If you walk into a Fred Meyer supermarket in Portland, Oregon, in late October, you might notice something new: In some of the chain’s stores, a new section will sell common products, like hand soap, in reusable packaging that customers can later bring back to the store.
Kroger, which owns the chain and plans to roll out the new reusable section in 25 Fred Meyer stores in Portland before potentially expanding to other cities, is one of several retailers to begin using Loop, a platform for reusable packaging that started with online orders. “It’s really aligned with our vision of a world with zero waste,” says Denise Osterhues, senior director of sustainability and social impact at Kroger. “It’s innovative, and it’s a platform that could ultimately help end single-use packaging and disposability that we’ve all become so accustomed to.”
Customers pay a deposit on the package, which they get back when they return it to a drop-off bin in the store. Then Loop sorts the packaging at a “micro node” nearby, and sends it to a larger facility for cleaning and sanitizing, before ultimately returning it to a manufacturing facility to be refilled and reused. Some of the brands in the platform use standard packaging that just hasn’t been reused in the past, like Gerber baby food in glass containers.
The same platform launched in Tesco, the U.K. supermarket chain, in ten stores earlier this month. Tesco, which is offering 88 different items in reusable packaging, calculated that if customers in those 10 stores switch to the reusable version of three products—Coca-Cola, Heinz Tomato Ketchup, and Ecover cleaning products—the packages would be reused more than 2.5 million times a year. While the new store display has signs explaining how the system works, Tesco is also using Loop “ambassadors” at the launch to help customers understand what to do. “It’s effectively exactly like how organic came to life in stores, when you would walk into a store and see an organic section and then shop that section if you care about organic products,” says Tom Szaky, CEO and founder of Terracycle, the recycling company that created the Loop platform.
The system launched in late 2020 in Carrefour, a large retailer in France, and in Aeon stores in Japan in May 2021. Walgreens plans to begin using the in-store system in early 2022, and Ulta Beauty will follow sometime next year, along with Woolworth’s in Australia. Some restaurant chains are also beginning to use the system, including McDonald’s, Burger King, and Tim Horton’s.
Kroger chose to launch first in Fred Meyer stores in Portland, Osterhues says, because the company knew that customers in the area were particularly interested in sustainability (the stores also have a larger physical footprint than some of the company’s other supermarkets, so there was more space available for the new display). It hopes to expand. “Our hope would be to scale it, because that’s when it becomes truly financially beneficial, as well as better impact for our planet,” she says.
“The critical piece here is scale,” says Szaky. “It’s more brands and retailers really taking this seriously by going in-store and then scaling their in-store presence. And that will then leave us where hopefully in a few years from now, you’ll be able to go anywhere, into your favorite retailer, and see a Loop section with whatever your favorite brands are.”
New legislation could also help push it forward, he says. In France, for example, a new anti-waste law includes a ban that will begin next year on disposable tableware in restaurants, including fast food chains. “That’s actually a pretty big deal for something like a McDonald’s,” he says.