Bringing Back the Milkman Model: How Loop Is Changing Sustainable Packaging

Sep 13, 2021

Sustainability has been a hot topic in retail and is one of the trends to watch in the coming years. Besides the boom in online shopping during the pandemic, consumers have also become increasingly eco-conscious, encouraging organizations to adopt more sustainable practices. 

Since the pandemic, an increasing proportion of consumers have dramatically evolved their purchasing decisions and are making more environmentally friendly, sustainable and ethical purchases. According to a survey by Rakuten Insight, over 50% of respondents have purchased sustainable products, indicating the prevalence of eco-consciousnesshts/increasing-demand-for-eco-friendly-sustainable-products/ when it comes to shopping.

Many are also recognizing the huge global waste problem that is generated from single-use consumer product packaging. These options are preferred due to their convenience and affordability — just think of the single-use plastic packaging holding our everyday products such as soap, ice cream, and toothpaste. With the prevalence of single-use packaging, how can brands become greener and less wasteful? 

Enter Loop, a platform that aims to reduce wastage and single-use plastics by offering consumers an alternative to recycling. Founded by Tom Szaky in 2019, Loop partners with global consumer brands to offer items in reusable packaging, fostering a simple zero-waste shopping experience for consumers. Let’s take a look at how this company is bringing sustainability to product packaging.

How Loop is Bringing Back the ‘Milkman Model’ With its Circular System

Loop - Sustainability Packaging

(Image Source: Loop)

Loop came about because the typical solution of recycling is not enough — it is merely a short-term solution. Instead, Loop wants to create a circular system in which containers, boxes, and other kinds of single-use packaging are continuously reused rather than disposed of and recycled. This circular system runs in contrast to the linear, ‘take-make-dispose’ economy that is typical of e-commerce and consumption where items are bought and thrown away, never to be reused again. This conventional system generates waste and harms the environment, which is what it tries to change. 

Loop does this by bringing back the ‘Milkman Model’ that everyone was familiar with in the 1950s where households would get milk delivered to their doors in glass bottles, drink their milk, leave their empty glass bottles on their doorsteps, and then have them taken and refilled by the milkman. Except, rather than just milk being delivered, Loop delivers over everyday items ranging from shampoo to ice cream from multinational brands to direct-to-consumer ones.

Once the products have been used up, consumers, who place a small, fully refundable deposit on their purchase, simply place their empty containers in a durable Loop tote bag on their doorstep which facilitates delivery in a sustainable manner. The containers are then picked up, cleaned, returned to brands, refilled, and delivered to customers again and again. 

Loop’s Beginnings: Working With FMCG Brands to Produce Reusable Packaging  

The seed of Loop was planted five years ago when it first worked with Head & Shoulders to produce a range of shampoo bottles made of recycled plastics. It was there when they thought, what if containers remained in the hands of producers as opposed to being sold off to consumers? 

In 2017, Szaky presented the idea of Loop at the World Economic Forum to multinational corporations, convincing them to take on this idea. With the requirement for brands to ensure that their packaging can be reused at least 10 times, Loop has partnered with over 35 brands like Burt’s Bees, Clorox, Häagen-Dazs and Pantene — all within two years of its official launch. 

Loop’s Rapid Global Expansion: DHL, Tesco, Carrefour, and more

Besides retailers and brands, the packaging platform also partners with service providers on the operations front. These partnerships include manufacturers that create new product packaging, as well as logistics providers such as DHL which supports Loop’s warehousing and fulfillment, and processing of Loop’s cleaned containers. 

Most notably, Loop also partners with traditional stores and retailers which have begun stocking their shelves with Loop’s items, such as Kroger and Walgreens on the East Coast of the States. They have also been expanding their global footprint, making their UK debut in their partnership with Tesco in July 2020, and further increasing their presence in France with Carrefour union in July 2021, after earlier successful trials. 

Their growing network of partnerships with major supermarkets in North America and Europe is a strong indication of sustainability making waves beyond just among a small subset of eco-conscious consumers, but also among a broader group of shoppers. The rapid expansion of Loop would likely lead to the idea of the circular economy becoming a norm, with Loop’s reusables becoming more commonplace, accessible, and convenient for consumers to adopt.

What will sustainable packaging look like in the future? With Loop gaining a significant foothold beyond the US in its aspirations to expand globally, we are excited to see how Loop will add that green touch to the shopping experience. From what we can tell so far, it looks like the Milkman is making its comeback.

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