Loop Wants To Make Personal Care, Grocery And Cleaning Goods Shopping Waste-Free, But Will Consumers Buy Into It?
There’s never been a better time for beauty brands trying to save the planet. Retail interest is growing in sustainable packaging and eco-conscious ingredient sourcing, and brands that appear to be ignoring their environmental footprints are met with swift disapproval. But the movement to green goods hasn’t yet translated into many consumers going out of their ways to make purchases prioritizing the fight against climate change.
Loop, a retail platform with a closed-loop (get it?) distribution system, is a high-profile test of people’s willingness to factor sustainability into their shopping habits. It’s the brainchild of Tom Szaky, co-founder and CEO of recycling company TerraCycle, whose dream of zero-waste consumption caused him to look into the past to inform the future. Szaky compares Loop to mid-20th century milkmen regularly dropping off glass milk bottles and picking up finished ones. Its distribution system is based on refillable packaging and doorstep delivery.
Can Loop alter practices in a consumer packaged goods space in which disposability has been paramount? Heather Crawford, VP of marketing and e-commerce for Loop Global, argues its convenience is transformative. “This platform is actually designed for consumers to be able to easily adhere to,” she says. “Loop takes into consideration the fact that changing behavior is difficult. So, in the Loop model, people simply put their empties in the tote and send it back. It is no different for a consumer than putting empties in a recyclable bin or garbage can.”
About a third of waste generated in this country is recycled, and I’m judicious about doing my part to keep the virtuous cycle going. Loop’s promise to further cut down on the waste stream I generate is incredibly appealing. As a realist, however, I know there’s only so much I will sacrifice to protect the environment. With its shippable totes and simple e-commerce interface, Loop seemed like a sustainability endeavor I could get behind and, distinct from in-store refillable programs, perhaps stick with. So, I decided to trial the service to see just how practical it is for the average consumer.
Loop’s pilot program launched last spring in Paris and New York City. At the time, it was limited to 5,000 households in each city. Since then, Crawford points out, it’s added six new states of coverage as well as struck retail partnerships with Walgreens and Kroger. Currently, Loop is offered through the retailers’ websites, but its goal is to establish a presence in their stores this year.
I’m located in New York City, and opted to try Loop’s online store, and stick to beauty and personal care orders. Loop’s assortment contains 31 beauty and personal care products from nine brands: Pantene, Ren, Soapply, Love Beauty and Planet, The Body Shop, Gillette, Venus, Crest and Puretto, an in-house line. Some brands and categories such as bath and body have more robust selections than others. A lonely mouthwash constitutes the entire oral care category. The majority of products carried by Loop are in the grocery and household categories, but Crawford says beauty is a key growth category, and the number of brands within it are excepted to rise this year. She declined to name brands that are coming to Loop.
While browsing the grocery category, I noticed several items were out of stock. Beauty didn’t have that problem. The items were ready for purchase, and I bought two. Specifically, I purchased a 300-ml. bottle of Ren’s Atlantic Kelp and Magnesium Anti-Fatigue Body Wash, and an 8-oz. bottle of Soapply’s Liquid Hand Wash. Loop’s customers pay deposit fees. The deposit fees I paid ranged from $1.25 for Soapply’s Liquid Hand Wash to $5 for Ren products. On top of the deposit fees, there’s a $15 fee for the tote that products are delivered in. The deposits are 100% refundable once products are returned to Loop. Still, for me, the fees tacked on $21 to a $48 order. There’s a $15 shipping expense except on purchases of $100 and above. The price for my order of hand soap and body wash totaled $88.56, with tax. Thankfully, Loop comped the amount for the purposes of this piece because sustainability sure doesn’t come cheap.
Product pricing on Loop can vary from product pricing elsewhere. Soapply’s Liquid Hand Wash cost $22.50 on the brand’s website. On Loop, without the bottle deposit, it was $23.75. Surprisingly, Ren’s Atlantic Kelp and Magnesium Anti-Fatigue Body Wash was significantly less expensive on Loop. It rang in at $24.30 versus $28 on its own site.
After I placed my order, it was delivered via UPS the following evening. My two small beauty products arrived in a large tote. Apparently, there are no small totes at the moment. The delivery is fully eco-friendly, from the materials the tote is made of to the packing materials keeping the products safe and secure.
I live and work in a very small one-bedroom Brooklyn apartment with minimal closet space (read: none). Holding on to the bulky tote while I enjoyed my products wasn’t practical or appealing to me. To declutter, I promptly decanted the bottles into empties I already had, and returned them along with the tote to my local UPS store to be shipped back with the included free shipping label. Loop allowed me to retain the deposit amounts in my online account for future orders or have them refunded to my card. I chose the refund, and the money was credited back to me in seven days.
“Loop takes into consideration the fact that changing behavior is difficult.”
Loop’s process wasn’t onerous, and lived up to the promise of not forcing me to change my conduct in a manner that would stop me from shopping at it. The company plans to reduce consumers’ efforts even more by teaming up with retail partners to set up Loop at stores to enable consumers to shop dedicated Loop aisles and return refillable products to the stores they’re frequenting. Loop didn’t specify when it will arrive inside stores or which physical stores will take part in its program.
Despite people meticulously separating out waste materials into recycling bins, 91% of plastics wind up in landfills. That statistic emphasizes to me the importance of Loop’s system, and makes the endeavor a definite plus in my estimation. I’m heartened knowing the Soapply and Ren bottles I received aren’t destined for the ocean. The benefit for the planet is evident, but I wondered what the brands, specifically Soapply, the sole indie beauty brand currently on Loop’s site, gain by joining its selection.
Asked about Soapply’s involvement, founder Mera McGrew responds, “Being selected to launch with Loop alongside all the major players in the consumer goods space was an exciting recognition of the leadership role Soapply is playing in the market. The immediate success we had on the platform, the continued growth we’ve seen, and the positive consumer response to Soapply have not only helped our bottom line, but continued to solidify our role as an emerging leader within the consumer goods space.”
Prior to Loop, Soapply had a refill system with bottles made from recycled glass that replenish its 8-oz. bottles three times at a discounted price of $31.50 for 25.4 ounces. For the brand, the value of Loop is to amplify education and impact. “Startups and indie brands have resource limitations that require a constant reassessment of costs and a clear understanding of potential benefits connected with any decision or investment,” says McGrew. “Soapply is a public benefit corporation, so working collaboratively with Loop gives Soapply an opportunity to reiterate some of our core values and be a part of a larger system that is looking to empower individual consumers to help tackle the world’s waste problem.”
Brands can’t partake in Loop unless they have sustainable packaging. Loop’s requirements are exacting. All containers have to withstand sanitization and survive over 100 uses. “Any business, regardless of how big or small, knows that any changes to packaging can represent a lot of dollar signs—sourcing, designing, changing production lines, etc.,” says McGrew. “If a product’s packaging isn’t already reusable and refillable, updating packaging for Loop would certainly represent a cost to any brand.”
Crawford says, “We want to partner with companies large and small that want to redesign packaging to be durable and reusable. We have indie beauty brands which are in the process of on-boarding, and we’ve had very strong response to those we’ve launched thus far, with initial penetration rates [or percentages of the target market they’ve reached] of 35%-plus on new beauty product launches.”
My experience with Loop demonstrates it makes eco-oriented beauty and personal care consumption pretty painless, but not universally affordable. A huge feat will be a program that’s attainable for low- to middle-income families. As Loop expands and scales, it will be fascinating to watch how it overcomes that large hurdle. In its current iteration, though, it’s undoubtedly a step in the right direction.