a consultant for the packaging development process and tests all packaging for cleanability and durability prior to approval in the platform.” Rosen also revealed that Loop will be expanding internationally in 2020. Loop will partner with Tesco in the UK, Loblaws in Canada and Aeon in Japan. The platform also plans to be available in Germany and Australia in 2021. “Consumers can support brands that are taking the next step from recyclable packaging to reusable packaging,” said Rosen. “[R]ecycling is never going to be enough to solve waste at the root cause.”  

First Came the Milkman. Then Came Loop.

How one company is working to eliminate the very idea of waste   Since 2001, where most of us have seen trash, Tom Szaky has seen potential. From cigarette butts to coffee capsules, Tom set out to recycle the hard-to-recycle products we use. His company, TerraCycle, offers everything from free recycling programs to industrial waste solutions. “But we can’t recycle our way out of the waste crisis,” Eric Rosen, publicist for TerraCycle said. “And [Tom] is the first to say if TerraCycle didn’t exist — or couldn’t exist — he’d be thrilled.” In other words, he would love to see a world where we produced zero waste to begin with. That’s where TerraCycle’s latest venture, Loop, comes in. “The next thing to do was to attack waste at the root cause,” Eric said. “If the economics are good, we can recycle virtually anything. But that’s not going to solve the problem.”   “The next step was to create a circular economy where there’s virtually no waste.” Loop was announced at the World Economic Forum in January 2019, proposing a new model of consumption whereby people can get their favorite home goods, cosmetics, and food products through a sustainable, circular system of pick-up and drop-off using reusable containers. It took off from there. “We immediately had thousands upon thousands of people who went to the website and were waitlisted,” Eric said. “So we knew right away that there was a clamoring for this. And we’ve continued to see that as we grow.” The company launched its pilot program that summer, beginning in Paris on May 14 and New York the following week. “We launched in a handful of states as a pilot,” Eric said. “We could not keep up with the number of requests coming in, like ‘When are you coming to our state?’ Certainly, the waste crisis, sustainability, and climate change are in the news, so people are well aware. There’s a sense now that they want to do something about it.” Loop already has a cleaning facility in Pennsylvania and a warehouse in New Jersey, which made New York a logical place to start. As the company scales, it selects cities within a 24-hour delivery range of both a cleaning facility and a warehouse, particularly for the frozen goods it provides. “We’ll add warehouses and cleaning facilities as we go, but that’s how the places were chosen,” Eric added. Loop will launch in the UK at the end of March, Toronto in June, and Japan towards the end of the year. Next will be Australia in 2021.       Customers receive their orders in a reusable tote and request a pick-up once items are empty. They’re then cleaned and refilled. Photos: Loop   The price of a Loop good is comparable to a regular one, plus a deposit for the packaging. Since it’s reusable, it becomes valuable. Take shampoo, for example. Before, you bought shampoo for its contents; once the bottle was empty, you would toss it. “In this instance, now the company owns the package and the package is an asset,” Eric said. “Customers put a deposit down on each pack. When that pack comes back, the deposit is returned to the consumer.” This deposit essentially sits in an account. You can opt to let it remain there as you continue to buy products through Loop; or, once you’re done, you can request the deposit back.   The brand owns the package, so they want that package back. This inherently makes the process a circular one, removing waste from the equation. While Loop is currently e-commerce only, “we will be in-store at some point in 2020 in the United States,” Eric explained. With retail partners like Kroger and Walgreens stateside, Carrefour in Paris and Loblaws in Canada, you might find a Loop aisle at a grocer near you. “The process will work virtually the same,” Eric said. “You’ll be able to bring your shipping tote into the store, where there will be an aisle with all the Loop products and packaging.” You shop, pay for the product, and bring it home, as you would any other pet food or ice cream pint. Then, as soon as you finish the pack, you bring it back. That store would then send it back to Loop to be cleaned, sanitized, refilled, and shipped back out to another consumer. In many ways, Loop seems like the future. But it draws on our current thinking and behavior — and a model that dates back to the 1950s. “When you finish your normal plastic shampoo, consumers are pretty accustomed at this point to dropping it in the blue bin. Now, as opposed to dropping that in that bin, you just drop it back into shipping tote.”   “We don’t want to change behavior. That becomes a much harder proposition.” Loop isn’t the first to discover the effectiveness of the pick-up/drop-off model. Remember the milkman? “We were seeing that model up until the 1950s when all of a sudden we turned to all of this disposable packaging for convenience. Obviously we’ve created so much waste that it’s no longer effective.   “The idea behind Loop is exactly that: it’s the milkman model where the brand owns the pack and we come collect it, sanitize it, and fill it again.” But instead of homogenous glass bottles, companies are investing in containers you want to show off. “One of the things we’re finding is that people appreciate and want these packs because they’re so pretty. Like the Pantene bottles: people want to leave them on a counter.” Loop has very specific specs companies need to adhere to when creating packaging. Aesthetics is “not a requirement, but it certainly is playing a role in how these are being designed.” Most importantly, they need to be durable, cleanable, and circular (by having an end-of-life solution). “It’s not necessarily material,” Eric said. “Plastic is not necessarily the demon, it’s the single-use that’s the problem. So these packs have to be durable.” “Häagen-Dazs, which has made an absolutely beautiful pack, had a whole R&D team develop it. We have designers at Loop who can help develop the packaging, but, depending on the size of the company, some are big enough to do it on their own.” Just how durable these containers are varies from company to company. “Obviously these containers are going to get banged up,” Eric said. “And it’s up to the company to determine when they want to take them out of circulation. When that time comes, the containers themselves are recyclable. They’ll be turned back into themselves by TerraCycle.” Eric said the company is working on a public-facing Life-Cycle Assessment, which will highlight the environmental benefits of these containers—transportation costs included—as opposed to single-use packaging that most often ends up in landfills. Ultimately, the dream would be to have a whole store filled with reusable product containers. “We would create an entirely circular economy,” he said. “There would be absolutely no waste. That is the ultimate goal.” TerraCycle’s next project with this goal in mind? ReDyper, a partnership in which parents send in soiled Dyper diapers to TerraCycle’s facility for composting. It was announced this week.  

Stores are essential for the Loop reusable packaging program

Kroger, Loop, supermarket In the roughly eight months since the Loop reusable packaging service has been up and running with pilot e-commerce consumers in select markets, there have been package design hiccups, retailer additions and product-line extensions. As an early adopter in Loop parent company TerraCycle’s home state of New Jersey, I’ve witnessed all of that firsthand. Now, I’m eager for the company to pull off its next planned U.S. milestone: integrating supermarket and drug store locations affiliated with The Kroger Co. and Walgreens into the business model, so customers can drop off empty containers more frequently, without having to ship back or find a UPS location to drop off the rather hefty tote used for deliveries. (Each easily can transport up to 20 or so items, depending on the assortment purchased.) If things go TerraCycle CEO Tom Szaky’s way, West Coast stores from Kroger — its various brands including Dillons, Fred Meyer and Ralphs are in 35 states nationwide — will start accepting Loop container returns by mid-2020. East Coast customers will need to wait until the fall, when Walgreens plans to do the same. The idea is Loop accountholders will be able to return empty containers when and where it’s convenient to in-store bins. From there, TerraCycle will orchestrate transportation to facilities where they can be inspected, washed and sanitized prior to being refilled, Szaky said. "You can drop off the product, no matter where you bought it," Szaky told me, when we chatted about Loop’s progress late last year. Through a Loop spokesperson, Kroger and Walgreens declined to comment on their specific plans for the Loop service. Both went public with their Loop partnerships in May. Loop tote TerraCycle Loop hopes to integrate in-store collection in the U.S. by the middle of 2020. Introduced in January 2019 to much fanfare at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Loop celebrated its first birthday last month, although the service only started delivering to consumers in its launch markets near Paris and New York in May. Its premise was simple: to carry only products that come in reusable, refillable bottles, jugs or cans. Those items are purchased online and delivered to the customer's doorstep via UPS. Loop is available to a "community of thousands" (TerraCycle doesn’t disclose exact numbers) in 10 U.S. states, and new consumer product brands are being added on an almost daily basis — ranging from pantry staples such as the dried chickpeas in my own cabinet to specialty nut butters to personal care items. Close to 150 unique products are available in both France and the United States, where the best-sellers include Häagen-Dazs ice cream (my favorite is the non-dairy coconut caramel blend it's testing), Tide detergent and Clorox wipes. Right now, Loop caters to customers who aren't afraid to spend a little extra on groceries or that have a craving for niche items that might not find their way onto mainstream store shelves. The prices themselves are higher than you would pay in-store for similar items, plus the deposits can add up quickly: I've only got six items at home right now, but my "active" deposit account has a balance of $41. Loop is acting as the bank for that money. Szaky told me that while the current Loop customer may skew high-end or eco-conscious, TerraCycle is seeking to create a mass-market appeal by adding products you'd find in your neighbor's pantry. The Kroger and Walgreen's relationships will be instrumental in making that happen, especially if they become active locally in every place possible. Kroger is the second-largest U.S. retailer and largest grocery supermarket company with more than 2,800 stores; Walgreens, which operates in all 50 states, had close to 9,300 locations as of August. That's an impressive physical footprint. Expansions into the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Japan and Australia are in the works starting in March and over the next two years in close collaboration with prominent retailers in those geographies including Tesco (UK) and Loblaw (Canada). As the service matures, more of these new markets intend to launch an integrated in-store/online version of Loop, with Japan and Australia likely to lead that charge, Szaky said.

The trouble with totes

While TerraCycle may be the primary corporate face of the Loop brand, the important role of retailers in scaling any reusable packaging model should not be downplayed. Partners like Kroger and Walgreens bring inventory and category management expertise, merchandising savvy, pricing know-how, logistics and e-commerce expertise and, of course, existing connections with everyday shoppers. The future role retailers will play in collection will be crucial, as Loop seeks to shrink the amount of time containers spend in the hands of consumers before they are returned and refilled. Right now, that period varies dramatically depending on the product category — on a monthly basis for ice cream, for example, or up to three months for shampoo. Mostly, it depends not just on how quickly a consumer uses up a given product but on whether they decide to wait until a tote is full before a return shipment. Our experience reinforces our belief that this is not just a trend that is going to come and go. One of Loop’s value propositions is that it can help brands better understand consumption habits as it reduces their dependence on single-use packaging. "In our model, we can report on repeat, refill, how long it takes, whether they take advantage of autorefill," said Heather Crawford, vice president of marketing and e-commerce at TerraCycle. Right now, however, it’s difficult to estimate how long containers sit empty in customers’ homes as they transfer items into other receptacles or as they wait to fill up a return tote — the only tote size right now is 19 inches by 16.5 inches by 16 inches. The cushiony inserts that hold the containers can be reconfigured to handle the different sizes and to accommodate the heavy cold pack that's used to transport frozen items before they melt. If there's ice cream in your order, you can only consolidate a half-dozen more items or so into the same shipment. And be careful when you're picking the tote up: An empty tote containing a cold pack weighs more than 15 pounds. Speaking from personal experience, I’ve managed to return just two batches of spent containers in the service’s iconic tote since May. That's in part because I live in a two-person household and I had a tough time finding items that I actually wanted to order — right after I signed up for Loop, my doctor prescribed a food elimination diet that bounced many of the plant-based products in the Loop inventory off my plate. But mostly, I felt guilty about the carbon emissions impact of dispatching a UPS delivery truck to pick up an almost-empty package. Ultimately, I opted for what I considered to be a more eco-friendly option: bringing my return tote to a UPS shipping location while I was out on another errand. But my experience isn’t unique and for some markets, notably Tokyo where people live in much smaller homes with far less storage space, TerraCycle is considering a smaller tote. Adding collection bins at retailers is also likely to reduce the reuse cycle, as consumers will be able to return containers far more frequently. Haagen-Dazs, salted caramel, Loop Loop Haagen-Dazs is one of the best selling items on Loop. The shape of the pint jars are designed to withstand 100 cleaning cycles.

Nestle, Reinberger Nut Butter share early learnings

While the Loop products in the United States and France are different, the categories where shoppers are gravitating toward in Loop’s reusable containers are similar, including quick-turn grocery and pantry staples that generate the "highest volume of visible garbage," Crawford said. Loop also has helped generate interest in niche and specialty items, such as the various protein spreads sold by Reinberger Nut Butter, a small food company in the Philadelphia area that was less-than-impressed by its experience selling products through Amazon. Reinberger, which already distributed its mixed nut butter in reusable containers, changed its design to make it lighter and introduced single-nut lines unique to Loop, said Luke Rein, who manages production for the company. Its container isn’t entirely reusable — the aluminum lid needs to be handled differently because of the seal — but as sales grow, it’s addressing that issue. "Ideologically, this matches up well and is a good source of revenue," Rein said. According to Crawford, the average Loop order size is eight to 10 items (far less than what its big tote currently can handle). It’s adding brands on an almost daily basis, after they meet the company’s container design criteria. There have been some snafus with some products. For example, the initial containers for Tide's plant-based Purclean laundry detergent needed to be tweaked when the lids were found to leak, an issue that was annoying for me at home, as the detergent kept oozing down the side of the bottle onto my laundry room shelf. While the U.S. and French markets launched with about 80 products each, new regions likely will have at least 200 products at launch. In our model, we can report on repeat, refill, how long it takes, whether they take advantage of autorefill. At this time, no containers used in the U.S. or France have reached their maximum reuse potential, Crawford said, at which point they will be recycled or upcycled. That includes Nestle’s popular metal Häagen-Dazs ice cream containers, which posed a unique design challenge to the company, according to Steven Yeh, commercialization project manager for the Nestle ice cream team. The shape of the pint-ish-sized jars, designed to withstand 100 cleaning cycles, was rounded to make the ice cream easier to scoop and double-walled both for durability and to keep cold during the delivery process, Yeh said. (As already mentioned, Loop also includes a cold pack in its totes for frozen items.) It took six months to come up with the current container. Nestle’s experience with Loop so far is being used to inform its strategies and perceptions about consumer subscription models. It will test another edition of the reusable metal containers at more than 200 Häagen-Dazs ice cream boutiques across the U.S., where it hopes to allow customers to bring them back for refills, starting in New York. "Our experience reinforces our belief that this is not just a trend that is going to come and go," Yeh said. "It reinforces our commitment to a reusable container. We need to focus even more efforts on this."

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.”