If the Loop pilot project succeeds, store shelves could soon look a lot different than they do now.
Something major happened last week. On Thursday in Davos, Switzerland, 25 of the world's biggest brands announced that they will soon offer products in refillable, reusable containers. Items such as Tropicana orange juice, Axe and Dove deodorants, Tide laundry detergent, Quaker cereal, and Häagen-Dazs ice cream, among others, will be available in glass or stainless steel containers, instead of single-use disposable packaging.
The project is called Loop and it is the result of a partnership between these brands and TerraCycle, a waste management company that first pitched the idea to these brands a year ago at Davos. Brands who liked it, or saw the wisdom in sprucing up their environmental credibility, pay to be part of the project and commit to designing reusable packaging.Loop will start as a pilot project, launching in May 2019 for 5,000 shoppers in New York and Paris who sign up for it in advance. It will expand to London at the end of the year and spread to Toronto, Tokyo, and San Francisco in 2020. If it is successful, more partners could join Loop and products would eventually become available on store shelves.
It works similarly to Amazon in that customers use a retail website to order goods; they must also put up a fully refundable deposit for the reusable packaging. The items are delivered to their doorstep in a reusable tote – a modern take on the old-fashioned milkman. Once the products are used up, the empty containers are returned to the tote and collected by a UPS driver. They do not need to be cleaned and, even if the containers are banged up, the deposit is issued in full. Customers only lose money if they fail to make a return.
From CNN's report on Loop,
"[TerraCycle CEO] Tom Szaky acknowledged that it’s a lot to ask people to use yet another retail website. He hopes that Loop will eventually be integrated into existing online shops, including Amazon. 'We’re not trying to harm or cannibalize retailers,' Szaky said. 'We’re trying to offer a plug-in that could make them better.'"
This is an incredible step forward.
These brands have enormous reach and influence in the consumer sphere, which puts them in a uniquely powerful position to effect real change. They are not perfect, of course. In the followup to the Loop announcement there has been some criticism about their less-than-perfect track records on other environmental issues, such as palm oil and animal testing, but I think that's beside the point. It is impossible to tackle everything at the same time.
Plastic pollution is one thing that has captured the public interest of late and it poses a potential PR crisis for these brands if they don't act quickly. We should celebrate the steps that they are taking, which are more progressive than anything else I've seen so far.
Loop's future will depend on how the trial goes, but it looks promising. In the words of Bridget Croke, leader of external affairs for Closed Loop Partners, a group that invests in recycling technologies and sustainable consumer goods (and is unconnected to Loop), "If there's ever a time that these new models can succeed, it's now."
Meanwhile, the recycling industry is broken, a "failing industry," and people are asking for reusable packaging. The interest is real. From CNN:
"Small dairies throughout the country are already reviving the milkman by offering delivery services... Refillable beer growlers are staging a comeback, with Whole Foods and Kroger offering in-store beer taps. Startups are trying to help people refill reusable soap containers at home, and millions of consumers are already refilling SodaStream bottles in their kitchens."
I think we're catching a glimpse of a future that looks more hopeful and exciting than it has in a long time. Visit Loop for more information.