Can Zero-Waste Product Packaging Save Us From Our Plastic Addiction?

To solve the ever-growing problem of too much waste and plastic, a coalition of major consumer product manufacturers is borrowing an old-fashioned idea.

Most Care2 readers probably won’t remember the days when the milkman came to call each morning. He used to bring milk and cream in glass bottles, which customers used and then put outside for him to retrieve.

Today, that idea is getting a fresh coat of paint. Thanks to a new marketing platform called Loop, the producers of many of the items you buy will market their goods in reusable, returnable stainless steel containers. That’s called zero-waste packaging, my friends, and its time has come.

“While recycling is critically important, it is not going to solve waste at the root cause,” Tom Szaky, CEO and cofounder of TerraCycle, one of the partners behind Loop, told Fast Company. “To us, the root cause of waste is not plastic, per se, it’s using things once, and that’s really what Loop tries to change as much as possible.”

There’s a lot of truth in that statement. We buy so much stuff these days because it’s convenient and single-serve. Yes, it’s plastic — but it’s not plastic’s fault. Our love affair with convenience has landed us in the mess the world now faces.

Here’s how the Loop platform will work:

  • Customers purchase products — anything from Dove deodorant to Haagen-Dazs ice cream — from Loop’s website
  • The purchase includes a deposit for the container
  • UPS, a Loop partner, will deliver the products to the customer’s home in a re-usable, compartmented tote
  • As the products are used up, customers place the empty containers back into the tote
  • When the tote becomes full, customers request a pickup via Loop’s website or drop off the tote at a UPS Store

Loop automatically replenishes the products a customer sends back, so the things you use all the time will come to you as you finish them. Loop calls it “the first subscription model that manages itself.”

Each package is designed to be used at least 100 times. Use of that tote to move the products back and forth means there are no cardboard shipping boxes to get rid of — sorry, Amazon. Just consider the volume of garbage that will drop out of the waste stream if this model of packaging becomes the standard for the future.

The array of brands participating in the Loop pilot program in New York City and Paris is remarkable. Here are only a few:

  • Crest
  • Seventh Generation
  • Tide
  • Clorox
  • Pantene
  • Nature’s Path Organic
  • Hidden Valley
  • Febreze

Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Danone, Mars Petcare, Mondelēz International and others will provide their products in reusable containers for Loop’s pilot program. Assuming all goes well, we can expect to see Loop roll this idea out to a broader geographic area.

With a little luck, maybe zero-waste packaging will be the future of commerce. Sometimes old ideas are the best ideas, after all. Like the old song says — everything old is new again.

Photo Credit: Getty Images


Jan S
Jan Sabout a month ago


Louise A
Louise Aabout a month ago

Thank you

Frances G
Frances Gabout a month ago

Thanks for sharing

Toni W
Toni Wabout a month ago


Toni W
Toni Wabout a month ago


Ann B
Ann Babout a month ago

we need to rid plastic as soon as possible...there are other ways--our goodwill has already refused to give plastic bags--you must bring a cloth book bag when shopping

Timothy Martin
Timothy Martinabout a month ago

This is a great idea, I hope it’s successful.

Debbi W
Debbi Wabout a month ago

That is a great idea. Now to get manufacturers to change from plastic. It needs to be done, as soon as possible. In the 1940's and '50's our meat was wrapped in paper. We brought our fruit and veggies home cloth shopping bags, and most people had their milk delivered daily in glass bottles. It all worked very well and we didn't have any plastic waste to deal with.

Renata B
Renata Babout a month ago

Very interesting, but most of the companies mentioned are so unethical that we don't use them. See P&G for example or - probably the worst of the worst - Nestle.

Naomi D
Naomi Dabout a month ago

What seemed great decades ago is now a BIG problem.