What Can Reuse Programs Learn from the Loop Reusable Shopping Platform?

February 3, 2020

Reusable packaging made big strides in 2019, leapfrogging from niche urban stores to e-commerce with the launch of Loop. Loop is a “global circular shopping platform designed to eliminate the idea of waste” by offering zero-waste grocery, home, and personal care products from some of the largest consumer brands. Products are packaged in durable containers and delivered in the Loop Tote, a “zero-waste delivery system that eliminates disposable, single-use shipping materials”. When containers are empty, the customer requests a UPS pickup of the tote, getting a refund on their container deposits. 

Since its US launch in May 2019, a number of reviews have chronicled the Loop user experience – everything from the attractive stainless steel packaging and still-limited product selection, to the higher costs and deposit sticker shock and large volume of reusable foam padding included with orders. 

Loop has no doubt paved the way for companies to take reusable packaging seriously. What can other reuse pilots learn from Loop? Here are three learnings from our trial of the platform.

1. Not all Loop packaging is visibly reusable. While many of the items are in redesigned stainless steel containers that look and feel distinctly different from traditional packaging, other items are very similar to recyclable store options. For example, the peanut butter sold on Loop comes in glass jars that feel identical to typical recyclable glass jars. On-product Loop labeling or branding is very small and minimalist, and could easily be missed by family members not “in the loop” on what’s a Loop product. This kind of minimal branding creates an opportunity for unintentional product loss, as containers get mistakenly recycled instead of sent back for reuse and users lose their deposits.

More distinct Loop branding on these traditional packaging formats would help engage consumers and ultimately prevent container loss. This is arguably more important than other design considerations, since at the end of the day, successful reuse depends on containers taking as many trips through the reuse platform as possible. Brands looking to experiment with reusables should clearly differentiate reusable formats from recyclable packaging, and communicate the reuse process to consumers with on-product messaging.

2. On Loop, reverse logistics are tied to new purchases. To return containers and get a refund on deposits, consumers need to schedule a pickup of the Loop tote. But what happens in between orders, when you’ve had one tote picked up, haven’t placed a new order, and are starting to amass a small collection of empty reusable containers? Container deposits can quickly add up- a purchase of eight or nine products may amount to $20-$30 in deposit fees. While it’s clear that tying returns to purchases can incentivize continued engagement with the platform, it’s also a hassle for consumers with empty containers and an inconsistent purchasing schedule. 

To give consumers flexibility and keep empty containers cycling through the system, Loop should create an alternate way to return containers – perhaps the ability to order an empty Loop tote or drop off containers at a nearby participation location. Other reuse pilots would do well to build multiple return pathways that don’t require new orders, such as a combination of scheduled pickups, mail-backs, and store drop-offs. 

3. The most exciting Loop products are also the most redesigned. The reformulated toothpaste tablets and stainless steel deodorant sticks are some of the most attention-grabbing and talked-about products on the Loop platform. These products are fundamentally different than their disposable counterparts, and draw in consumers curious about a new way to experience familiar products. 

Today, redesigned products are the exception, not the rule. Most of what is sold on the platform could be called “reuse ready” low-hanging fruit – nuts, grains, and liquids that are easy to repackage in tins and glass containers with no product changes. These are products that engaged consumers may already be purchasing from supermarket bulk bins, or may feel comfortable recycling curbside. 

Instead, how might reusable packaging reinvent the multi-material laminate pouches and plastic films that have no recyclable alternatives and upset consumers the most? Could Loop’s redesigned packaging also facilitate portion control, reduce spoilage and food waste, or prevent freezer burn? Other brands can use reusable packaging as an opportunity for radical product redesign, delighting consumers with a beautiful, more functional design. 

The Loop platform is just the beginning of a growing reusable packaging movement. For other brands considering reusable pilots, it’s worth thinking about ways to clearly communicate reusability, create options for convenient returns, and redesign products in new and engaging ways. Let the innovation begin.