Older readers may remember the days when the milkman would take away your empty milk bottles and replace them with full ones. CocaCola and hundreds of other products came in reusable containers. Commerce operated on what was known as the circular economy principle — the packaging that protected consumer products got returned to the source, cleaned, and used again and again.
Then came plastics, those space age wonders that allowed anything and everything to be packaged in single use containers that were simply discarded. Corporations loved them because they were cheap and relieved them of the burden of collecting all those glass bottles and reusing them. What used to be considered a necessary part of doing business now became somebody else’s problem. As usual when an economic model allows companies to privatize the profits but socialize the costs, profits soared.
Society, unfortunately, has not been so lucky. Today, millions of tons of plastics are resting for all eternity in landfills or floating in the world’s oceans. Pictures of plastic waste have been circulating on the internet for the past few years, showing mounds of plastics washed up on beaches on some of the world’s most remote islands. Microplastics have been found in the deepest parts of the ocean an atop the highest mountains. The public is finally recognizing that plastic waste is a huge problem that is getting worse by the day.
TerraCycle is a global company that sees a business opportunity in promoting a circular economy. “We have found that nearly everything we touch can be recycled and collect typically non-recyclable items through national, first-of-their-kind recycling platforms,” it says on its website. “Leading companies work with us to take hard-to-recycle materials from our programs, such as ocean plastic, and turn them into new products, and our new Loop platform aims to change the way the world shops with favorite brands in refillable packaging offered with convenience and style.”
Recently, TerraCycle created a wholly owned subsidiary called Loop.
“We envision the future of how we consume as a place where we receive higher quality, better designed products, that we can “throw in a bin” when they are finished with no cleaning, no sorting, and no hassle. But instead of that bin being a trash or recycling bin, it’s a Loop reuse bin, where everything is cleaned and goes around again and again. The future is not just about sustainability, it’s about a better life, where we can access breakthrough sustainability unconsciously.”
At the latest World Economic Forum meeting, Loop announced it had formed circular economy partnerships with Procter & Gamble, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Unilever, Mars, Clorox, Coca-Cola, Mondelēz, and Danone. Customers can order products from a variety of companies that are shipped to them in returnable and reusable containers packed inside a reusable blue Loop container.
When the products are consumed, the containers are placed inside a similar Loop container, picked up by UPS or other package delivery service, and returned to the point of origin for re-use. Customers pay a modest service fee of the use of the Loop container. CleanTechnica reader Jessica Feinleib uses the Loop service and can’t say enough good things about it. “This is a great clean tech idea,” she says.
Taming the torrent of single use plastic containers is vital to reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. According to an article from EDF on Medium, the International Energy Agency claims in a recent study that the manufacture of plastics will be one of the biggest drivers of an increase in the use of petroleum between now and 2050.
In other words, we can all start driving electric cars but oil production — and the carbon emissions from oil — will continue to rise unless we do something about our insatiable appetite for single use plastics. In the final analysis, destroying the world for the sake of convenience is a monumentally dumb idea.