TerraCycle has launched a revolutionary idea that promises to recycle the packaging of products delivered in a convenient, returnable box. In this closed-loop approach, manufacturers will take responsibility for the packaging waste they create. Called Loop, the box will contain products from PepsiCo, Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Clorox, The Body Shop, and a dozen other companies. They will offer approximately 300 products, at first, when the service is introduced in Paris and New York this spring.

The Loop box has been compared to the old-fashioned milkman who delivered dairy products. Consumers purchase a box of products, including food, bathroom goods, and snacks, tossing their used packaging, empty toothpaste tubes, or other non-perishables. It’s an intriguing comparison since it promises more local jobs in the reverse-logistics industry that will eventually capture our consumer waste. However, the milkman solved a very narrow category of food and waste (the used milk bottles).

“Loop will not just eliminate the idea of packaging waste, but greatly improve the product experience and the convenience in how we shop,” said Tom Szaky, CEO of TerraCycle. “Through Loop, consumers can now responsibly consume products in specially-designed durable, reusable or fully recyclable packaging made from materials like alloys, glass and engineered plastics.”

That’s a tall order. Amazon has mastered delivery of products to the home, often within 24 hours. But Amazon leaves a pile of boxes and packaging materials in its customers’ homes while Loop promises to take them back. Consolidating many different products into a single delivery system will be a massive challenge, one TerraCycle will need partners to address. United Parcel Service is the delivery partner for the first phase of Loop.

Shop From Home, Recycle From Home

Shoppers will be able to browse products on a site at loopstore.com (or its French counterpart), then wait for the products to arrive. If you check out the site, you will see that the Loop container is a zippered fabric container with slots for products and the resulting waste. Loop promises to come back to the home to retrieve the recyclables.

“Loop is a circular shopping platform that transforms the packaging of your everyday essentials from single-use disposable to durable, feature-packed designs,” according to Loop.com. But in another sense, the Loop box is a wastebasket that may fill quickly or slowly. Considering that a toothpaste tube can take months to finish while a food container could take days.

Loop’s pick-up process needs to develop to handle products consumed at different rates. As the Loop box sits in the home, it will collect used products “such as diapers, pads, razors or brush parts” that will be recycled. But will Loop take back product packaging and waste fast enough to, for example, avoid smelly diapers becoming a problem? Whether customers will dump only recyclable materials into the box is another challenging question.

The genius of Loop is simple: It removes the question of whether a product or its packaging can be recycled. The service takes care of everything. In a closed-loop, or circular, economy, Loop’s business model will be an important feature for every consumer products manufacturer.

We’re excited by Loop. Like many great ideas, it will take time to perfect. For now, we are looking forward to placing our first order to find out how well this closed-loop recycling service works.


By Mitch Ratcliffe

Mitch is the publisher at Earth911.com and Director of Digital Strategy and Innovation at Intentional Futures, an insight-to-impact consultancy in Seattle. A veteran tech journalist, Mitch is passionate about helping people understand sustainability and the impact of their decisions on the planet.