Could This Be the Next Big Idea on Product Containers?

World's biggest brands creating reusable containers in new 'Loop' experiment
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 24, 2019 12:02 PM CST
Could This Be the Next Big Idea on Product Containers?
This photo shows Clorox's stainless steel wipe container designed for use with Loop.   (Dara Rackley/TerraCycle via AP)

Lots of people have embraced the idea that they should reduce and recycle as a way to cut down on waste. But as Bloomberg notes, the third R in the green bible doesn't get as much attention: "reuse." Now, however, that might change, at least on a small scale initially, because of a new initiative unveiled at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Thursday. Some of the world's biggest brands have created reusable containers as part of an experiment—the idea is that customers will return them when empty, have them refilled, then get them back again. Details of the "Loop" experiment:

  • How it works: Customers sign up at the Loop website, which is run by the New Jersey company TerraCycle. They order products on the site, which arrive via UPS. After using the products, customers return the empty containers in a special tote via UPS. The containers get cleaned, refilled, and returned to the customer. Yes, this is very much like the "milkman model" of old, notes CNN, when people left out their empty milk bottles to be refilled.
  • Limited test: When the experiment launches in the spring of this year, only those in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania will be able to participate in the US. A second experiment is taking place in France. However, TerraCycle hopes to expand the program in the US, the UK, Toronto, and elsewhere later this year, reports the AP.

  • The products: Some of the biggest companies are on board, reports the Wall Street Journal, including Procter & Gamble, Nestle, PepsiCo, and Unilever. P&G for example, has created special containers for 10 of its brands, including Pantene shampoo, Tide detergent, and Febreze products. Other examples include Häagen-Dazs ice cream, Cascade detergent, Dove and Axe deodorants, Crest mouthwash, Clorox wet wipes, Tropicana orange juice, Quaker Chocolate Cruesli cereal, and Hellmann's mayonnaise. About 300 products in all are involved for now.
  • The cost: The products cost about the same as their non-reusable versions, but customers also will pay a deposit (typically, $1 to $10 per container) that gets refunded or credited to the customer's account when the product is returned. Shipping becomes free after the customer buys roughly six items, depending on size and bulk.
  • The big question: "Loop is a well-designed system with a compelling offering and a powerhouse line-up of brands," writes Joel Makower at GreenBiz. "But one key question remains: Will consumers buy in to reuse?" Similar experiments have failed on that front, and while those behind Loop are confident, the system hasn't been tested in the real world.
  • Worm poop guy: So what is TerraCycle, the company behind Loop? It's the brainchild of 37-year-old Tom Szaky, a "Princeton dropout with big ideas and a casual demeanor." He first gained renown hawking his fertilizer business by talking a lot about "worm poop" and landed contracts with the likes of Home Depot and Walmart by the age of 24. He's attracted employees with an ethos of putting profit second to the mission of eliminating waste, per CNN.
  • His hope: "Loop is about the future of consumption. And one of the tenets is that garbage shouldn't exist," says Szaky. "Removing plastics from the ocean is not enough. We need to get at the whole idea of disposability and single-use items." He tells GreenBiz that he foresees a day when "reuse" bins sit next to recycle bins.
(TerraCycle also recycles cigarette butts.)

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