UPS Longitudes | Circular Solutions in a COVID-19 World
As demand for sustainable packaging solutions reached its apex, the COVID-19 pandemic seemed to stall progress as disposable gloves and single-use shopping bags returned to even the most sustainable consumers’ homes.
The annual celebration of Plastic-Free July last month felt a bit ironic as single-use solutions remained necessary to protect health and safety in this unprecedented moment in time.
Circular solutions have long been a priority at UPS. At the 2019 World Economic Forum, UPS joined with TerraCycle, a global waste management and recycling company, and some of the world’s leading consumer goods companies to introduce a revolutionary zero-waste platform.
Once used, product packaging is collected, cleaned and refilled for delivery. As a global re-use ecosystem, Loop provides customers the brands and products they love most — all with less environmental impact.
“Loop came at exactly the right time. Consumer sentiment has continued to trend away from single-use plastics and other disposable packages for many years now.”
The right solution at the right time
Loop came at exactly the right time. Consumer sentiment has continued to trend away from single-use plastics and other disposable packages for many years now.
Nielsen data from 2019 shows that 73 percent of consumers would be willing to change their consumption habits to reduce their environmental impact. While these data points foreshadowed a push for a truly circular economy, the COVID-19 pandemic fueled bans on reusable cups and local efforts to reverse plastic bag bans in some states and cities, leading to a — hopefully temporary — increase in reliance upon single-use packaging materials.
As many consumers scale up their dependence on e-commerce, Loop has announced plans to expand to every ZIP code in the continental U.S.
I recently joined 3BL’s Mary Mazzoni and Anthony Rossi, vice president of business development for Loop, to discuss the future of circular solutions and how we can avoid a backslide on plastic waste generation.
Here are three key takeaways from our conversation:
Reusable packaging isn’t necessarily less hygienic
When properly cleaned, reusable packaging can be just as hygienic as single-use materials. As Rossi explained, Loop brings health and safety to the forefront of sustainable consumer solutions.
Consumers can select from more than 400 products, each shipped to their doorsteps in the Loop tote. There is also a mandatory cleaning procedure with the return of materials to Loop.
Rossi explained, “COVID really shined a light on what we’re already doing rather than a need to change the way we’re operating.”
Loop’s partnership with UPS helps ensure hygienic delivery. “A professional partner like UPS is so important because they’ll have the correct health and safety measures to ensure that deliveries and pickups are done safely and protects both employees and consumers,” Rossi added.
Loop expansion will bring sustainable solutions to a wider audience
In its pilot phase, Loop was available to residents of Paris and the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States.
One of the most common questions the Loop team received during the past year: Why is Loop not accessible to me?
With the lessons from the pilot phase in mind, Loop is now preparing to expand across the continental U.S. “It is important to our growth to not only service big metropolitan areas,” Rossi said.
In the near future, Loop aims to reach people in rural communities and populations without access to adequate grocery stores. Scaling up the Loop program will help make sustainable solutions more accessible for all people.
“While the pandemic slowed progress on curbing dependence on single-use plastics, COVID-19 has not slowed our dedication to working toward a more sustainable world.”
COVID-19 won’t mark the end of a circular economy
3BL’s Mazzoni ended our conversation by asking for our insights on whether the resurgence we’ve seen in single-use packaging will become permanent.
Even after working to advance sustainability initiatives at UPS for more than 31 years, I’ve found myself turning to disposable gloves and single-use shopping bags on trips to the grocery store. Based on UPS’s marketplace insights, I remain optimistic consumer interest will revert back to a focus on circular solutions after the pandemic.
For example, Starbucks isn’t allowing customers to bring in reusable cups right now due to health and safety concerns, which is understandable. But that doesn’t mean their commitment to reducing single-serve cups and sustainability is waning. I’m certain once we’re on the other side of this crisis, and it’s safe again, they’ll encourage reusable cups.
Like many other brands, UPS has made a strategic commitment to advancing circular solutions. While the pandemic slowed progress on curbing dependence on single-use plastics, COVID-19 has not slowed our dedication to working toward a more sustainable world.
For more information about UPS’s commitment to advancing a more circular economy, click here.
Read more on UPS's thought leadership blog, Longitudes.