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Can this innovative clean tech company close the gap on plastic waste?

Spinoff of popular recycling company TerraCycle, Loop aims to upcycle unusable PET plastic and polyester fiber waste into high quality, infinitely recyclable content.

According to a grim 2016 report from the Ellen McArthur Foundation, only 14% of plastic waste is ever collected for recycling, with most plastic packaging being thrown out after just one single use. This translates to an equivalent annual economic loss of $80–$100 billion, not to mention millions of tonnes of excess carbon in the atmosphere.

Welcome Loop, the innovative brainchild of TerraCycle founder Tom Szaky. Launched in May 2019, the Trenton, NJ-based reusable plastics packaging company aims to develop circular solutions to combat single-use waste.

>>>READ: Sierra Energy’s New Gasification System Turns Trash into Treasure

The company partners with dozens of retailers and manufacturers to deliver brand-name items to consumers in chic, made-from-waste totes. The items are essentially “zero-waste” versions of your everyday essentials, specifically designed for 100 or more use cycles. The products are housed in durable and reusable metal or glass packaging that customers can “borrow” for a small fully refundable deposit from TerraCycle, Loop’s parent company.

Once the containers are empty, customers can simply drop them off at a Loop return point or arrange for the items to be picked up for free at home, pending a minimal number of uses (suppliers can’t participate in the platform unless their packaging can be reused at least 10 times). Once the items are returned inside the special Loop tote, the empties are sent to a facility where they are sorted out and washed. The packaging is then shipped to the corresponding brands to be refilled and to start the process anew. Customers can choose to have their product replenished; if not, the refund process is automatically activated and customers will have their deposit returned to their account.

Sustainability-minded shoppers can purchase Loop products online or in-person at participating retailers like Kroger and Walgreens. The platform has already expanded internationally to some well-known stores in Europe, including French grocery store and hypermarket operator Carrefour. The company counts 35 top-name brands ranging from Gillette Venus and Häagen-Dazs to Tropicana, Pantene, and Clorox among its major brand partners.

The entire process is essentially a waste-free alternative to the conventional linear disposable system, from production and delivery to package retrieval and cleaning. The company uses low or no-value PET plastic and polyester fiber waste to create the reusable packaging. Plastic that would normally be considered “unrecyclable” or that would otherwise end up in landfills or in oceans is upcycled into high-value applications, like high-purity PET resin and fiber suitable for use in food-grade containers.

Loop’s advanced technology works by breaking down the polymers in a typical PET molecule into its base building blocks and then recombining them to yield pure, virgin-quality PET plastic. Because Loop’s depolymerization technology removes contaminants like dyes, additives, and other impurities, Loops’ branded PET plastic is ideal for unleashing all sorts of packaging innovation. Global manufacturers like Procter & Gamble and Unilever work alongside Loop to develop and design the packaging in keeping with TerraCycle’s 100% refillable packing guidelines. The containers are not only made to be durable, but also aesthetically appealing and “counter-worthy,” said vice president and chief sustainability officer at Procter & Gamble Virginie Helias, according to GreenBiz. The end result is reusable packaging that consumers can not only feel good about, but also pride themselves for using.

Because Loop pays for the costs of R&D as well as the costs of cleaning and refilling, product prices are about the same as the costs of their single-use, conventional counterparts. However, Szaky notes that buying into the brand’s “milk-man model,” in which containers and other canisters are continuously reused, instead of tossed out and then recycled, actually targets the core of the garbage crisis.

“Recycling is incredibly important,” Szaky said, according to Forbes. “But it’s only a short-term solution. It doesn’t solve the root cause.”

>>>READ:This Company Is Pioneering Self-Cycled Phone Cases

In this sense, Loop stands out from other traditional recycling companies in that its platform actually proposes a closed-loop solution to the plastic waste crisis. Instead of being downcycled into low-value applications like textile fiber, which have no long-term reuse prospects, high-value materials like plastic water bottles are converted into genuinely environmentally sound “infinitely recyclable” content that can be reused up to 100 times. The process utilizes significantly less energy than fossil-fuel-based virgin PET production, amounting to a savings claim of 150,500 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide annually, according to Loop’s website. The figure is equivalent to the carbon savings of 746,000 square km of forest in one year, or to 348,439 barrels of oil consumed, Loop says.

The venture is especially relevant given the substantial rise of e-commerce during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Adobe Digital Economy Index, e-commerce sales in 2021 hit new highs, even as online prices continued to rise.

From January 2021 to August 2021, consumers spent a staggering $541 billion online, nine percent more than during the same period the year before and 58% more than in 2019. Consumers’ shopping carts got larger as well, with the average order surging 13% to hit $169 in the first eight months of 2021, the report said.

The numbers reflect shifting consumer preferences due to the pandemic. As shopping online became the norm amid ongoing COVID-19 caseloads and federally mandated lockdowns, Americans got more comfortable ordering everyday goods online and those habits ended up sticking over the long-run.  

The public health crisis was a boon to the global e-retail industry, particularly for major non-specialty platforms like Amazon and Shopify, who were already well equipped to meet the rising consumer demand triggered by the pandemic. However, an over-reliance on online shopping comes with some serious environmental pitfalls, including the excess production of millions of plastic bags and cardboard boxes whose lifespan is limited to just one use. 

Loop’s reusable packaging system offers a viable, guilt-free alternative to the heap of packages outside your front door. The process is formulated to be as familiar and as simple as possible, Szaky said.

“You get a box at your door with your stuff in it. Though it’s better, because your box is durable, and you don’t have to worry about recycling all that cardboard. There’s no washing, no cleaning required. Just like a disposable object, you throw it back into one of those durable shipping containers you would’ve received from us.”

“And when we pick up, you have the option to have it set to auto-replenish, so that you can actually make your shopping even easier,” the CEO explained.

You can shop Loop products here.

Nathalie Voit is a freelance content creator and a graduate of the University of Florida. She is an alumni of The Heritage Foundation’s Young Leaders Program. 

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of C3.

Copyright © 2020 Conservative Coalition for Climate Solutions

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