Reusable packaging — from stainless steel ice cream containers to glass jars of soap — is about to become more common at groceries and restaurants worldwide.
Loop, a two-year-old company that collects and sanitizes reusable containers, said last week it’s expanding after successful trials at groceries in France and Japan. Kroger and Walgreens in the United States, Tesco in the United Kingdom and Woolworths in Australia are among the chains partnering with Loop to sell household staples in reusable packages. McDonald’s, Burger King and Tim Hortons have also signed on.
In all, Loop says, 191 stores and restaurants worldwide will be selling products in reusable packages by the first quarter of 2022, up from just a dozen stores in Paris at the end of 2020.
Grocery stores will have a special Loop area, where manufacturers — from independent brands to big players like Nestle —have packaged pantry items, household cleaners and other products in reusable containers. More than 150 manufacturers will be participating worldwide by early next year, selling 375 products.
Customers pay a deposit — ranging from 15 cents for a bottle of Coca-Cola to $10 for a stainless steel container of Clorox wipes —in addition to the price of their item. When customers are finished with the container, they can return it to the store and get their deposit refunded through Loop’s app. Loop collects the containers, cleans them and returns them to manufacturers to be refilled.
Fast food outlets — including a handful of Burger Kings in New York, Tim Hortons in Toronto and McDonald’s in the U.K. — will also distribute and collect reusable coffee cups and sandwich holders made from sturdy plastic.
Reusable packaging is well-developed in other industries, like automotive, said Cimberly Weir, an outreach coordinator and instructor at Michigan State University’s School of Packaging. But to her knowledge, Loop is the first to try this with consumer products.
"We are the ones who are responsible for actually getting that product returned," she said. "So it’s putting a lot more pressure on everyday citizens to do their part."
While Loop's approach is unique, it's one of many ongoing efforts to eliminate packaging waste. Lego said last year it would remove plastic packaging from its play sets. Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Keurig Dr Pepper have invested millions to improve the recycling and processing of their plastic bottles. Amazon encourages customers to get their items shipped in fewer boxes; the company says it has eliminated 1 million tons of packaging since 2015.
Loop — a division of New Jersey-based recycling company TerraCycle —is actually an old idea, says TerraCycle Founder and CEO Tom Szaky. Before the 1950s, products were made to last, but they’ve gotten thinner and cheaper in the decades since, he said.
"We’re hitting the apex of that now, and people are fed up with that trend," Szaky said. "There’s a huge attraction to the idea of higher quality and materials."