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Here’s how one company is helping solve the world’s trash problem

TerraCycle is working with major brands like Häagen-Dazs and Unilever to reduce single-use packaging.

Here’s how one company is helping solve the world’s trash problem
[Illustration: T. M. Detwiler]

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The root cause of the global trash problem is our reliance on single-use packaging. That’s the premise behind a new platform called Loop that’s helping major brands shift to a new system of reusable containers for everything from ice cream to deodorant. “The overall idea is to try to solve this issue of disposability, but also match the convenience of disposability,” says Tom Szaky, cofounder and CEO of TerraCycle, the recycling company that started Loop. The system, which is already operational in the New York City area and Paris, is currently available only for online sales but will be available beginning next year for purchases in physical stores as well.

1. Redesigning packaging to make it durable, cleanable, and feasible for use in current manufacturing plants can yield unexpected benefits. A stainless steel Häagen-Dazs container keeps ice cream frozen longer. “We realized we have a massive design opportunity,” says Szaky.

2. Consumers pay a refundable deposit for the packaging when they order items. By the end of 2019, roughly 500 products, including mainstream drugstore offerings like Pantene shampoo, will be available through the platform.

3. Online orders arrive in a reusable tote rather than a cardboard box. Constructed with dividers, the tote eliminates the need for Bubble Wrap or Styrofoam.

4. The shift to new packaging has inspired brands to experiment with new products. Because toothpaste tubes can’t easily be refilled, for example, Unilever designed new chewable toothpaste tablets that can go in a tin.

5. After use, consumers toss the empty containers back into the tote. When it’s full, they ask for a pickup and are refunded (or credited) for their deposits.

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6. Loop receives the empty containers and sanitizes them before they’re returned to manufacturers. “We sort it, store it, clean it, and then provide it back to the manufacturer for refill, and then it goes around again,” says Szaky. Loop encourages manufacturers to reuse containers 100 times.

A version of this article appeared in the October 2019 issue of Fast Company magazine.

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley, and contributed to the second edition of the bestselling book "Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century."

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