By Taylor Telford

The Washington Post

Kroger and Walgreens are teaming up with UPS and waste management firm TerraCycle to combat the scourge of packaging and food waste with an innovative grocery delivery system that takes its cues from the milkman.

The collaboration, titled “Loop,” brings 300 popular products from 70 brands — including such giants as Nestle, Unilever and Proctor & Gamble — to customers’ doorsteps in reusable containers. Loop debuted at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January, and pilot programs launched this week in Washington, D.C., Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Paris.

“Loop was designed from the ground up to reinvent the way we consume by leveraging the sustainable, circular milkman model of yesterday with the convenience of e-commerce,” Tom Szaky, founder and chief executive of Loop and TerraCycle, said in a news release.

Customers can shop online through Loop’s website, where items cost roughly the same as what they would in a traditional store. Orders are delivered in specially designed Loop tote bags, and each product has bespoke packaging of its own: glass jars for Nature’s Path granola and metal containers for Häagen-Dazs ice cream.

“If you go to a brand and ask them to create durable packaging, they will say ‘My costs are going to go through the roof,’” Anthony Rossi, Loop’s vice president of global business development said at the Cal Poly FreshPACKmoves seminar earlier this week, according to thepacker.com. “So in our platform, all of the packaging is always owned by the brand and is (secured) by a deposit from the consumer,” he said.

When customers are done with the items, UPS, which has been partnering with TerraCycle for years, collects the empties for free. Loop then sanitizes them and ships them back to the brands and the cycle starts anew. The idea is reminiscent of the home milk delivery that was common in the United States for decades. Customers would place orders and bottles of farm fresh milk would show up the next day. But the advent of refrigeration, the convenience of grocery stores and processes that extended milk’s shelf life helped edge out the milkman.

Loop requires a small deposit for its containers, which is refunded once the packaging is safely returned. The company also will provide recycling services for items that have long been condemned to the trash, such as diapers, pens and razor blades.

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