Reusable packaging isn’t a new concept, but it’s largely been tackled on a brand-by-brand basis. There’s been little to no mass coordination, yet arguably that’s what’s needed to make it a viable option for most consumers. A new coalition might change all that though.
Based on the old school model of the milkman, Loop aims to bring reusable packaging to the mainstream via a zero-waste platform. What’s interesting is that it’s signed up some of the biggest brands in the world to its cause from Unilever to Nestle to Pepsi to Procter & Gamble.
Through Loop customers can place an order for their favourite products such as Gillette razors, Pantene shampoo, Haagen-Dazs ice cream, Tropicana juice and Oral B toothbrushes, but in a special reusable packaging. These are then delivered in a reusable tote bag by UPS drivers.
Customers use the products as normal and when the packaging is empty then place it in the empty tote. Once full they can book a collection and the packaging is picked up for cleaning and sterilisation before being refilled. Customers have to pay a deposit for each product on top of the normal purchase price, but this is refundable. There is also a subscription element which means new products can be shipped automatically to customers as they run out.
From a sustainability perspective it’s interesting enough, but from a packaging design one it’s fascinating. Each company has worked to create completely new packaging designs for their products with each one being designed to last for at least 100 uses. It has to be durable enough to handle being shipped, cleaned and refilled multiple times.
The packaging has also been reconsidered in terms of performance and functionality. More expensive materials that wouldn’t normally be used for products like ice cream, such as stainless steel, are now viable options with the added bonus of keeping the product in better condition for longer.
Designers have the option of building new features into their packaging because it becomes cost-effective to do so. No longer are you designing something to be as cheap as possible for a one time use – this is about creating the best packaging you can for that product.
For many of the brands involved it’s also been a case of designing packaging that looks as good as possible in your home because, in some respects, you’re living with it longer. While packaging that looks good on shop shelves has long been a goal, this is an entirely different aesthetic, with the result usually being something higher-end.
In the case of certain products, the need to be able to reuse packaging has caused a complete rethink in its design. For example, Unilever found toothpaste tubes too difficult to reuse, so created chewable toothpaste tablets instead. As a design exercise, reusable packaging is driving more inventive thinking – often for products that have been packaged in a certain way for a long time.
The Loop concept is currently being piloted in the New York City area and parts of Paris. Whether it will roll out more widely remains to be seen, but it is perhaps the best chance reusable packaging has had to date to become a viable option for shoppers – and creating exciting packaging design opportunities at the same time.
By Cate Trotter, Head of Trends at Insider Trends.