New schemes to rid the world of plastic waste are popping up faster than spring dandelions. The latest one involves a coalition of the largest consumer product companies and international recycling leader TerraCycle, which unveiled a global, first-of-its-kind shopping system called Loop (not to be confused with Montreal-based Loop Industries Inc.).
The initiative was designed to change the world’s reliance on single-use packaging and offer consumers a convenient circular solution while securing meaningful environmental benefits. Announced at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, Loop is designed to enable responsible consumption of a variety of products in customized, brand-specific durable packaging that is collected, cleaned, refilled and reused. The content, if recoverable, will be either recycled or reused.
A who's who of consumer product companies, including Procter & Gamble, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Unilever, Mars Petcare, The Clorox Company, The Body Shop and Coca-Cola European Partners, along with Carrefour, UPS and Suez are on board.
The founding partners want to demonstrate their commitment to developing more circular supply chains from package design and manufacturing to consumer use. The aim is to offer a zero-waste option for the world’s most popular consumer products while maintaining affordability, improving convenience and returning used disposable or durable items to a circular life cycle, either through reuse or recycling.
The environmental benefits of Loop durable packaging versus single-use packaging have been proven and verified in Life Cycle Assessments under use pattern assumptions that will be further validated in pilot trials that will launch in the spring in Paris and New York City (covering New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey). Additional markets are expected to launch throughout 2019 and 2020.
TerraCycle founder and CEO Tom Szaky told PlasticsToday in a telephone interview that this system shifts packaging from disposable and owned by the consumer to durable and borrowed by the consumer. “The brand owners own the packaging but you use the contents,” Szaky explained. “When you buy a bottle of shampoo you want the shampoo, not the bottle, but you have to deal with the bottle when the shampoo is gone. Plastic is okay but it has to be Eastman’s Tritan or PC and other high-value plastics, instead of low-value plastics.”
The consumer goes online and orders a variety of products with different fulfillment options. The products are then put into a tote—a large camera-case type of luggage with an exterior made of PE fabric. The inside is lined with a PP “corrugated” board to impart rigidity. The tote is divided into sections separated by HDPE foam padding to hold and protect the different items, including a cooler insert for ice cream, which can keep it frozen for up to 30 hours. Nestlé said that it will ship its Haagen Dazs ice cream in these totes.
When consumers are finished using the products, they put the empty containers in the tote and arrange for shipping through UPS. The consumer also pays for shipping the totes. The empty containers and bottles are then cleaned at TerraCycle and shipped to the various CPGs for refilling. Depending on what the consumers have chosen from fulfillment, the products they return triggers reshipment of those products. People order and consume, and the products come in containers that the manufacturer owns, not the consumer.
When the tote is returned, it will be washed and reused. Ideally, Loop hopes to not have to wash the totes every time they are returned. In case of spills or if the tote gets messy it can be disassembled, with the fabric being laundered and the rigid components going through a dishwasher. When the tote has reached the end of its useful life, the various components will be disassembled and recycled.
Only certain products will be available by the launch date, consisting of the most popular products from each of the brand partners. For example, P&G will have its Pantene and Tide products ready for the Loop platform and Nestlé will provide five or six flavors of Haagen Dazs ice cream, Szaky explained.
“We’re trying to make it easy and convenient for the consumer,” said Szaky. “It can’t be too inconvenient for the consumer.”
Szaky notes some 200 products have been foundationally redesigned by the world’s largest CPGs to accommodate this platform. “That means designing packaging to be reusable rather than recyclable,” he said. Haagen Dazs’ paper containers cannot be recycled so the containers had to be redesigned to be reusable, for example, and Unilever deodorant containers were not locally recyclable by the way they were constructed and also had to undergo a redesign.
David Blanchard, Unilever’s Chief R&D Officer, said, “We’re acutely aware of the causes and consequences of the linear ‘take-make-dispose’ model of consumption. And we want to change it. That’s why we’re proud to be a founding partner of the Loop Alliance with nine Unilever brands. These brands have all embraced the challenge to redefine how consumers access the products they love, whilst eliminating waste. We believe this collaboration will complement our existing efforts to help create a packaging system that is truly circular by design.”
With the redesign some labeling had to be changed to accommodate the reuse of containers which must undergo washing in hot soapy water to ensure sterilization. In some cases the labels remain on the containers. Szkay said that “it’s up to the supplier to do the design and labeling, which would be adhesive or glue-on, or etching or printing directly on the package.”
When asked about a cost comparison between Loop’s platform and traditional plastic production, given the resources and energy used in two-way shipping, cleaning, potential relabeling and so forth, Szaky said that “if you add together the cost of the bottle depreciation and cost of washing at scale, it gets to about the same price. The packaging is an asset that amortizes over the number of uses.”
Szaky concuded that “Loop will not just eliminate the idea of packaging waste, but greatly improve the product experience and the convenience in how we shop. 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. When a consumer returns the packaging, it is refilled, or the content is reused or recycled through groundbreaking technology.”