If you’re trying to cut your plastic footprint and happen to live in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, or Washington, D.C, you can now be part of a unique zero-waste experiment: Major brands have just started selling everyday products, from laundry detergent to salad dressing, in reusable packaging that goes back to the companies for refills instead of ending up in the trash. The pilot includes products like Häagen-Dazs ice cream packaged in a stainless-steel carton and new deodorants created by Degree, Dove, and AXE.
When consumers sign up for the pilot–either through a new platform called Loop or through Kroger or Walgreens (you can also add your name to the wait list if you live elsewhere)–the products will arrive at their house in a reusable shipping tote. Empty containers can be tossed back in the tote, and then someone can schedule a pickup to send the packaging back to be sterilized and reused. In theory, it’s not much more difficult than throwing out single-use packaging. Despite the extra shipping, Terracycle, a recycling company that is one of the partners in the project, has calculated that the carbon footprint of the process will be far less than that of typical packages. Because the products involved in the pilot are large brands, the companies testing the idea are hoping to reach a larger audience than some niche refillable concepts already on the market.
The pilot will help companies learn how willing consumers are to try something new–and test the logistics of a completely different distribution model. If it works, it could be one way to tackle a major environmental problem, and the company could expand to other cities. “To us, the root cause of waste is not plastic, per se, it’s using things once,” Tom Szaky, CEO and cofounder of Terracycle, told Fast Company in a previous interview. “That’s really what Loop tries to change as much as possible.”