A new partnership between a rising circular economy juggernaut, a supermarket giant, and some very popular food brands (think Häagen-Dazs and Heinz) is raising hopes for the viability of reusable packaging in Canada. The groundbreaking project is being met with acclaim from business sustainability experts, and cautious praise from Greenpeace.
Launched to serve most of Ontario on February 1, the platform from online grocery provider Loop offers customers a range of popular Loblaws grocery and household items, delivered in containers that are designed to be returned, cleaned, and refilled, reports CBC News. The Loop service has already active in the U.S. and parts of Europe.
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Available products to point-and-click into your online basket include ketchup and ice cream, President’s Choice sauces and oils, Chipits baking chips, Ocean Spray cranberries, and more.
“I think it’s at the scale that’s needed to create the change in the community in Canada more generally,” said Tima Bansal, Canada Research Chair in business sustainability at Western University. She told CBC the involvement of a giant like Loblaws as a critical step forward in starting to change Canadian habits around disposable packaging.
Several small, independent grocers have already been offering zero-waste shopping in cities across Canada. But, fairly or not, these stores are often regarded as the domain of bulk rice and lentils, and are not often on the shopping route for most consumers. Tom Szaky, founder and CEO of Loop and its parent company, TerraCycle, told CBC the goal of the partnership is to offer Canadians “your favourite product at your favourite retailer in a reusable and convenient manner.”
CBC lays out the purchase process, explaining that “as with other online grocery stores, customers fill their virtual shopping cart, but in addition to the cost of the item itself, they pay a deposit for its container,” a fee that ranges from 50 cents for a glass salsa jar to $5 for a stainless steel Häagen-Dazs ice cream container. That particular container cost a whopping C$1 million to develop, noted Szaky.
FedEx also has a place in the arrangement, delivering the groceries for a $25 fee (“waived for orders over $50). Used containers—in any condition—are placed back in the delivery bag and left for pick-up.
From there, Loop sends the containers to a facility, “where they get sorted, cleaned, and sent back to manufacturers who refill them,” explains CBC. Szaky noted that Loop demands a high production standard, requiring manufacturers “to design packaging that can be expected to survive being filled and refilled at least 10 times.” At the end of their life cycles, the containers must be able to be recycled back into the same type of package.
Greenpeace plastics campaigner Laura Yates sees the Loop-Loblaws partnership as a step in the right direction. “It’s really wonderful that big-name companies that have the resources to invest in developing this type of product delivery system are doing so,” she said, adding that industry heavies’ investments in new tools like the perfect refillable ice cream receptacle will help smaller companies secure investment for similar systems.
The true hallmark of success and commitment, however, will be when companies like Loblaws (and all its supply chain partners) offer all their products in reusable containers, rendering single-use packaging truly extinct, Yates said.
“If they truly want to commit and be a part of moving forward to real solutions, these options need to replace their product lines that are in single-use containers and packaging,” she told CBC.