The reduction of single-use plastic has become a worldwide movement as societies become acutely aware of the devastating effects that waste, especially plastic waste, has on our environment. A particular driving force behind reducing plastic waste has been the visible impact it has had on oceans, not only marring beaches but killing sea animals and ecosystems in a number of ways. WWF reports: ‘eight million tonnes of plastic end up in our oceans every year, killing and harming marine life.’ The current pandemic has brought with it fresh concerns over the use of single use plastics. Often necessary health equipment will require single-use plastics unavoidably, latex gloves for example should be disposed of regularly to avoid cross-contamination.
As countries attempt to grind back into gear, health is a predominant concern and the war against plastic, somewhat on the backburner. ‘The UK delayed its ban on plastic straws and many US states have delayed or reversed bans on plastic bags’ Wired reported.
The relatively new waste-free shopping platform Loop, an offshoot of the company Terracycle, was announced in January 2019. It offers consumers and companies a simple re-use recycling scheme. Companies partnered with Loop will be able to sell products to consumers in durable long-lasting plastic or even glass bottles, once the customer has used the products, the refillable containers can be left on the doorstep and collected. Where they will be taken back to the factory to be professionally cleaned and sanitized and put back into rotation. A throwback to the days of the milkman perhaps.
The scheme was first introduced in the US and France. In the US partnering with retailers such as Walgreens and Kroger. According to CNN, upon its arrival ‘Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Danone, Mars Petcare, Mondelēz International and others — some of the world’s largest consumer goods companies — are partnering on a potential solution to limit future waste.’ Offering products from theses leading brands and more within the categories of food, personal care, cleaning and so forth. Customers need only pay a refundable deposit on the containers.
After a successful launch in the USA and France, the scheme has recently launched In the UK, partnering with one of the largest supermarkets, Tesco – who is now trialing the scheme. Terracycles website introduces Loop to the UK as: ‘With the introduction of Loop in France and the US, TerraCycle® is revolutionizing the way we shop. Shifting away from environmentally harmful, single-use product packaging, Loop creates sustainable new packaging solutions. Customers can enjoy their favorite products from popular consumer brands in refillable containers, delivered directly to their home. Loop then provides an empty container collection service and product refills as required.’
Chief executive at WWF Tanya Steele, said to the BBC: “There needs to be a cultural shift, from a society that is reliant on disposable products and packaging, to one that embraces a circular model. “At the heart of this is reusability, which is why Tesco’s Loop trial is a welcome first step in understanding how initiatives like this could work at scale in the future.”
The coronavirus crisis, although in many ways bringing fresh concerns on the overuse of single-use plastics, may actually provide an opportune moment for recycling schemes. Tom Szaky, chief executive of Loop, said that during this period, the service had seen double-digit growth in the markets of the USA and France where it was originally launched. The coronavirus crisis has presented a unique opportunity, lockdown procedures have meant that less and less people have access to the shops and the demand for home deliveries has increased. Re-cycling schemes such as this are therefore, in theory, a lot easier to access. Environmental group Greenpeace stated that the crisis “presents a real opportunity for innovation in reusable packaging”.
Quoted in a BBC report, Louise Edge, senior campaigner at Greenpeace stated: “Replacing throwaway packaging with refillable containers won’t just help stem plastic pollution and protect wildlife, by preventing swaps from single use plastic to cardboard, it helps protect our forests too. Plus, reuse can deliver reduction in greenhouse gases, so it’s a win win win for the environment.”
Some supermarkets in the UK had already begun trialing their own re-use schemes in certain stores, where customers could bring their own containers or rent the stores and fill them with food or household essentials such as pasta or washing up liquid. Many other chains have been pressured by consumers to abolish single use plastics on many items, especially on unnecessary goods such as fruit and veg. Whether or not all of these schemes become widespread, it signals a move to a more sustainable future.