Shampoo And Ice Cream In A Metal Can? Meet 'Loop,' A New Way To Cut Down On Plastic Waste

Download Audio
Loop products (Courtesy of Loop)
Loop products (Courtesy of Loop)

A new shopping platform called Loop — brought to life by Tom Szaky, the CEO of recycling firm TerraCycle — plans to offer reusable containers for some 300 household products in partnership with some of the world’s largest consumer brands.

"The general idea with Loop is that instead of the consumer owning their packages at the end when they're empty, it's always owned by the manufacturer. Instead of it going to waste or recycling, we simply pick it back up from the consumer, clean it and around it goes again — sort of like the way milk used to be delivered back in the 1950's,” Szaky tells Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson.

Szaky says the vision behind Loop is "to solve waste at the root cause, which we think really is this idea of using something once or disposability."

He says the circular shopping platform will help consumers drastically cut back on plastic waste all around the house, not just within their kitchen cabinets.

“The idea is to bring this reuse model to absolutely everything, from your laundry detergent to your mouthwash, from your orange juice to your granola," he says. "I mean, truly everything — in partnership with the world's biggest manufacturers — to really try to shift consumption from a disposable system to a circular one.”

Loop products (Courtesy of Loop)
Loop products (Courtesy of Loop)

Interview Highlights

On who picks up and drops off Loop products

“However you normally buy your products today, whether on e-commerce or whether in store, it would happen the same. So if you buy online, you can access Loop, say from or other places, it's delivered to you say by UPS and then it's picked up by those same delivery vehicles. In store versions, you buy it at the store and then take it back to the store.”

On sealing reusable containers

“You know, a lot of these things that have been really thought about in design from a disposable perspective, have to be reengineered when you think about it from a durable point of view. So when you get your delivery case, instead of there being tape, there's a zipper. So we need to put a little latch on the zipper to make sure you know no one in the transportation is tempered with what's inside. Then for the products themselves, in beverages, some caps will give a little click sound when they open, so you know that no one's tampered with it. But there's a lot of innovation we have to do here to make sure that that type of work can go to any type of container.”

Pampers Loop product (Courtesy of Loop)
Pampers Loop product (Courtesy of Loop)

On getting some of the world’s biggest producers to start beta testing with Loop

What I'm really thrilled with is — beyond Nestlé [and] Unilever — it's P&G Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Mondelēz. I mean the list just goes on to most of the world's biggest producers. What got these major companies excited is that Loop doesn't just solve for the idea of waste, but it also enables them to bring out innovation that they've always dreamed about, but simply couldn't in packaging that is owned by the consumer. So let's take for example the Nestlé Haagen-Dazs ice cream container. So today, ice cream comes to us basically in coated papers, the same thing as a coffee cup, and it's generally unfunctional and also not recyclable in most recycling systems. The new Haagen-Dazs container is double-walled stainless steel, so it's an elevation of design. It's like the most beautiful ice cream package out there. But it also, because of its double wall nature, keeps your ice cream frozen for multiple hours on the go. So if you take it out of the freezer, it will look beautiful on the kitchen table and you can have it out there for the whole dinner and it won't melt. Now that may seem like a trite, you know, innovation but in the world of ice cream that's quite game changing.”

Tide Loop product (Courtesy of Loop)
Cascade Loop product (Courtesy of Loop)

On locking consumers into a brand

One of the neat things about reuse models is we have a sense of what comes back. And so in the online systems, you can turn on a function that allows your empty product — let's say your empty Tropicana — to trigger an order of a new one. That is incredibly convenient for consumers, so they don't have to worry about ever buying their orange juice again, nor do they have to worry about having too much, which is one of the challenges with traditional subscription models, that it's like a box every month.”

Cranberry kombucha Loop product (Courtesy of Loop)
Cranberry kombucha Loop product (Courtesy of Loop)

On the biggest hurdle of Loop and changing consumer behavior

“With Loop, it's a reimagination of the entire way products are made. So I think there's like an inertia challenge, where companies when they develop these packages have to invest quite a lot of resource to develop them, and then build the entire operational capability to be able to fill them and have them go around. Those are quite big challenges to surmount. And then when it comes to the consumer, the biggest thing we've learned is that, and I say this even as myself, really as consumers, we prefer things that are cheap and convenient. … The easier we make Loop and the more it feels like disposability, the more it will succeed. … The part I'm optimistic about is disposability has only been around for 70 years. I think there's a really good opportunity to look into our past — look for the wisdom in the past — but then to think about how to modernize it and make it something that really is 21st century.

Cassady Rosenblum produced and edited this story for broadcast with Todd MundtSerena McMahon adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on March 5, 2019.

Headshot of Jeremy Hobson

Jeremy Hobson Former Co-Host, Here & Now
Before coming to WBUR to co-host Here & Now, Jeremy Hobson hosted the Marketplace Morning Report, a daily business news program with an audience of more than six million.



More from Here & Now

Listen Live