Or why the enemy of the environmentally-minded consumer goods industry is not packaging altogether, but the kind that is only used once.
I live in Berlin, where people are reputedly very green. They use their bikes a lot, come rain or come shine. Vegetarian and vegan options (cutting back on your meat consumption is about the most significant thing you could do to improve your environmental impact) are available virtually everywhere. Some of my German friends have up to six trash bins in their kitchen. Organic supermarkets are springing up all over town, including in not-yet-too-gentrified neighborhoods. But even there, it’s not possible to buy in bulk -- something that has now become ubiquitous in French organic supermarkets. So you bring home reusable glass containers and cardboard boxes, but also unrecyclable plastic wrappings and single-use bottles of shampoo. Hence the six trash bins.
This got me thinking about the structural forces at play one faces when trying to adopt a “zero waste” approach. It can be as easy as bringing your own containers to your local stores; it can be as constraining as riding to the other side of town, to one of the very few package-free stores of the city. In short, it depends a lot on external factors. No wonder zero waste struggles to gain mass adoption. Tom Szaky, founder of recycling and upcycling company Terracycle, recently told .
“Single use is the original sin of waste”
To address that difficulty, he partnered up with 25 consumer goods companies to build e-commerce platform , which will launch in the spring in New York and Paris. Through the platform, consumers will be able to buy mass-market products, like Haägen Dazs ice cream, Pantene shampoo or Dove deodorant. Their purchases will be delivered to them in packagings that have been designed to be reused around 100 times. Once the container is empty, the clients can ask for Loop to come pick it up, clean it and refill it. Recently launched cosmetics brand has a different but similar approach: when you first buy one of their products, you receive it in a plastic packaging that can then be endlessly reused with refills you purchase from the online store.
Photo credit: Loop
In both cases, the point is not to say no to plastic or packaging altogether, but to single use: “. he insisted in . Israeli entrepreneur Daphna Nissenbaum, , which makes a compostable and organic plastic alternative, : Of these 8.3 billion, it is estimated that 70% is only used once. On its website, by Humankind writes that 28,000 tons of single-use plastic are disposed into our oceans every day. says Tom Szaky.
The problem, as we’ve seen, is that getting rid of plastic and packagings altogether cannot yet be the widely-adopted solution it needs to be. And not everyone is primed for solid shampoo yet (I personally think it’s the best). So,Szaky tells to explain Loop’s approach. This touches upon the root of the environmental crisis we’ve created, and of our inability to correctly address it: we’ve built a consumption environment in which things have been rendered convenient and affordable at the detriment of the planet, and of course it is very difficult to course-correct now, because course-correcting is always hard. We’ve been used to things being easy, so nearing zero-waste should also be easy if we want people to get excited about it.
The question remains whether it’s paradoxical (hypocritical?) to buy products laden with chemicals or pesticides in reusable containers, the same way it makes no sense to purchase cardboard- and plastic-wrapped quinoa from Peru at the organic store. But let’s take the steps that we can.