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10 world-changing solutions that inspired the most hope in 2019

Our most popular profiles of projects focused on improving the world, from climate to plastic waste to homelessness to housing. The world could seem like a hard and hopeless place on many, if not most, days in 2019. In spite of that feeling, there are people who are devoting their time to trying to do good work, and we try to bring you those stories when we can. Of the thousands of people and projects we profiled this year in Fast Company‘s Impact section, a few stories really struck a chord with readers, and so we’re collecting them here for you.  Perhaps they’ll make you feel compelled to do something similar yourself. Perhaps they’ll just make you a little more hopeful about the future. They range from a village of 3D-printed houses to a young man reaching the next step in his years-long quest to clean up the ocean and from cities finding ways to end homelessness to cities finding ways to end driving. See what inspires you. A COALITION OF GIANT BRANDS IS ABOUT TO CHANGE HOW WE SHOP FOREVER, WITH A NEW ZERO-WASTE PLATFORM As the world’s attention turned to single-use plastic this year, many companies began offering plans to cut back on their waste streams. But one of the boldest plans involved many companies—including giants like Unilever and Proctor & Gamble—joining forces to both eliminate packaging and change how we shop. The new project, called Loop, was organized by recycling company TerraCycle. Each item available for delivery on Loop comes in a reusable package, like ice cream in a stainless steel pint container. When you’re done, you return it to Loop to be cleaned, refilled, and sent back to another customer. Read more. 3 CITIES IN THE U.S. HAVE ENDED CHRONIC HOMELESSNESS: HERE’S HOW THEY DID IT A program called Built for Zero uses a combination of intense data and cross-department meetings to track homelessness. “By ending homelessness, we mean getting to a place where it’s rare, brief, and it gets solved correctly and quickly when it does happen,” Rosanne Haggerty, president of Community Solutions, the nonprofit that leads the Built for Zero program, told us. “That’s a completely achievable end state, we now see.” The nonprofit calls this goal “functional zero,” and it’s already proved effective in places like Bergen County, New Jersey, and Abilene, Texas. So far, nine communities have reached the goal of “functional zero” for veteran homelessness, and three communities have reached the goal for chronic homelessness. Read more. THE WORLD’S FIRST 3D-PRINTED NEIGHBORHOOD NOW HAS ITS FIRST HOUSES New Story is a nonprofit that used to build houses in the developing world the old-fashioned way. But wanting to speed up and smooth out that process, it worked with construction company Icon to develop a giant 3D printer capable of generating the walls of an entire 500-square-foot house in 24 hours. After that, workers add doors, windows, and roofs. The first community of homes is currently being built in Mexico, and the organization is now exploring the idea of bringing the technology to the U.S., as well. Read more. THIS STARTUP WANTS TO PUT A FREE TINY HOUSE IN YOUR BACKYARD Backyard houses won’t fix California’s housing crisis, but they could be an important way to get more people on limited land in cities. Because a new California law has made it easier to get the permits to build such structures, there’s a lot of hope for their growth. But it’s still a lot of work with big upfront costs to get a contractor to build you one. Rent the Backyard wants to make it easier: it will handle the building of what’s called an “accessory dwelling unit,” or ADU, in exchange for splitting the rent with the homeowner. Read more. The Norwegian capital removed 700 parking spaces and replaced them with bike lanes, plants, tiny parks, and benches. As we wrote at the time: “A few spots are left, converted into parking for disabled drivers or EV charging, and some streets are open for delivery trucks for a couple of hours in the morning. Emergency vehicles still have access. But other drivers have to park in garages, and traffic restrictions help nudge drivers who don’t need to go through the city center to take a ring road around it instead. In a new zoning plan, the city is taking its intentions further, giving pedestrians, cyclists, and public transportation greater priority than private cars, and planning a network of pedestrian zones that are fully car-free.” The city coupled this with a heavy investment in public transit, and the results are good: the air is cleaner and businesses—which were worried about the change—are seeing increased foot traffic. Read more. Instead of using standard asphalt, Los Angeles is testing a new road material that’s made partly from recycled plastic bottles. The roads are meant to last longer, which means less time and money doing street repairs. But more importantly, it enables a machine to chew up the old road, remix it with plastic, and lay it right back down when it’s time to repave—instead of hauling away the old asphalt and trucking new material in. Read more. After Medicare for All, the Green New Deal has been one of the most animating policy ideas of the Democratic primary. Shortly after the initial bill was introduced by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Edward Markey, we took a deep look at what it could mean for transforming business in sectors from agriculture to tech to philanthropy. “The Green New Deal is a framework for exerting external pressure on industries,” Markey told us. “But it can also be a framework for internal corporate operations for every industry, and guide the discussion going forward inside every company and sector.” Read more. ‘PRESCRIBING’ FRUITS AND VEGGIES WOULD SAVE $100 BILLION IN MEDICAL COSTS Fruits and vegetables: they’re quite good for you. But they can be expensive. A study looked at what would happen if Medicare and Medicaid subsidized the cost of fresh produce and found that it would prevent 1.93 million cardiovascular events (such as heart attacks) and 350,000 deaths, as well as cut healthcare costs by $40 billion. Read more. LOS ANGELES IS TESTING ‘PLASTIC ASPHALT’ THAT MAKES IT POSSIBLE TO RECYCLE ROADS Instead of using standard asphalt, Los Angeles is testing a new road material that’s made partly from recycled plastic bottles. The roads are meant to last longer, which means less time and money doing street repairs. But more importantly, it enables a machine to chew up the old road, remix it with plastic, and lay it right back down when it’s time to repave—instead of hauling away the old asphalt and trucking new material in. Read more. HOW TO DESIGN A GREEN NEW DEAL THAT REALLY WORKS, FOR EVERY INDUSTRY IN THE U.S. After Medicare for All, the Green New Deal has been one of the most animating policy ideas of the Democratic primary. Shortly after the initial bill was introduced by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Edward Markey, we took a deep look at what it could mean for transforming business in sectors from agriculture to tech to philanthropy. “The Green New Deal is a framework for exerting external pressure on industries,” Markey told us. “But it can also be a framework for internal corporate operations for every industry, and guide the discussion going forward inside every company and sector.” Read more. THESE TREE-PLANTING DRONES ARE FIRING SEED MISSILES TO RESTORE THE WORLD’S FORESTS Planting trees is one of the simplest ways to sequester carbon and thus mitigate the effects of climate change. One study found that one trillion trees is the number needed to make a real dent in the problem. One trillion, though, is a lot of trees to plant. But what if we outsourced the tree planting to drones? In Myanmar, a company called Biocarbon Engineering is building drones, training locals how to use them, and then using the drones to fire seeds into the ground, helping regrow the country’s mangrove forests. Read more. THE OCEAN CLEANUP DEVICE HAS RETURNED FROM THE PACIFIC GARBAGE PATCH WITH ITS FIRST LOAD OF PLASTIC Boyan Slat first proposed the idea for the Ocean Cleanup machine—a giant device to collect the ocean plastic that has collected in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch—at a TEDx talk in 2012. Since then, he’s managed to raise the funds to build it, test several iterations, and finally get a functional prototype out into the Pacific Ocean. Now it’s returned, and we can see the results: 60 one-cubic-meter bags full of trash. Now that the proof of concept is done, the next step is building even bigger devices, and launching a whole fleet of them, with the goal of cleaning up half the garbage patch in five years. Read more.

Why reusable food packaging has a promising future

In searching for an innovative method to provide consumers with sustainable yet convenient packaging options, companies including Tyme Fast Food and TerraCycle's Loop program, as well as retailers including PCC Community Markets have reimagined packaging as something reusable rather than disposable.

Why Reusable Food Packaging Has a Promising Future

In searching for an innovative method to provide consumers with sustainable yet convenient packaging options, companies including Tyme Fast Food and TerraCycle's Loop program, as well as retailers including PCC Community Markets have reimagined packaging as something reusable rather than disposable.

New delivery service Loop makes a stylish case for reusable containers

Debuting next month, the "circular shopping platform" aims to make reuse as popular as recycling.       Loop will deliver Haagen-Dazs ice cream in a reusable stainless-steel container. (Photo courtesy of Loop) What if you combined Amazon Prime with a 1950s milkman and Target's democratic design? That pitch might make the judges on Shark Tank scratch their heads, but it's the exact premise of a grocery delivery service that will debut in the Northeast next month, with potentially revolutionary implications for sustainability and the environment. On May 21, Loop will launch a "circular shopping platform" at loopstore.com. It will stock hundreds of familiar branded products — including condiments, ice cream and personal-care items — in durable, reusable packaging instead of single-use bottles, boxes and cans. Customers subscribe to the service and place orders that arrive via UPS; after the products are used up, Loop circles back to pick up the empties at no charge, then cleans and sanitizes them for reuse. Replenishments are automatically delivered. It's the brainstorm of TerraCycle, a company founded in 2001 to recycle previously unrecyclable materials. The overarching concept is the circular economy: Instead of "make and dispose," the goal is "reuse and eliminate." Materials are used for as long as possible, then recycled or reused, with the goal of creating zero waste.

"It's funny: Most of the things we buy, we don't really want to," says TerraCycle CEO Tom Szaky. "When you go to say Starbucks and you buy a cup of coffee, you buy the coffee, but the cup is also in the price, and you own the cup. But do you really want to own it in the end? If we change ownership — instead of having the consumer own the package, the manufacturer owns it — the manufacturer is motivated to move away from making a product as cheap as possible to making it as durable as possible." To kick off the service, Loop partnered with some of the world's biggest manufacturers of grocery items, including Proctor & Gamble, Nestlé and Unilever. Brands available at launch will include Pantene, Tide, Crest, Gillette, Pampers, Always, Dove, Seventh Generation and Hellmann's. The reusable containers are made from innovative polymers and metals that are stylish and functional: Häagen-Dazs ice cream arrives in a stainless steel, double-walled container that's warm to the touch but frozen inside; Axe deodorant comes in a container that looks designed by Apple. "The design level is a whole new departure from anything in disposable," says Szaky. "Durability enables reuse, but it also enables amazing materials that can be leveraged in beautiful designs." But what if consumers don't want to pay for that premium? "That's crucial. For scale, we need not just the big brands and big retailers, but affordable pricing," says Szaky. "The goal with all the products is to cost about the same as what you normally pay." A small deposit will be charged for the containers; it's fully refunded when they're returned. "We need Loop to be affordable for it to really change the world," says Szaky. "Even middle income and rich people don't want to pay a premium if they don't have to. This is about more than just the circular economy. It is the circular economy at its heart, but it's also about the future of how we consume."  

Man Creates A Way To Reduce Plastic Packaging And 25 Famous Companies Join Him

As record high and low temperatures are being recorded all over the globe and unrecycled plastic waste continues to pile up in the middle in the ocean, almost forming and entire plastic continent in itself, it’s pretty obvious that time’s up and action is needed as soon as possible. Recycling waste on the same scale as we have been doing until now seems to be a solution that is not effective enough. There’s a need for a radical change in the way we consume and deal with our waste and this man, Tom Szaky, an author, CEO and an eco-revolutionary, is here with an idea that could change everything. – The Loop Project.

The old days of a milk man delivering fresh milk and then recollecting empty bottles again can return, but this time in a way more life-changing way

Tom Szaky, entrepreneur, author and an ecological warrior, recently came up with a game-changing idea

Image credits: Tom Szaky

Tired of the impossibility of avoiding plastic waste while using certain necessary products

He came up with an idea on how to make reusable and refillable packaging the new norm by presenting the Loop project

Image credits: loopstore_us

Loop will work in a way that can be summed up with: “shop and enjoy, then we pick up and refill”, just like with milk in the old days

Firstly, the goods that customers ordered online will be presented to their doorstep in a reusable Loop Tote bag

And once the items are used up, you just place the empty packaging back in the same Loop bag and request a free pick up so they could collect it, clean it and refill it with the same product

Here’s a simplified scheme of the whole groundbreaking novelty

Among 25 brands that have joined the project are Evian, Oral-B, Clorox, Gillette, Dove and others

The project will kick off in May 2019 with only 5,000 customers in Paris and New York City to test the idea

London, Tokyo, San Francisco and further expansion is planned in the future

If the whole initiative proves to be successful, more brands will be included in the catalog, which means more reusable packaging used by more people

Loop’s aim is to eliminate the idea of waste and if successful, this is going to one giant leap for humanity into a waste-free future

Can Loop’s 21st century milkman fix plastic plague?

TerraCycle's new circular shopping platform rescues big packaged brands from PR crisis Remember the sea turtle with a straw fused up its nose? The viral image that broke your heart and made you swear off straws? There’s more. On February 4, the UK’s RSPCA released the latest round of disturbing photos of wildlife – maimed seals, ducks, deer, even cats – ensnared in plastic bags, bottles and other snaggy remnants of our disposable economy. A flurry of British media headlines cut to the chase: record numbers of animals are killed or injured by plastic. It doesn’t take a PR insider to tell you that new reports of wildlife injured by plastic litter are sure to get packaged goods makers biting their nails and bracing for impact. With public outrage over disposable plastics growing steadily, major international brands have been under heavy pressure to rethink their packaging models. Over the last few months, the world’s largest consumer goods makers and sellers responded by announcing some surprisingly aggressive waste reduction targets. With some cajoling from the UK-based Ellen MacArthur Foundation, roughly 300 major corporations responsible for 20 per cent of the planet’s plastic packaging, including Unilever, Colgate, SC Johnson, H&M, PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, signed onto a “new plastics economy” commitment. They’ve vowed to make sure all their plastic packaging is either recyclable, compostable or reusable by 2025. The targets are impressive. They’re also, as shareholder advocacy group As You Sow noted, aspirational. Making your plastic packaging recyclable is one thing. Making sure it all gets recycled is another, particularly with global recycling infrastructure in a free fall, as China and now Malaysia and soon Vietnam shut their doors to the planet’s less desirable recycling scraps. (Not to mention that 90 per cent of plastic is never shipped off to be recycled to begin with, regardless of whether it’s technically recyclable). Compostable packaging targets get messy, too, when you consider that many cities with curbside composting, such as Toronto, reject most certified compostable packaging (like, say, compostable coffee pods) in their green bins because they’re, in a nutshell, not compatible with their systems. That leaves the most meaningful option – and the gateway to a truly circular economy – behind door number three: reusable. Deposit return systems on refillable drink containers, including beer or milk bottles, have been the golden child of the circular economy since, well, the golden era of the milkman. Other circular economy darlings have usually been limited to companies that make products that can be taken back and/or and refurbished, like an old Patagonia coat. The idea has never really gained traction with the make ‘n toss packaged good set – until now. https://www.corporateknights.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/loop-video-shot-1.png Enter Loop’s new “circular shopping platform” – heralded as the 21st century milkman. But instead of a milk truck, your friendly neighbourhood UPS driver will be tasked with dropping off (and picking up) a leak-proof reusable LOOP box filled with an array of popular brands like Pantene, Tide, Seventh Generation, Dove, Tropicana, Nature’s Path, Body Shop and more so people can get everything from mayonnaise to deodorant in branded stainless steel, glass and refillable plastic containers – all within 48 hours of ordering. Once you’re done, call UPS for pick-up and the containers will be returned to Loop for sanitation then to manufacturers for refill. It’s a conscious consumer’s dream. It also sounds like a lot of greenhouse gas-intensive shipping. TerraCycle, the company behind Loop has said it’s calculated the total impact of its shopping platform and says that, overall, Loop products are 50 to 75 per cent better for the environment than conventional alternatives. Usman Valiante has his doubts. The senior policy analyst with Corporate Policy Group LLP has been involved in rolling out producer take-back initiatives in B.C. and Ontario and cautions that early carbon footprint estimates often miss the mark: “If you look at the greenhouse gas footprint of Amazon, online shop was supposed to reduce the amount of truck trips, when it’s actually done the opposite.” It would be “fine, if the entire transportation system ran on renewable energy,” says Valiante. “But it’s not.” Loop has argued that while it might add more delivery trucks to the road, it’s system will ultimately involve fewer garbage trucks. It also plans to break into brick-and-mortar retail outlets in the future. Loop’s real world GHG numbers will be crunched further during its trial run in New York and Paris starting this May. If all goes well, Loop trials will be coming to Toronto, Tokyo, San Fran and London next to much fanfare. Many of Loop’s early brand partners could no doubt use some good press. Coco-Cola, Proctor & Gamble, Unilever, Nestle, Mars, Clorox, Mondelēz have all been slammed by Greenpeace as the world’s largest contributors to the ocean plastic crisis. Their branded packaging has been turning up in Greenpeace ocean trash audits from Asia to Canada. It’s actually why Loop’s creator, Toronto-raised and Jersey-headquartered Tom Szaky reportedly pitched those brands first. https://www.corporateknights.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/ice-cream-loop.png Partnering with Loop doesn’t just save them from a PR crisis and position them as innovators. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has also been drawing corporate players to the circular economy table with the promise of boosted brand loyalty and deeper data dives on consumers. As Institute for Smart Prosperity’s Stephanie Cairns points out to, when people sign up to have weekly deliveries of Haagen-Dazs [the only ice cream brand in the Loop store so far], Nestle doesn’t just get brand loyalty, it starts amassing specific data about exactly who’s eating its ice cream and when. “For a lot of brands, this a very attractive idea,” says Cairns. TerraCycle (founded in 2001) has always known the power of flipping the script on branded packaged goods. One of the recycling company’s earliest upcycled products involved transforming old branded juice pouches into new branded tote bags. Okay, so not everyone wants to sling a Luna-wrapper-turned-messenger bag over their shoulder. But with TerraCycle’s new Loop initiative, they’ve figured out a classier way to close the loop on disposables, working with consumer good companies to develop sleek, branded reusable containers, on which deposits will be paid. https://www.corporateknights.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Axe-Loop-1.png The concept should test well with well-heeled, urban Aspirationals – the 40 per cent of people who, according to BBMG, wan­­t to buy from companies that do good. Particularly those Aspirationals already doing a lot of online shopping and feeling guilty about their packaging trail. But not every consumer will want to or can afford to fork out $20 for shipping and up to $10 per container on a deposit, which throws a bit of a wrench in the reach and scaleability of the model. For others, no amount of shiny reusable packaging will scrub the tarnish from the Coca-Colas and Nestles of the world. Emily Charles-Donelson works with Toronto Tool Library and Sharing Depot, where customers can borrow items and refill their own soap containers. She’s worried that Mondelēz, Clorox and friends will be selling Millennials more of the same old problematic products in feel-good packaging. “Loop’s reusable container program has the potential to significantly amplify the growing culture of reuse, moving us away from the erroneous notion that recycling is a viable solution to the waste crisis,” says Charles-Donelson. “Zooming out, however, LOOP is a halfway solution dreamed up within the parameters of the same broken corporate narrative that fueled the environmental crisis in the first place.” https://www.corporateknights.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Loop-Wipe-e1549596439683-2.jpg Can we buy our way out of this mess? Probably not, especially if we’re buying disposable paper towels and sewer-clogging antibacterial wipes in refillable containers. But at least we’re starting to come to terms with the glaring reality that we can’t recycle our way out. Until we’ve figured out a new green economy that isn’t so deeply hinged on ever more consumption, the world needs Loop and others like it to catch on, do well, scale up beyond the 20,000 stainless steel tubs of Häagen-Dazs being piloted (humans, after all, buy 13 billion litres of ice cream every year) and to thrive as one of many circular economy solutions around the globe. Maybe more than anything, we need the Loops, Tool Libraries and Sharing Depots of the world to be supported by ambitious and binding circular economy regulations, along the lines of what we’re seeing in Europe and the UK (we’re waiting on you, Canada).  At the moment, Cairns says, “We [in Canada] don’t have a public policy framework that’s going to easily enable a [refillable] product to come into the market and be collected through regular waste pick-up streams and recirculated back to suppliers.” “The Loop model really highlights the defects in Canada’s current system,” says Cairns, but she points out it also shows the potential that’s out there “if we unleash creative thinking out-of-the-box thinking.”s  

TerraCycle establishes global alliance to promote reusable and recyclable packaging / Over 20 major companies join Loop / Circular shopping platform

Another major coalition to reduce plastics waste has been announced (see PIEWeb of 17.01.2019) with consumer goods giants such as Procter & GamblePepsiCo and Coca-Cola participating. Established by waste management company TerraCycle (Trenton, New Jersey / USA; www.terracycle.com), Loop (Trenton; www.loopstore.com) is an e-commerce platform that will ship products in reusable packaging and collect it after use – "Loop is the milkman reimagined."
  Reusable shampoo bottles (Photo: TerraCycle)
Consumers can order products from participating companies, and empty used containers are then put into dedicated shipping tote bags and collected by Loop directly from households. The packaging will be cleaned for refill and reuse, or recycled as appropriate. The aim is to eliminate waste from single-use packaging and shipping materials, such as cardboard boxes. "Through Loop, consumers can now responsibly consume products in specially-designed durable, reusable or fully recyclable packaging made from materials like alloys, glass and engineered plastics," says Tom Szaky, CEO of TerraCycle. Loop was presented at the World Economic Forum(WEF, Geneva / Switzerland; www.weforum.org) that was held from 22-25 January 2019 in Davos / Switzerland. Two pilot projects in New York and Paris will start in the coming spring, with more locations to be added during 2019 and 2020. The other companies taking part in the initiative include UnileverMars PetcareThe Clorox CompanyThe Body ShopCoca-Cola European PartnersMondelēz InternationalDanoneJacobs Douwe EgbertsLesieurBICBeiersdorfRBPeople Against DirtyNature's PathThousand FellGreenhouseGrillianceBurlap & Barrel Single Origin SpicesReinberger Nut ButterCoZie and Preserve. French food retailer Carrefour is the founding retailer, and Tesco will pilot Loop in the UK later in 2019. Transportation company UPSand waste disposal group Suez are also participating.  

“We Want To Lead A Movement To Use Plastics in A More Responsible Way” With Virginie Helias VP at Procter & Gamble

We have a long history of sustainability at P&G. This is not new to us and not a band wagon we jumped on. We lead by example be it through a new innovation that has the potential to revolutionize the plastics recycling industry, working with partners like Suez and TerraCycle to bring the world’s first bottle made from recycled beach plastic, to making significant contributions to help reduce climate change through our quick and cold cycle laundry detergent.