Loop, the zero waste winner?

Zero waste shops can now be found on 100’s of high streets across the UK. Most are independent start-ups, launched by those seeking to be a catalyst for the behaviour change needed to avert a climate crisis.

With more consumers seeking to avoid unnecessary and single-use packaging it is not just climate concerned individuals seeing the opportunity. Source Bulk Foods, for example, now offer franchise opportunities with more than 50 stores so far.

Source Bulk Foods was founded in 2012 in Australia and has now entered the UK and Singapore.

The number of zero waste grocery stores looks set to grow and it is easy to imagine them embedded in communities offering a destination for topping-up with locally sourced staples. However, despite being a big catalyst, they are unlikely to be more than a small contributor to future climate friendly shopping behaviour.

One reason for this is that much of what zero waste stores offer today will be available in supermarkets soon. Tesco is trialing the removal of plastic-wrapped fruit and vegetables, Wholefood Market offers a bulk department and BodyShop has introduced a new refill station for shower gels. The direction is very clear.

The Bodyshop refill station consists of a sanitization chamber for aluminium bottles with UV-based sterilization and several pumps dispensing a different scent of shower gel.

Despite expanding options for those visiting shops and supermarkets the biggest driver of zero waste shopping could prove to be the Loop platform which is being trialed in France and America. With Loop consumers purchase their favourite brands on-line and pay a deposit for reusable packaging. Empty packs are placed back in their delivery bag for collection, cleaning and refilling. Loop creator TerraCycle, impressively, has quickly assembled big brand partners such as Procter & Gamble, Nestle, PepsiCo and Unilever to trial their proposition.

Flow chart credit: CNN Business

Terracycle are also exploring the integration of their Loop platform with retailer websites (giving consumers the option to avoid single-use packaging) and enabling purchase / collection at physical stores.

Significantly, Loop delivers the key missing ingredient from zero waste shops and supermarket aisles – namely, convenience. With the Loop platform the behaviour change barrier of time and effort to achieve zero waste are largely removed. It avoids the need for planning, carrying containers, cleaning packaging and queuing at dispensers that will slow adoption in physical stores.

Furthermore, Loop snugly fits with the rapidly growing take-up of on-demand delivery. Last year, according to Mintel, UK courier and express delivery sales increased by 12 percent to £12.6 billion – a growth of 62 percent since 2014. Longer term, Loop could well be part of an ecosystem of on-demand providers delivering with electric vehicles and providing reusable packaging. Deliveroo, for example, are trialing reusable packaging and aiming for a 2020 roll-out. UPS as part of the Loop trial has developed reusable outer packaging.

Deliveroo have launched reusable packaging with Returnr. Customers have the opportunity to have their dish delivered in a reusable, stainless steel bowl for a deposit. This can then be returned at any participating restaurant to get their deposit back.

Loop may also deliver additional benefits to first mover brands. With consumers making an upfront investment in reusable packaging and the environmental benefits increasing with reuse brands should enjoy the ‘Amazon Prime effect’ of increased repeat purchasing. Durable packaging also offers brand owners greater scope to invest in performance enhancing design features to justify a premium Vs disposable alternatives.

In addition to attractive reusable packaging, participating brands have created new product forms (e.g. Signal tooth tabs or Oral B durable handles) and collection containers (e.g. Pampers)

Despite increasing climate concerns and platform benefits Loop still has a sizeable challenge in converting consumers to a new behaviour that requires a deposit payment and retaining packaging. It is likely to require patience (and promotion) from brand partners to progress to a scalable and profitable platform. Commitment from major retailers may also prove vital – availability on existing retailer websites would make adoption easier and accelerate growth.

But Terracycle understand they must work with consumer behaviour that embraces convenience and resists effortful change in solving a global packaging problem. With the commitment of the biggest global brands and an approach that combines convenience with climate friendly behaviour the Loop model looks like a good bet for success.

These two excellent articles provided the inspiration for this article: Guardian: zero waste revolution and Fast Company: a coalition that will change how we shop forever

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