Big brands like Burger King and Tide are switching to reusable packaging
Right now, store shelves are stocked with a sea of single-use plastics. But what if all of those bottles of laundry detergent, cartons of ice cream, and jars of peanut butter were used over and over again? That’s what Loop is making possible.
“You can go to your favorite retailer, whether it’s Carrefour in France or Kroger in the U.S., and buy many of your favorite brands in beautiful, reusable packaging,” explained Tom Szaky, Loop founder and CEO. “When you’re done, you can return it to any participating store, drop it in a Loop bin, and get your deposit back. Then we take all the dirty packaging, clean them, provide them back to the manufacturers who then refill them, and the cycle starts again.”
Szaky says Loop is now partnered with 100 global companies.
“Everything from Procter & Gamble making things like Pantene or Tide, Nestle making things from Häagen-Dazs all the way to Gerber products in Loop, PepsiCo, Mars, Unilever, Coca Cola, and 100 companies of that scale,” Szaky said. “We’re now adding a brand roughly once a day. On the retailer side it’s just as big; in the U.S. it’s Kroger, Walgreens, Ulta Beauty, and in six countries around the world, similar leading retailers. Even including retailers like McDonald’s and Burger King.”
Soon, select Burger Kings will ask customers if they want their food in Loop’s reusable packaging. The customer will pay a small deposit that they get back when they return it to any Loop drop-off location.
Szaky knows that in order to get people to make more environmentally friendly choices, it has to be convenient and they need to see familiar brands.
“If you think about what consumers want, it’s three things. I’d say in order of priority: convenience, convenience, convenience, then it’s value, and then it’s feature and benefits. For some, sustainability is a feature and benefit and, frankly, for some it’s not,” he said. “We really are striving to make a reusable experience feel like a disposable one. We aren’t focused on getting the person who lives in Vermont or Berkeley, we imagine they’re going to like it anyway. We’re focused on how you get the gentleman who lives in the middle of the country, who maybe even still wears a red hat and doesn’t believe in climate change. That’s the person who we want to love this because if we can win his heart, we really can affect change at scale, urgently.”
Since the pandemic started, people have been ordering boatloads of takeout, which means boatloads of plastic containers that people might use for 15 minutes before throwing away.
In Portland, Jocelyn Quarell owns Go Box, a reusable container subscription service that currently has 75 restaurants and 2,200 members on board. Customers use the Go Box app when they order food from a participating restaurant to request a reusable container.
“From there, we collect all of the returned reusable containers and cups from our drop sites, we transport them to our commercial kitchen where they undergo a very thorough quality control, wash, sanitization, and air drying process, and then they’re ready to be used again,” Quarell said.
Unlike Loop’s deposit system, Go Box charges customers an annual subscription, starting around $20 a year.
“What Loop is doing is great because they’re working with the really big brands,” Quarell said. “I want to do it on a hyper local level. So many of our local businesses here in Portland want to be more sustainable.”
Go Box is also contracting out their cleaning facility to other companies who want to keep plastic out of the landfills.
“We just forged a partnership with Imperfect Foods. The gel [ice] packs used from the previous week are now being collected and we’re washing and sanitizing and then providing those back to Imperfect Foods,” Quarell explained. “We’ve just been doing that for the past two weeks and the volume and the mass of weight that we have already prevented from going to the landfill is extraordinary, and we’re just getting started.”
Loop still isn’t available in many stores, but you can order products from their website and have them shipped to your home and they’ll pick up the empty containers.
Quarell says reusable packaging needs to gain a cool factor, it needs to become the norm in movies and magazines so the public will go all in like they did with the plastic straw ban. But she feels confident that they are taking steps toward a more sustainable future, with less single-use plastic.
“I do see a very realistic future because we don’t have to look that far in the past where plastic didn’t exist,” Quarell said. “It wasn’t but a few generations ago where we were not dependent upon this.”
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