Remember the milkman? He’s back!

Innovative recycling program builds on the ‘milkman model’

Created date

March 25th, 2019
UPS delivers Loop groceries in a reusable tote, eliminating the need for cardboard delivery boxes.

Loop offers many popular Proctor & Gamble products like Tide and Pantene in newly designed packages.

Sometimes innovation means taking a step backward. That is certainly the case with a new global recycling effort called Loop. 

Long before consumer recycling meant blue bins and curbside pickup, there was the milkman. He delivered fresh milk and, at the same time, collected empty glass bottles. The empties were returned to a local plant where they were sterilized and refilled. They may not have called it recycling back then, but that’s exactly what it was.

The Loop program brings the old-fashioned “milkman model” into the modern age using today’s high-tech logistics, shipping, and online shopping platforms. The goal is to create an efficient circular system with zero waste.


Unveiled at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, earlier this year, Loop is a collaborative effort between TerraCycle, a U.S.-based recycling company; major manufacturers like Nestle and PepsiCo; and UPS.

“Loop will not just eliminate the idea of packaging waste but greatly improve the product experience and the convenience in how we shop. Through Loop, consumers can now responsibly consume products in specially designed durable, reusable, or fully recyclable packaging made from materials like alloys, glass, and engineered plastics,” says TerraCycle CEO Tom Szaky. “When a consumer returns the packaging, it’s refilled, or the content is reused or recycled through groundbreaking technology.”

Loop customers will shop for groceries on the company’s online commerce site. Already, the program has the support and participation of popular brands like Hellmann’s mayonnaise, Tide, Pantene, and Nature’s Path.

Once a customer places an online order, those groceries will be packed in a custom designed insulated Loop tote. The tote, a collaboration between the UPS Package Design and Test Lab and TerraCycle, is designed to safely transport liquids, dry goods, and personal care products.

UPS delivers that Loop tote directly to customer homes and, just like the milkman did, also picks up empty reusable Loop product containers. Totes full of empty containers are returned to a TerraCycle recycling facility.

New packaging

While Loop consumers can purchase favorite brands like Tide detergent, Pepsi-Cola, Axe deodorant, Hidden Valley Ranch salad dressing, and Häagen-Dazs ice cream, the packaging of these familiar products is different from what consumers typically find on store shelves.

For example, Häagen-Dazs chocolate salted fudge truffle ice cream comes in a metal container, not the plastic and paper tub people are accustomed to.

Clorox wipes are housed in a decorative container that is far more attractive than the brightly colored plastic one sold in grocery stores. Once all the wipes are gone, you simply insert another minimally packaged order of wipes into that same container.

Tide detergent and Pantene hair products come in refillable metal bottles.

Unilever solid deodorants like Axe, Dove, and Degree are packaged in sleek plastic refillable containers.

As the Loop website promises, Loop packaged products are “beautiful enough to display.”

Ending the ‘take-make-dispose’ culture

“We want to put an end to the current ‘take-make-dispose’ culture and are committed to taking big steps toward designing our products for reuse,” says Alan Jope, CEO of Unilever. “We’re proud to be a founding partner of Loop, which will deliver our much-loved brands in packaging, which is truly circular by design.”

Another Loop partner is the UK-based Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to eradicating plastic waste and pollution. “We cannot simply recycle our way to a plastic waste-free future. We need to eliminate the plastic we don’t need and innovate so what we do need is circulated safely,” says the foundation’s Sander Defruyt. “New approaches that recognize the vital role of reuse and avoid the need for single-use plastic, like Loop, are a crucial step in the shift to a circular economy, where plastic never becomes waste or pollution.”

The Loop program started on a small scale earlier this year with pilot programs in New York City and Paris. Additional markets are expected to launch throughout 2019 and 2020.

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