We’re introducing reusable, refillable packaging to help cut waste
Nine Unilever brands have unveiled reusable packaging innovations, including new product formats. These will be trialled on LOOP™, a global, first-of-its-kind, waste-free shopping system launched today. Our Chief R&D Officer, David Blanchard, explains how it all works.
Firstly, what is LOOP?
It’s essentially a whole new way to shop, where you buy products in packaging that can be returned and refilled. LOOP is like the milkman of the 1950s, but with a 21st-century reboot. Back then, in some countries, milk was delivered to your door in glass bottles. When these were empty, they were left outside, collected by the milkman, washed and refilled.
The system brings together major brands and retailers with the idea of shifting from a model that is ‘disposable’ (where packaging is thrown away or recycled after use) to one that is ‘durable’ (where packaging is reused and any leftover product is either recycled or reused).
How does it work?
Consumers buy online directly from LOOP’s website or from a partner retailer. They get their products delivered in a reusable tote – this also eliminates the need for single-use shipping materials like cardboard boxes. Once they have finished the product, LOOP picks it up from their home, replenishes products as needed and returns the refilled shipping tote to the consumer.
Who came up with the idea?
It was actually a massive joint effort. A coalition of large companies – including other manufacturers, as well as retailer Carrefour, courier UPS and resource management company SUEZ – along with TerraCycle, a leader in recycling. All partners have the same goal: to develop supply chains that are more ‘circular’ from design through to consumer use.
Why did Unilever get involved?
This move complements our existing efforts to create packaging that’s truly circular by design. In 2017, we made a commitment that, by 2025, all our plastic packaging will be reusable, recyclable or compostable, and 25% of it will come from recycled plastic content.
We have made good progress against these targets, but we’re determined to further reduce our reliance on single-use plastics. One of the ways we can do this is through investing in new business models around refills and reusable packaging.
We also know that consumers want to buy sustainably. Our own research shows that a third of consumers are now buying brands based on their social and environmental impact, and over half are more likely to buy products that are sustainably produced.
LOOP means we can work with others to test reuse models for different markets and shift consumer behaviour, at scale. This will help turn an idea or concept into something that’s commercially viable.
Which Unilever brands are part of LOOP?
Initially, it’s AXE, Dove, Hellmann’s, Love Beauty and Planet, Love Home and Planet, REN Clean Skincare, Rexona, Seventh Generation and Signal.
We’re also very excited that four of these will trial new formats on LOOP. Dove, Rexona and AXE will test a premium, refillable deodorant stick called minim™. Dependent on usage, the product will last on average one month, with the packaging designed to last at least 100 cycles. This means that each pack is expected to last about eight years – with the potential to save up to 100 packs from being thrown away.
Between them, these three brands reach over a billion people every year. So, the smallest change in the product can make a huge impact.
The other new format – from Signal – is refillable toothpaste tablets, which require less water than normal toothpaste, but are designed to be used in the same way. You chew, brush as usual and rinse. They come in a recyclable, refillable jar which means there’s no packaging or product waste.
What materials are used and are they all recyclable?
The materials differ for each product, but most use glass or aluminium and all are fully recyclable. For example, REN Clean Skincare’s bottles are glass, Love Beauty and Planet’s bottles are aluminium, and the refillable deodorant sticks are stainless steel.
Is this solution better for the environment than other products?
Across the product’s lifespan, yes. Creating a reusable container in the first place requires more energy and resources than one that’s single-use. But over time, the reusable container has a lower environmental and economic cost, as it doesn’t need to be remanufactured on every use. The initial life-cycle analysis (LCA) shows that LOOP has the potential to drastically reduce consumer waste and GHG emissions. We will be using the pilot to update the LCA.
When and where will LOOP be available?
In May, it will be available in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania in the US and in the Paris metro area in France. Additional markets are expected to launch throughout 2019 and 2020. Our brands will share more about their unique concepts around the regional launches.
Why is this such big news?
We can’t create a circular economy for consumer goods in isolation. No business can. That’s why partnerships like LOOP are important. To deliver the necessary change, at scale, we must work with others on a complete transformation of how we think, use and dispose of packaging.
This means working together to test new business models which require a fundamental shift in consumer behaviour and the way we deliver goods in-store and via e-commerce channels. We also need to build new supply chains which support refill and reuse systems.
LOOP is a win-win for consumers and businesses. And of course, for the planet. That’s why we’re thrilled to be involved and why we encourage others to join the movement.
Unilever brands on LOOP
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