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The Future of Zero Waste Beauty Is Refillable Packaging

I think about this scene from season two of Mad Men a lot: after a family picnic in the park, Don tosses his empty beer can into the trees as Betty shakes off the picnic blanket, scattering wrappers and remnants from their lunch all over the grass, before they all climb into Don’s new Cadillac to go home. Watching the Drapers litter with abandon is jarring, especially as we grapple with human-made, modern-day environmental catastrophes like the Pacific Garbage Patch.

Set in the 60s, the series captured an era when scientific breakthroughs and the push towards convenience propelled the popularity of single-use plastics, the very material now floating in our oceans and piling up in landfills. It was also a time when milk was still delivered in glass bottles to doorsteps, an old-fashioned system that could be the future of sustainable beauty product packaging.

At least that’s the thinking behind Loop, a shopping platform being piloted by a group of powerful players in the food and cosmetics industry including Procter & Gamble (Olay, Pantene) and Unilever (Ren, Dove, Love Beauty and Planet), in partnership with TerraCycle. As many of us are looking for ways to minimize our footprint and inch closer to a #zerowaste lifestyle, we’ve realized that many of our beloved beauty products are part of the problem. (Research suggests that 120 billion units of packaging are produced in the global cosmetics industry annually.)

Here’s how it works: Loop consumers buy their beauty and grooming products (foods like ice cream will also be available) on the company’s website or from a partner retailer. The products are housed in glass or aluminum jars, and arrive in a reusable tote. When the products are finished, Loop picks them up from your home, cleans the containers, and returns them refilled to your doorstep. This simple concept of reusing and refilling containers rather than creating new single-use vessels makes so much sense, and gives new meaning to #beautifulempties. The other thing the Loop model does is move beyond recycling, which is far from perfect considering items often get diverted to a landfill for reasons like contamination caused by not washing containers properly before tossing them in the blue bin.

Two other startups that feature a refillable package system are also worth noting for their design-forward approach. Myro and By Humankind both offer deodorant pods and chic refillable cases (the latter also sells package-free solid mouthwash tablets and cold-pressed shampoo bars) though neither ship outside the United States at the moment.

Canadians will also need to wait to try Loop, as it’s currently being tested in Paris and New York. In the meantime, we’re sending a note to Mayor John Tory to lobby for Toronto to be the first Canadian city to test drive this project (after all, the founder of TerraCycle Tom Szaky grew up here), and taking a field trip to the package-free shops Bare Market or Eco + Amour with our mason jars in tow to stock up on shampoo and moisturizer.