“TerraCycle is very much a mission-driven waste management company. We eliminate waste,” explained CEO Tom Szaky. “The biggest challenge in recycling is that most waste management companies look to mine waste as cheaply as the law allows.”
As a result, recycling efforts are hurt as packaging streams get lighter, more complex, and ultimately, more difficult to find value. Back in 2001, TerraCycle started turning the recycling industry upside down by finding untraditional uses for typical waste streams. The company offers free recycling programs funded by brands, manufacturers, and retailers around the world to collect and recycle hard-to-recycle waste. Over the years, TerraCycle has worked with L’Oréal, Procter & Gamble, Colgate and other multinationals to turn their shampoo and detergent bottles and toothbrushes into a variety of products from school supplies to playgrounds. The company went a step further when it worked with P&G to create a Head & Shoulders shampoo bottle out of recycled beach plastic. Now, the goal is to keep waste out of the waste stream completely.
“Two years ago, at Davos, we started asking ourselves, Unilever, Nestlé and other companies, ‘Do you think recycling is the answer? Recycling is critical but it doesn’t eliminate waste,’” recalled Szaky. “If you have a chronic disease, you manage it, but you are not solving it. That is where the Loop idea germinated with those partners. We want to solve the waste problem.”
The biggest problem is that consumers have been fed a steady diet of single-use, disposable packages that are cheap and easy to make, but difficult for consumers to properly dispose. For TerraCycle and its partners, the “ah-ha” moment came when the discussion moved toward ownership.
“Why do consumers own these disposables in the first place?” they asked.
By shifting ownership to the maker, they internalize it, count it as a longer-term asset on its balance sheet and depreciate it over time and let the manufacturer make a great-looking product and maintain the price.
“Once that idea crystallized, the Loop idea developed,” he recalled.
It didn’t hurt that Szaky’s Loop sales pitch was made to many of the companies that are on Greenpeace’s list of most common brands found in ocean cleanups. Procter & Gamble was the first FMCG company to get in the Loop, but Unilever, Nestlé and others quickly followed. Now, Szaky says, companies are lining up to get with the program.
Loop gets underway this spring in the New York and Paris metro areas. Next year, London and other cities will be added. Consumers will go to the Loop websites, www.loopstore.com, www.maboutiqueloop.fror Loop partner retailer’s websites and shop for a host of brands now redesigned to be packaging waste-free. Consumers receive their durable products in Loop’s exclusively designed state-
of-the-art shipping tote that eliminates the need for single-use shipping materials like cardboard boxes. Consumers experience elegance and convenience all while eliminating the idea of throw-away packaging waste. Once consumers have used their detergents, cleaning products, etc., there’s no need to clean and dispose of the package; as consumers finish their products, they place the empty package into one of their Loop Totes. Loop will pick-up directly from their home.
Loop’s team of scientists has developed custom-cleaning technologies so that each product may be safely reused. Loop promptly replenishes products as needed and returns the refilled shipping totes to the consumer. If there is recoverable used product such as diapers, pads, razors or brush parts, they will be recovered to be reused or recycled.
Szaky maintains that by third or fourth use, Loop costs are even with traditional packaging schemes and with regular reuse (12-18 times) the net impact is substantially better (50-75%). Therefore, it is critical for Loop packages to be able to withstand repeated fillings. For example, the Loop Pantene bottle is aluminum and the new Tide and Häagen-Dazs packages are stainless steel.
“Loop elevates the experience for consumers. Products look luxurious and stand out,” said Szaky.
Loop hasn’t hit the market yet, but Szaky is already thinking about the future. The goal, he to make sure that every brand has a Loop alternative.
“We will measure our success by the shift from disposable to permanent packaging,” he told Happi. “By 2025, we want to have as much as 5% in durable consumption.”
Szaky’s ideas for a waste-free world are outlined in his newest book, “The Future of Packaging: From Linear to Circular,” which details a circular economy that relies on responsible reuse and recycling to propel the world toward eradicating overconsumption and waste, starting with packaging.