People of a certain age probably remember when soft drinks were sold mostly in glass bottles. At the store, consumers would pay an extra deposit, such as five cents, for each bottle and then get reimbursed when bringing the empties back to the store to be cleaned and refilled. And before that most U.S. households had their milk delivered to the front door in reusable glass containers. In recent memory consumer goods packaging has moved towards a plastics and aluminum model and away from the traditional glass. Now with the container destined for just one single use – the potential for recycling is limited, no matter the material.
That might be changing if some of the biggest names in consumer goods including Proctor & Gamble, Unilever, Nestle, and PepsiCo are successful with a new push towards reusable packaging.
“Plastic waste has become a global scourge, especially to our oceans, but we’ve [recently] gotten some pleasantly surprising news. After generations of being resistant to refillable containers, we now have 25 companies led by companies like Unilever and Nestle – who are committing to actually going back to refillable containers,” Bill Shireman, president and CEO, Future 500, told EarthX. They will be experimenting seriously on selling consumers containers that can be refilled and reused for eight years, saving tons and tons of materials for every consumer that has been consuming plastic.
Reusable packaging begins with Loop.
The initial push is a new program called Loop. Managed by recycling company TerraCycle, Loop is set to launch this May in New York and Paris with plans to expand to London, Toronto and Tokyo over the next year. Twenty-five brands, including some of the consumer packaging goods companies worldwide, are participating in Loop.
“Our goal is that by 2030, all of our packaging will be reusable or recyclable,” Virginie Helias, vice president, and chief sustainability officer, Procter & Gamble, told the AP.
What will Loop look like in action?
Haagen-Dazs will sell ice cream in steel containers and PepsiCo’s Tropicana orange juice brand will come in glass bottles. Consumers will receive products from a TerraCycle shopping platform in a reusable tote bag and can then schedule a pick up for the empty containers to be cleaned and reused. The product cost will be in line with familiar single use packaging, but there will be a deposit of $1-$10 per container.
“From a philosophical point of view, we have got to lean in and learn about this stuff,” Simon Lowden, marketing leader for PepsiCo’s snacks division told the Wall Street Journal. “People talk about recyclability and reuse and say they’d like to be involved in helping the environment, so let’s see if it’s true.”
Reducing plastic use is the ultimate goal.
If the Loop pilot program is successful and becomes more widespread, the reusable packaging movement could make a dent in the plastics issue. Nine billion tons of plastic have been produced since the material was introduced in the 1950s, and the amount produced each year is about equivalent to the entire weight of humanity. Almost every piece of plastic ever produced still exists in some form aside from the small amount that has been incinerated. 91% of plastic waste isn’t recycle – and if plastic production isn’t reduced, plastic pollution will outweigh fish pound-for-pound by 2050.
Single use plastics in packaging is a pressing environmental issue and Loop’s establishment is a step in the right direction. But changing consumer behavior won’t be easy.
“We don’t want another big public press announcement that says we’re going to be doing this then find that people say, ‘Oh well, it didn’t work.’ Nothing works in business the first time you’re out there,” explained Shireman.
He added, “We haven’t had refillable containers as a common product in more than a generation. It’s gonna take some effort. The one thing that we will be watching for is that companies have staying power on this. They say, ‘We’re going to try this. We’re going to adapt it. We’re going to change it because we’re committed to making refillable containers work.'”