When I was a kid, we used to have milk delivered to our house.
There were four of us kids, and we went through enough boxes of Lucky Charms and gallons of milk that kept my mom in and out of supermarkets. The convenience of a milk delivery service, along with its nostalgia, is what initially appealed to her.
Twice a week, a man would pull his truck into our driveway to drop off glass bottles of whole milk and chocolate milk in an aluminum milk box on our front porch. One of my chores was to go out front to the porch, collect the bottles and bring them to the refrigerator. Once we had finished the milk, the bottles would go back in milk box for the milkman to pick up and deliver them to a warehouse that cleaned, bottled, and replenished orders.
This milkman model that originated in the 1950s is what Loop, a forthcoming sustainable online shopping service, is fashioned after.
Launching May, 2019, Loop will be reducing packaging waste by offering a wide range of products and goods delivered to the home in reusable containers made of aluminum, glass, stainless steel and engineered plastic as opposed to disposable plastic. Customers will shop on Loop’s online site for products from cleaning supplies to groceries from leading brands, including Häagen-Dazs, Pantene and Tide. After using the products, customers place the empty reusable containers in a reusable black and blue Loop tote bag outside their front doors to be picked up by UPS, cleaned, refilled and delivered again to their front doors.
Residents in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and across the Atlantic in Paris will be able to take advantage of this new take on sustainability. Come 2020, Loop plans to branch out to serve major hubs such as San Francisco, Toronto, Tokyo and the United Kingdom.
Partnering up with Proctor & Gamble, Nestlé, PepsiCo and several other major consumer-goods behemoths, Loop will offer 300 products — relatively proportionate to the prices found in grocery stores — that boast a zero waste design. If the public is receptive to this service, Loop plans to expand its product line.
Each product on the Loop website will tack on a refundable container deposit priced between $1 to $10, depending on the brand. There is also a $20 shipping fee on small orders. But once customers spend a certain amount or reach a specified weight (approximately five to eight items), the shipping costs qualify for free delivery.
Once customers have used up or eaten their products and goods in their reusable containers, they will have the option to either reorder the item or unsubscribe to reclaim their container deposit. Failure to return the container, however, disqualifies customers from receiving a refund.
Rather than receiving a monthly box similar to how Birchbox or Bark operate, Loop automatically will refill the products customers send back so that their household staples are available as needed, making Loop “the first subscription model that manages itself,” according to its website.
One advantage to Loop is that if, say, the stainless steel tub of Häagen-Dazs falls off the counter and gets dented, Loop still accepts the scuffed container for recycling purposes, and refunds the deposit to the customer.
According to reporting from Newsday, Verginie Helias, who serves as vice president and chief of sustainability at Proctor & Gamble, admitted that a program like Loop is “risky because no one has tried it.” Yet, “the response has been very positive, and we’ve included 10 of our brands to be part of the pilot project, with a plan to add more later pending positive results.”
Two of those pilot brands include Pantene and Crest. The former will package shampoo in “beautifully decorated, lightweight-aluminum pump containers” with marine life imagery and phrases that say, “I reuse, I love the ocean,” and the latter will package mouthwash in glass bottles.
Nestle’s Häagen-Dazs ice cream, also partnered with Loop, will not come in the cardboard drums that typically fill supermarket freezer sections. Instead the shipment will use stainless-steel tubs featuring decorative artwork of fruits and sweets, and a double wall to keep contents cold.
Tom Szaky, who spearheaded Loop, first began making strides in sustainability with his New Jersey-based global waste management company, TerraCycle. In 2017, TerraCycle helped Proctor & Gamble design an award-winning bottle for Head & Shoulders made from plastic gathered from beaches and waterways. The design found Szaky on a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos, an Alpine town in Switzerland, discussing green initiatives with top consumer goods companies.
While there, Szaky set up meetings with these companies to pitch his idea for Loop, and asked them to rethink their methods of packaging. Strategically, Szaky sought companies that were notoriously listed as the world’s worst plastic polluters, according to a Greenpeace report.
With the threat of an imminent public relations debacle, these companies were open to Szaky’s plans for a zero-waste company.
“I don’t have to rub this in their face,” Szaky said, because such polluting companies were “painfully” aware of their standing in sustainability — or lack thereof.
Come 2019, Szaky’s plan found footing. Currently, eight of the ten companies that had been cited as the worst plastic polluters have since joined the Loop coalition.
“Loop is about the future of consumption. And one of the tenets is that garbage shouldn’t exist,” Szaky said.
With the heightened awareness of just how catastrophic plastic is to the environment, Loop may be an answer to combating this man-made problem, reimagining the milkman model of the ‘50s by “honoring our past from a modern perspective.”
But, as Lloyd Ellman, Product Development Manager at Public Goods, points out, “shipping empty packaging around the country is very wasteful from the perspective of transportation costs and emissions. In a place with a lot of people densely populated together it makes more sense.”
A tall apartment building with multiple residents who subscribe to the same delivery service helps to cut down on costs and emissions because the life cycle of the delivery service (pickup, transport and drop off) optimizes time. Such efficient delivery options are not available across the map, though. Delivery routes dotted along suburban areas and rural regions, to illustrate, require trucks to drive further distances and grapple with additional miscellaneous moving parts such as speed limits and traffic patterns.
Delivery logistics will be one crucial factor in determining Loop’s environmental benefits. How quickly consumers in a given square mile subscribe to Loop and use the reusable containers is yet another set.
Form Over Function
Many of these participating brands, though, are problematic, despite their efforts in sustainable packaging. Pantene Pro-v shampoo will still include, sodium lauryl sulfate, the ubiquitous chemical in most household products that may pose a threat to aquatic life and can be an irritant for some consumers. Tide laundry detergent will remain just as toxic if children or pets digest it, Pepsi’s sugary content will continue to be linked to obesity, and Hidden Valley Ranch will maintain high levels of additives and sodium.
A sleek design for packaging may make cabinets, refrigerators and bathroom counters more aesthetically pleasing, but does it really matter when the contents are not healthy and safe for everyone?
Also, does this benefit compensate for unethical behavior? Last year, PepsiCo, the world’s second-largest soft drink producer, was called out by the Rainforest Action Network [RAN] for “sourcing from a palm oil supplier linked to forced labor labor, human trafficking, unsafe living conditions and dozens of other breaches of RSPO sustainability criteria.”
Another obstacle to hurdle is the Texas-size island of plastic that floats around the Pacific Ocean. Many of Proctor and Gamble’s products are currently swirling around in these garbage gyres and will continue to do so. Loop may cut down on the amount of plastic waste the average household disposes from hereafter, but the removal of plastic in the oceans will require more preventative measures.
Public Goods aims to cultivate honest and healthy products for everyone. Though there is mention of adopting a service similar to Loop in the future in the form of product packaging or ecommerce packaging, it is difficult to execute with the current infrastructure in place. Still, Public Goods strives to be as sustainable as possible in its packaging: many personal care product bottles are made from sugarcane plastic; all of the plastic bottles are recyclable; and many food products come in recyclable glass or cans.
Ellman added, “During product development we try to make decisions that strike a balance between reducing waste and ensuring that the product arrives to our customers safely and in good condition. As more eco-friendly materials become available, we will try to implement them whenever feasible given our business.”
It is a culmination of practices and moving parts that encourage positive change to the environment. By analyzing variables, supporting innovations, practicing transparency and adopting new perceptions, society is able to refine the businesses it favors to exercise sustainability.
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