Loop, a small branch of the TerraCycle company, started working to develop the elimination of waste through reuse in 2017. Speaking to the Sustainability in Packaging Europe participants in Barcelona earlier this month, Tony Rossi of TerraCycle said that recycling is probably not a viable answer: “We can't look 10, 20, 50 years into the future, and if we're living in a society that is still based off of disposability, we're probably going to fail.”
Rossi also added that he doesn’t think there is a silver bullet for sustainability, or for reusability. “There are many different models of reusability. Our model is a prefill model. And what we are trying to create together with our partners is an ecosystem that consumers can live in, and make reusability accessible, affordable, and most importantly, convenient,” he continued.
When Loop launched as a retailer in 2019 to show proof of concept, it was with the intention of eventually transitioning sales to the brands themselves. “Our role as Loop within this platform is to bring various stakeholders together. Loop is not a retailer. We're not a [product] brand. We're not a packaging company. We facilitate all of those actors to participate in this ecosystem of reusability,” said Rossi. “Consumers love the products that they buy today. They love their brands, and we want the brands to continue to make the products that consumers want to buy and to consume. The only difference in Loop is we want them to pack those products in packaging that lends itself to usability.”
Rossi said that the role of Loop is threefold:
1) Helping partners make the shift from single use to reusable packaging on the front end. Is the packaging both durable, and cleanable?
2) Acting as a logistics company and providing the ability for consumers to drop off their packaging at drop points, where it is collected and sorted.
3) Cleaning and sanitizing packages so that they can be sent back to brand partners.
Using the example of the “milkman” from days past, who delivered glass bottles of milk and picked up empties, Rossi said, “it wasn't sustainability that drove the milk company to create a bottle that was reusable, it was economics. If I, as the company, own that package, the longer that package lasts, the more profitable it is for me as a company.”
The baby boom after World War II brought with it “tremendous advances in polymer science,” and as such, the birth of disposability. “I think now more than ever, who doesn't want more time. I think that's something that's really important, and something that we're trying to cherish in our prefill reusable model is that convenience is making things easy for the consumer,” continued Rossi. “That leads us to our thesis statement here at Loop: ‘how do we cherish the value that the single use economy - that disposability - brought to the consumer while removing the negatives, which is the garbage? And for us, that first paradigm shift that we have in Loop is going back to the idea of the milkman.”
Since packaging is an asset that is owned by the manufacturer, it is designed to stand the test of time and to be used over 50, 75, 100, or 100+ uses. “And that idea of designing into longevity,” said Rossi, “of designing into durability, is what is unlocking the ability for our partners to invest more in their packaging today. In the consumer's eyes, as soon as the consumer buys these products, they put a deposit against it, to securitize the investment that our partners have made in this packaging.”
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When asked how the consumers are reacting to this model, Rossi said, “The consumer likes this proposition. One of the early consumer insights that is still true to this day; recycling confuses the consumer. What is, and what is not, recyclable is a difficult question that probably all of us deal with every day. So, when we came out with this model of reusability, of this refill model, the early reaction from consumers is ‘I get this.’ It was easy for them to participate. So, that's the first one. The second insight I would say is there is some sensitivity to price. When we launched in France, that is a very sensitive consumer base. So dramatic increases in the price of the product were scrutinized. If you tried to increase the price 50 points, 75 points, the consumer was not buying that product. They were smart. That said, ‘what makes the Loop platform work is the idea of the deposit.’ And the reaction to the deposit was very positive. Some of these products may have a deposit of three, four, five, Euro. And if somebody is buying 10 to 15 products, that's a lot of money in deposits. But they understand that they're getting that money back, and that wasn't a barrier to price.”
Loop packaging generally takes one of three forms: customized, bespoke packaging that “involves designing that packaging, figuring out what material to use, working with a manufacturer to actually produce this packaging. So, it's a very long, drawn-out process, but the result is pretty cool,” said Rossi.
“The second, for companies who want to maybe move a little bit faster and don't want 18 to 20 months of development time, can choose from a Loop catalog that we've created. Loop works with various different packaging manufacturers today to help qualify the package, to make sure that it is durable, that it is cleanable. The third is, does your existing packaging lend itself to reusability? Maybe you don't have to create anything new. Maybe you already have a very durable bottle like the ketchup example that we have. Obviously, Coca-Cola is a partner of ours with their iconic bottle that has existed for a very, very long time.” Rossi also added the Loop is a “materially agnostic” platform, “so, for us, so long as it is durable, so long as it's cleanable, we are not going to put restrictions on our partners on what materials that they can use.” He cited as examples a Cascade engineered plastic bottle, a stainless steel Quaker container, and a glass Kraft bottle.
For those brands who use their existing packaging, slight alterations will be made. Giving the example of the Coca-Cola bottle, the shape remains the same, but the labeling and adhesive is different so that it is easily removed during the washing process.
Rossi added, “Polypropylene as a plastic actually performs very well in Loop because for us to clean these packages to the very high standards that you as brands would demand of us, we have to use a high temperature wash, a high temperature dry. And if we're using plastics like PET, HDPE even some engineered plastics, what we found is that they will pickle, and your 250-milliliter bottle is going to be 15 milliliters at the end. And obviously that's not something that you want.”
The latest iteration of Loop recently launched in the UK, and products are being merchandised on-shelf in a special section of the store, intended to create a new consumer behavior. Rossi said the consumer will now buy their single-use products along with their durable products in the store. “The only difference is that when that durable product is empty, it's going to come back to that retailer to be dropped off.” He added that Loop’s biggest challenge is scaling the model for larger adoption by all retailers. Loop is also trying to create an experience where products may be purchased at a grocer but can be dropped off at convenient locations such as McDonalds or Burger King, or Walgreens, or other external locations.
“And, again,” said Rossi, “this is all in the spirit of creating this ecosystem for reusability. Making it easier for consumers to live their life in a reusable world.”
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