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Worldwide waste crisis... Because we are too convenient

Interview with Tom Szaky, founder of Terracycle and Loop

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European Business: Upcycling means turning old products into new ones. To what extent is your service comparable to upcycling or recycling?

Tom Szaky: Upcycling and recycling are critically important in preventing waste from going to landfill or being incinerated. However, this is not a long-term answer to waste. We did a lot of reflection on that and realized that the foundational cause of garbage is disposability and single-use. Disposability is extremely convenient and cheap and this is why it has been widely adopted, but it has caused a major waste crisis that we now have to deal with.

With Loop, we tried to come up with a way to solve for disposability but maintain the virtues of disposability, which is convenience.

European Business: Loop is available in certain areas in the USA and Paris with 25 brands taking part in the shopping service. Does an area have to fulfil requirements to introduce and use your service?

Tom Szaky: New-York and the mid-Atlantic states of the USA and Paris are the first two markets where Loop will be available as a pilot. After those pilots, we plan to expand to other markets such as London, Berlin, Toronto, San Francisco and Tokyo.

We are looking in priority for urban zones, where the system can be more easily optimized, and where consumers are looking for sustainable and convenient solutions.

We also chose markets where we already have strong partnerships with brands and retailers. For example, TerraCycle has been operating in France for almost 10 years, and we had worked with Carrefour. Two years ago, Carrefour was the first retailer to believe in Loop’s model and to support the launch in Paris this year. It was fundamental for us to launch with Carrefour’s support – which is one of the leading retailers in France.

Tom Szaky
„A disposable coffee cup is used for only 12 minutes in average, and most of them are not recyclable!" Tom Szaky

European Business: How do you guarantee that the products meet the hygienic standards and can be used safely?

Tom Szaky: Loop works with the biggest fast-moving consumer good companies in the world. These companies have stringent standards in terms of safety. They are conducting regular audits to ensure the products meet the hygienic standards.

To meet those standards, we have had to develop a art cleaning system designed to clean specific packaging, tailored to different type of materials and closures. For example, we have to be able to sanitize food, personal care and household items to the highest hygienic standards, which is extremely challenging since almost all packaging currently has some type of single-use seals, padding or gasket incorporated into them.

European Business: Loop is for private households but what about the food service industry? They cause a lot of environmental pollution, we think of coffee to go cups. In Germany it is discussed to introduce deposit coffee mugs for to go. Do you think that this can help to decrease waste?

Tom Szaky: Food service industry and more broadly take away culture have also a huge impact on the environment. For example, a disposable coffee cup is used for only 12 minutes in average, and most of them are not recyclable!

Deposit schemes can really help decrease waste and encourage consumers to bring back their cups or recycle them properly, as they work as an incentive for consumers to bring their packaging back for them to be reused. It is great that this kind of initiatives are being discussed.

However, for these models to work, they have to be convenient and easy for consumers, otherwise it will not work in the long run. It has to be easy for them to give them back and get their deposit back. This is really what we wanted to achieve with Loop, providing an easy and convenient deposit scheme solution to reduce waste.

„We are now facing a worldwide waste crisis and consumers are becoming more and more aware of the consequences of garbage on the environment." Tom Szaky
Tom Szaky

European Business: When founding your company TerraCycle in 2001 you had the vision of a waste-free world. Do you think this will ever be possible in future?

Tom Szaky: I think people are now paying more attention to the amount of waste they create and are willing to make efforts. We are now facing a worldwide waste crisis and consumers are becoming more and more aware of the consequences of garbage on the environment.

Because of that, we see more zero waste solutions emerging, such as bulk stores, package-free aisles in supermarket… And this is a growing market. The zero-waste lifestyle is also getting more and more exposure, especially in the media and amongst influencers. As a reaction, big and smaller businesses are looking for solutions to respond to consumers’ desire to create less waste.

But even though this lifestyle is becoming more popular, zero waste solutions remain sometimes difficult to access. People are used to linear models with disposable items. Disposability is cheap and convenient, and we have lived with it for the past decades.

I really hope that systems like Loop provide a convenient and easy to access solution for a zero waste lifestyle will emerge and that consumers will adopt them widely. Hopefully in the next decades, we will look at waste as a strange anomaly and we’re happy it’s over.

Interview: Vera Gaidies | Photos: Loop