Loop: Making The Circular Economy & Zero Waste Packaging Accessible

Photo: Andrew Seaman/Unsplash.

Photo: Andrew Seaman/Unsplash.

Innovation, sustainability and convenience. These are the stand-out features of a new initiative that aims to tackle the dilemma faced by growing numbers of consumers who are trying to balance a reliance on disposable products with concern for the environment. Named Loop, and pioneered by US-based recycling company TerraCycle and a coalition of over a dozen brands, it shifts the onus of the packaging to manufacturers, writes Sara Weinreb in her article today for Forbes.com.

The program allows brands to innovate simultaneously on both product and environmental solutions. For example, Unilever has created minim for Loop, a reusable deodorant container designed for its Axe, Dove, and Rexona lines (called Sure in the UK and Degree in the US) - products that currently reach over 1 billion people per year - that can be refilled up to 100 times.

For customers, better products at the same price, plus a deposit, with essentially no waste are the key benefits. Loop products can be ordered online and shipped to their homes in a reusable bag. When finished, they can then be put back in the bag, and returned via UPS, Loop’s logistical partner, for either a refund of their deposit or to get the product cleaned and refilled.

As Weinreb notes, it is hoped that the slight inconvenience of needing to return the item will be offset by the innovation and design of the reusable packaging. As Tom Szaky, CEO of TerraCycle, explained, by allowing companies to shift their focus from low-quality materials to more durable packaging they can incorporate “features that never could have existed before”. And he cites an ice cream container that keeps ice cream frozen for several hours, all at little to no extra cost for the customer (except for a deposit) as an example. Szaky hopes that this innovating packaging, as well as the option to get refills upon return when ordering online, will incentivize consumers to take part in the program. 

“It is clear that we cannot simply recycle our way to a plastic waste-free future," Sander Defruyt, Lead of the New Plastics Economy initiative at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, told Weinreb, explaining that after 40 years of efforts to improve recycling, just 14% of plastic is collected for recycling today. And he went on to say how “New approaches that recognize the vital role of reuse and avoid the need for single-use plastic, like Loop, are a vital step in the shift to a circular economy”.

While brands currently taking part in the initiative include major players such as Unilever, as well as P&G, PepsiCo and Nestle, TerraCycle is committed to working with manufacturers of all sizes. “We are prioritizing [the] biggest [companies] first, since they are the biggest part of the challenge, and their scale is so large,” explained Szaky.  And while the product selection may also seem limited, the products featured are some of the most highly consumed in the US, such as Tropicana orange juice and Haagen-Dazs ice cream. Shifting to reusable packing for these products could make a huge difference in terms of keeping packaging out of landfill as well as the recycling stream.