The shampoo bottle, the deodorant stick, razors and even your toothbrush—they all get thrown away when they’re empty or worn out. But if they were reusable—or refillable—just imagine how much waste could be avoided.
That’s the goal of “Loop,” a durable packaging initiative run by New Jersey-based recycling company TerraCycle that debuted at the World Economic Forum earlier this year. This week, Loop began its U.S. trial, allowing consumers to use steel, glass and durable plastic reusable packaging for everyday items. Kroger Co. and Walgreens, along with such consumer brands as Procter & Gamble, Nestle, The Clorox Co. and Unilever, are taking part.
The project’s name is a reference to an aspirational economy where nothing is wasted. Loop’s goal is to show how easily consumers can lessen the damage done by throwaway plastic, paper, glass and cardboard. About 80 percent of all plastic ends up in landfills or the ocean, and grocery packaging actually creates more waste than plastic bags and straws.
For the trial, Loop is available online to customers in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. You can order products made by the participating companies that will be delivered to you in special reusable packaging. Under the program, manufacturers have redesigned product containers for some of their most well-known products.
Loop will collect a refundable deposit, sometimes $5 to $10, that customers will get back when they return their containers. UPS will pick up your empties for no additional charge.
TerraCycle invested about $10 million in the project. Procter & Gamble has unveiled its Crest mouthwash in a sleek glass bottle—with a rubber base to prevent breakage. It also has non-electric Oral B toothbrushes that have a head that pops off so users can keep the base and replace the brush. But it was the stainless steel ice cream container for Nestle’s Haagen-Dazs (which isn’t too cold to the touch but keeps ice cream cool longer) that was the crowd favorite at a Manhattan rollout this week.
So why now? With all the rage around e-commerce, sustainable companies are disrupting the supply chain and tapping into “recommerce,” the process of selling previously owned products. “The climate, especially over the past two years, has changed,” said Anthony Rossi, Loop’s vice president of global business development. “Consumers are demanding it.”
During Loop’s trial, returned containers will go to New Jersey and then Pennsylvania for washing, then back to the companies’ factories for refilling. The year-long effort will track the initiative’s incidental impacts, such as the carbon footprint from shipping containers back and forth. And while reusable packaging may require more energy and materials when first made, Tom Szaky, chief executive of TerraCycle, said the carbon cost becomes equal to that of disposable packaging after just two or three uses. His goal, he said, is to produce items that can be reused 100 times.
“Loop is not the silver bullet,” Szaky said, but it may shed light on the actual cost of landfilling single-use plastics.
At the launch event in New York, former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman, a Republican who headed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said the program was similar to Energy Star certification for buildings and appliances. Whitman noted that while Energy Star was slow to catch on, it eventually graduated to mass adoption.
Szaky explained that Loop is all about bringing back the milkman model, where glass bottles of milk were left on your porch, and you put the empties there to be picked up. The more people who reuse containers and send them through the system—rather than producing a new container for each item—the better the system will work, he said.
“We want you to see Loop packaging 50 years from now still going around,” Szaky said.