Did you know that 99% of the things we buy are thrown away within 12 months of purchase? When it comes to pollution, the world is in a post-crisis state, and recycling alone won’t be enough to bring us out of it.
Yet, Stephen Clarke says that we can start taking achievable and cost-effective measures to reverse our damage. As the Head of Communications at TerraCycle and Loop Europe, Stephen argues that a zero-waste concept is the answer to pollution.
In this episode, we talk with Stephen about TerraCycle and how it’s able to recycle virtually anything, as well as its new shopping platform, Loop.
We open the conversation by taking a look at the current pollution problem before diving into detail about Loop’s great effort to not only reduce waste but to eradicate it.
You’ll hear about how the Loop ecosystem works, with Stephen touching on big-name companies they’ve partnered up with, what kinds of packaging materials they use, and how their delivery system operates.
Stay tuned as Stephen talks about how Loop uses a deposit cycle to keep clients and brands accountable, and why you shouldn’t be shocked if you see plastic in your Loop basket.
To find out about smart bins, how plastic isn’t the villain it’s made out to be, and why you never ask your dentist if his utensils are clean, be sure to tune in to this episode!
Stephen graduated with a BA (HONS) in Business Studies (specialising in Communications) from the University of Lincolnshire & Humberside in 1997. For the next 14 years he worked at and then ran the divisions of a number of London based PR agencies, across a wide range of industry sectors including consumer lifestyle, sports sponsorship and food, drink and nutrition.
Stephen joined TerraCycle in April 2011 initially as the PR Manager for TerraCycle UK. Whilst always retaining a communications focus, his remit diversified somewhat over the years to include account management, business development and the overall management for firstly the UK and later the Northern Europe region (UK, ROI, Norway, Sweden and Denmark).
In August 2017 he moved to his current TerraCycle role as Head of Communications for TerraCycle Europe, which is a wholly communications focused role in order to best utilise his 20+ years communications expertise.
In 2019 he also started in a similar role for Loop Europe.
“At TerraCycle, we're seen as experts in recycling the non-recyclable. The main way we do that is we make the economics work for the waste stream.” — Stephen Clarke
Tune in to find out:
- Introducing today’s guest Stephen Clark and his role in TerraCycle and Loop.
- Loop’s goal to eliminate the need to recycle.
- Shocking statistics revealing our relationship with plastic.
- How a throwaway culture and too few solutions have rendered recycling inefficient
- Stephen talks about how Loop works and its journey so far.
- How using different materials and a deposit system has helped shift mindsets.
- How Tesco is getting involved in Loop’s pilot phase in the UK.
- Why smart bins are going to create a looped ecosystem.
- The testing that takes place before brands and products can join the Loop ecosystem.
- Hear about why plastic has been vilified and why other materials have stopped being used.
- How companies redesign product packaging.
- Stephen talks about the cleaning process and how Loop optimizes it.
- Why some companies won’t hesitate to join the Loop ecosystem.
- Loop’s goal of expanding across the globe and the challenges they face.
- And much more!
“For a brand and a product to join Loop, we do testing on it. It has to be able to be reused a minimum of 10 times, but we're hoping anywhere up to 100, depending on the material.” — Stephen Clarke
Links mentioned in this episode:
[00:00:04] ES: Hello and welcome back to Happy Porch Radio. Season 5. This season, we’re focusing on digital solutions in the circular economy.
Today, Barry and I are joined by Stephen Clarke. Stephen is the Head of Communications for TerraCycle and Loop Europe. TerraCycle is a global leader in the collection and repurposing of otherwise, non-recyclable wastes. They've recently launched a new e-commerce platform called Loop, that will enable customers to shop for some of their favourite brands in durable, reusable packaging.
It seems to me, like Loop is spreading very quickly. Last year, they launched in the US and this year, they launched in the UK. This was one of those conversations, Barry, that I could have just kept talking for about an hour, I think, and still not necessarily covered everything that I wanted to learn from Stephen.
[00:01:00] BO: Yeah, I agree. There's so much going on. I mean, setting aside even the TerraCycle, the recycling part of that business and just talking about Loop is an amazing complex and very interesting conversation. As you said, they're attempting to do change at scale geographically across multiple countries where they're looking to roll out, but then also, working with big retail, like the big supermarkets in the UK like Tesco I think that is really interesting for me.
[00:01:28] ES: Yeah. I think something that I really appreciate about our conversation with Stephen, which we've noticed in other episodes in season five is that idea of, we noticed that there's an issue here, this isn't necessarily our core business trajectory that we thought it would be at the beginning and we don't see ourselves as online retailers, but there's a hole here and we want to fill it, so we're going to do everything we can to get that ball rolling.
Stephen even mentions, maybe in the future, TerraCycle will actually step back and other brands will fill more of their e-commerce role that they are now fulfilling. For now, this was what needed to be done, so we did it and I think that's a really exciting way to go about business.
[00:02:16] BO: Yeah. I 100% agree. While not taking away from the fact that TerraCycle is a business, we're looking to build a large-scale business in our large-scale business. They are also very much driven by the goal. As you said, they started off with recycling, or they do recycling. Then as they've realized, well as they've had an opportunity to move to, well, let's also look to reduce waste, hence we say. We need to reuse and Loop. I think, Stephen described that really well.
[00:02:44] ES: Yeah. It was a really interesting conversation. I hope everyone enjoys it as much as I did.
[00:02:49] BO: Without any further ado, let's meet Stephen.
[00:02:57] SC: I’m Stephen Clarke. I’m the Head of Communications at TerraCycle and Loop Europe. TerraCycle's mission is to eliminate the idea of waste, which is a very big goal, I know. We do this in two main ways. TerraCycle recycles previously non-recyclable waste in 21 markets around the world. Also, Loop, which is a fairly new venture of ours, which is a zero-waste shopping platform. We're focusing on refill and reuse, so there is no need to then recycle materials at the end.
[00:03:26] BO: Awesome. Welcome to the show. I’m really excited about this conversation. TerraCycle obviously is a huge thing in a huge conversation, but this episode, what we want to do is focus on Loop. I think it makes sense to start as much as we can at the beginning and maybe you could share a little bit about where Loop came from, the genesis and how that grew out of the work that – or the mission that TerraCycle has.
[00:03:51] SC: Sure. Yeah, absolutely. Well, I mean, we're seen as experts in recycling the non-recyclable. We find ways and the main way we do that is we make the economics work for a waste stream. Whilst anything can technically be recycled, it generally isn't, because of the cost issue. If something costs less to collect, separate and recycle, the resulting recycled material is not collected and recycled.
We partner with brands to make the shortfall in the economics work. We've been doing this since 2001 now. We're in 21 markets around the world. We came to the realisation and particularly, our founder and CEO Tom Szaky, who came up with the TerraCycle concept, that whilst recycling is vitally important, on its own it's not going to be enough. The real reason for that is the unintended consequences of single-use packaging. It's created along with consumerism, a bit of a worldwide waste crisis.
Most products are designed for one single use. Then they're disposed at the end of it. Quite shocking statistic, 99% of the things we buy are actually thrown away within 12 months. It takes quite a lot of effort to collect, separate and recycle it. Most things actually don't get recycled. Only 9% of the global production of plastic is actually recycled. The rest of it goes into landfills, or is incinerated. It's crazy when you think about it. You use it for a very short period and then you burn it.
Think about all the resources that it took to make it; oil that you then refine into plastic, you produce it into something. Consumer uses it very quickly and then you either bury it, or we burn it. While recycling is very important, like I said, it's not going to solve the major problem that we have. That major problem is due to the throwaway culture.
Put simply, we realized that and particularly, Tom Szaky, our CEO. We have to change the way we consume. That's where the Loop concept came from. I mean, we already work with some of the majority of the biggest FMCG, fast-moving consumer goods conglomerates around the world. We're working with the likes of P&G, with Unilever, with Mondelez, with Nestle. We're working with all these brands already on the recycling side. That gave us the opportunity to pitch the idea of refill and reuse and a zero-waste concept. That's how we've managed to get the buy-in of some really big important brands who sell at mass scale onto the platform that we've now launched in the UK this year in July, and in France and the US in May 2019. Shall I explain a little bit about how Loop works?
[00:06:13] BO: Yeah, I think that makes sense. I’d like to go back a little bit as well and talk about some of the numbers and things, even the problem you described there. I think it does make sense to be really clear about exactly what Loop is and what it does.
[00:06:24] SC: Okay. What we've set up to begin with is a pilot phase. We launched in the UK in July 2020 and it launched in France and in the US in 2019, where we in essence have set up ourselves as a retailer. Now, we're a waste management company. In the long-term, we've got no illusions to be a retailer.
If you can imagine, when you're trying to move retailers and brands from a single-use supply chain to a reusable, refillable supply chain, you want to make sure you've got it right before you take it to a mass scale. To get the learnings and consumers, if you think about it, are very different in the UK, to how they are in France and how they are in the US. They're unique in each market. We need the learning.
We've set up our own ecommerce platform to begin with. In the UK, we've now launched loopstore.co.uk. If you go onto that platform, you'll see there's about a 170 different lines of products that are available in rather than single-use disposable plastic, they come in eminently reusable, refillable containers that are durable and can be used many, many times again. You'll get things in glass. You'll get things in aluminium. You'll get things in steel and a host of other more durable materials.
The consumer orders the products that they want, but you pay a deposit on each one. This is the important thing. It shifts the ownership of the product from the consumer. When you buy a single-use product, you own that packet. You probably don't want it, you just want the content in it, but you own that packet. It shifts the ownership back to either the retailer, or the brand. It's then in their interest to make that as reusable as many times as possible, to make the economy scale better for them.
It costs more to make that packaging, but if you're going to use it multiple times, it's eminently better for the environment, because you're then not having to create new plastic every time you create a product.
On the UK platform and I’ll talk mainly about the UK one, because it's the most recent one we've launched and it's one of the ones I work on. You can order a whole host of things; branded products, like Heinz Ketchup, like Coca-Cola, like Danone Yogurt, like Ecover washing-up liquid, like Molton Brown handsoap, REN Clean skincare, moisturizers. Also, some smaller, newer brands, like Jackpot Peanut Butter, like NOICE, which is a new launch for the UK market. It's a French organic toothpaste gel. Then there's a whole host of other products that are either live, or coming soon. I can't mention some of the branded names yet.
There's also our own private label range. There's more products for people to be able to order, so they can pretty much mimic their normal usual weekly shop. We've got a whole host of things, like cleaning products, like pasta, rice, herbs and spices, oils. Then over time, as more branded lines come onto the platform, some of those private label ones will go.
Your delivery comes in what we call it, the reusable Loop tote. This is a padded delivery bag, as it were, that all your products are stored safely in, so they can be delivered without breaking. The bag folds up, so it takes up less space in the home. Then rather than use things like bubble wrap, we've created new ways to keep things from breaking within there that are reused. Once the bag comes back, once you're finished with your products, as well as the products, we will clean the bag and the products.
There is a small amount of single-use plastic. If you can imagine, the consumer wants their product to arrive safely, that you know no one's tampered with it. There is a tamper seal. Some other products, like the biscuit containers, which are steel will have a small layer of plastic at the top, just so you know no one else has interfered with it.
You pop your tamper seal and you pop any bits of plastic like that back into the tote when you send your products back and TerraCycle, which is our other business, we'll recycle those as part of the platform. Like I said, you pay a deposit. Imagine this month, I’ve ordered, I don't know, let's say I’ve ordered shampoo. I’ve ordered toothpaste. I’ve ordered some ketchup. I’ve ordered a well-known fizzy drink. Then at the end of that period, I’m going to send it all back and I’ve decided I want to keep three out of the four products, but the fourth one I’m not going to reorder.
In that case, TerraCycle and Loop hold on to your deposit for the three things you've now reordered, because you've got another version. On the one that you've now sent back and not reordered, you get your deposit returned to you, because you're no longer using it. That's the beauty of the system and that's how it's a massive upgrade for the environment. This phase is like I said, this is phase one. This is the pilot. It's been going in the UK now a couple of months, going very well. Consumers have really taken to it.
We've had lots of visits to the site, lots of registration and orders are very good. The next phase will be, and Tesco is our retail partner for the UK. It will go into Tesco stores. To begin with, it'll probably be a relatively small number and then it'll be scaled up over time. Then in those Tesco stores, you'll get what will be known as a Loop end-isle. There'll be sections of the store that you can go and pick up your favourite products and that'll be not only branded products like I mentioned earlier, but also, there will be some of Tesco's own private label products in reusable, refillable packaging and it will work exactly the same.
You'll go and pick up your Loop items from the Tesco store and you'll go and pick up your non-Loop items, whichever ones you want. You go and pay for it, you pay a deposit on the Loop ones. Then once you’re finished with it, you'll either be able to drop them back to the Tesco store, or you'll be able to drop them back to a number of other locations at the same time. It will also, over time then be embedded into the Tesco e-commerce platform. Then when you're ordering your products from Tesco, you'll be able to order Loop products and non-Loop products.
It will then come with the Tesco courier service. Then also, you'll be able to in theory and we haven't quite got to this point down the line yet, when the driver is dropping off your delivery, he’ll be able to take away your empties at the same time.
We see Loop very much as an engine, almost, for reuse. It could be incorporated into various different retailers. While Tesco is the first one, we very much don't see it as being the last one. There was also an interesting announcement made last week by McDonald’s. McDonald’s are partnering with us and they're going to run their own pilot next year in a number of McDonald’s restaurants for reusable coffee cups.
The way we see it, the bigger an ecosystem we have for reuse and refill. Imagine if you could buy your coffee in McDonald’s and then drop that reusable coffee cup back to Tesco to get your deposit. Or imagine you buy your shopping via Tesco's e-com, or you buy in a Tesco store and you happen to be going to McDonald’s for something to eat the next week, you could drop your empty grocery Tesco containers back to the McDonald’s store.
This is where we're going to be using things like smart bins. In the different locations that are going to be participating with us, you'll be able to drop your products back. The products will have a barcode on them, so we know who it's coming back from and then who should get the deposit back.
[00:12:53] ES: Wow, that's going to be a whole network of a whole system of depositing and buying products, all within the Loop. That's really cool.
[00:13:03] SC: That's the plan, because for us, what we have to do is we have to replicate the convenience of single-use disposability. The reason that's got so big popular across the world is because consumers like it, consumers want it, consumers have become used to it. For reuse and refill to be successful over time, we need to make it as accessible for the consumer as possible. That's why we want multiple different routes, channels and retailers that are all part of it, so it's very easy for the consumer just to drop it back to a variety of different places.
[00:13:33] ES: Yeah. Yeah, that makes sense. There's a lot there that I want to dive into, but you've already mentioned. I’d like to start, I think, with said right at the beginning, in terms of this idea of reuse versus recycling. You mentioned that TerraCycle is known for recycling products that seem unrecyclable. That now with Loop, it's based on the understanding that recycling alone isn't going to solve the plastic pollution problem that we have.
You mentioned that products are made from more durable materials and there's probably an increased amount of material there that's being used. How many times exactly does a product have to be reused in order to justify that sturdier product?
[00:14:22] SC: Sure. For a brand and a product to join Loop, we do testing on it. We give them guidelines on what they should be doing. It has to be accepted by us to come onto the platform. It has to be able to be reused a minimum of 10 times, but we're hoping anywhere up to 100, depending on the material.
We've done our own life cycle analysis of the system. A reusable bottle in the Loop model has the same impact as a product sold in a traditional disposable packaging at a physical retail location at two cycles. At five cycles, so you use the same container five times, Loop saves 50% of the environmental impacts, which is basically measured on carbon. Obviously, the more times you reuse that, the higher the impact and the benefit for the environment gets.
[00:15:10] ES: What are some of the examples of the things that are harder to reuse? You mentioned some of the materials already, like aluminum and glass bottles for things, which presumably, glass – This is a guess, but presumably, glass is quite easy to clean and reuse several times.
[00:15:29] SC: Exactly.
[00:15:29] ES: Yeah, what are the examples of the things that are being used, maybe 10 times, but some of the things that are also being used like 100 times?
[00:15:36] SC: I mean, there are some heavy-duty plastic. Plastics is often vilified as the villain. Plastics is a very useful material. It's just the way we as a society have come to use it. Quite a lot of the products we've got it live via Loop at the moment in the packaging is actually in traditional glass. Glass, it's a fantastic material. You can recycle glass infinitely. You can keep going and going and going.
The reason we as a society have stopped using glass so much is because of the weight. You can transport more things in plastic than the glass equivalent. Glass is also heavier, so it costs more to transport glass often than it does to transport plastic. Yeah, lots of the companies at the moment are using glass, are using aluminium, are using steel.
What we encourage the brands to do is look at the function of the product, not just what's it going to be housed in. Can you embed additional functionality into it? It's not available here in the UK at the moment, but Haagen-Dazs created a pack that's available in the US, that keeps your ice cream cold in transit and it keeps your ice cream cold for longer out of the freezer, which is quite a cool concept.
The packaging also looks really funky as well. If you just Google Haagen-Dazs Loop, you'll see it. Lots of people have posted stuff on social media about how cool this product looks. That is an example of the thing that we love when the brands go ahead and do.
Yeah. I mean, I think it really depends. The more times a material can be reused, or a container can be reused, the better it is for the environment. Importantly, at the end of the life cycle, because eventually and it's up to the brand. At what point the containers come out of circulation, if they get a little bit scratched, or maybe a little bit bashed up over time, it's up to the brand when they're taken out of circulation. At that point, all the materials are very easy to recycle and that material that's reclaimed can be used in the next development of the containers that the brand would use.
[00:17:22] ES: Yeah. That's an interesting point you make about plastic, that it is usually seen as this villain material, given that it is made from oil. I think that's probably one of the reasons that it's seen as a worst-case scenario. Obviously, sometimes the most sustainable way to package a product is just in the most durable packaging, because then it can be used multiple times as you mentioned.
In terms of the redesigning of packaging, you mentioned that the companies themselves are redesigning. Is it the companies that are doing the redesigning? Are they working with Loop to do that? How does that play into the process?
[00:18:04] SC: The companies do the redesigning themselves. We have directed some brands on companies we know in the sector. Most big brands and these are the majority of brands that we're talking about here, have the capability in-house. They're given guidelines by us on what they need to do to be accepted onto the platform. Then they present the packaging back to us for approval. Then we obviously do testing on it to work out if it meets all the requirements before it's accepted.
[00:18:26] ES: Then the cleaning process, which is done by Loop, presumably, that in itself is in some way, energy-intensive. Is it?
[00:18:36] SC: It depends on what the contents were of the packaging and what the packaging is made of. We partnered with a company called Ecolab. We were the gold seal of the cleaning industry. That facility is embedded into our warehouse facility in the UK, for example. What happens, once all of the packaging comes back, we need a minimum volume before we'll clean anything. We're not going to clean each individual one, just so it's more efficient.
It's a full clean room facility. Between each cleaning process, the vents are cleaned out, the pipes are cleaned. It depends as water and chemistry, depending on what package and what the contents have been. The most important aspect of the cleaning facility though is the drying, because if you leave any residual moisture, then you can have things on mould. It's a really stringent process.
If you can imagine, we're also working with some of the biggest brands in the world who validate everything. They want to come and inspect everything. They will make sure before anything can be cleaned via this new system, that they're a 100% happy with the way it works.
[00:19:37] ES: That makes sense. I mean, especially in terms of this is food packaging, so it really does have to be hygiene perfect. Is there a balance there to be played in terms of, it seems to me that that's the friction point of why single-use plastics has been used so much in food produce, because that is extremely hygienic, if you're just not using the same brand-new plastic that's being put around any new product. Then the balance is, how do we make this more sustainable and less wasteful, whilst maintaining the hygiene and that duty of care towards our actual customers?
[00:20:20] SC: Well, I mean, if you think about it, the process we go through to clean all the containers, it's not like using your dishwasher at home. It's a full clean room laboratory system. It's the A-standard of hygienic cleaning. There isn't a better system out there than this at the moment.
When you look at the comparison between single-use disposable and reuse, the cleaning is one area people will focus on. It's what is the impact of the cleaning? What is the impact of the transport to deliver products, or to get the products back? That is a very small impact. The biggest impact on the environment is creating new packaging each time, or then melting down that packaging and creating more packaging from it. It's much better for the environment to clean and to refill and reuse multiple times again and again and again, than it is every time to create a brand-new pack.
[00:21:13] ES: Great. In that high-tech cleaning environment, it's guaranteed to be spotless every time. Top of the range.
[00:21:21] SC: It is. Yeah. If you can imagine. During the COVID pandemic, there's been a whole debate and many coffee shops for example, stopped people bringing in their own reusable cup. It's not like, there's the room for human error in a coffee shop. You take your coffee cup in there, you hand it over to the barista, he then does multiple things with it. Touches it at multiple points. He doesn't know whether your cup is clean in the first place. He certainly doesn't wash your cup out. It comes back to you.
There's multiple ways that that could be an unsafe experience. Whereas on this, it's used by the consumer, it comes back, there's some dwell time before it's cleaned, it's then cleaned in a full laboratory clean-room system with multiple checks, all the processes on the way through. There isn't the room for error like there is with a coffee shop, for example. It's a very, very different system. When you go to the dentist, for example, how many times do you think that the tools that the dentist uses in your mouth have been used? It’s a lot.
[00:22:20] ES: Yeah, I’ve never really thought about it, but I guess, they go in everyone's mouth.
[00:22:23] SC: But you never question it. These are heavy duty pieces of equipment. They're industrially cleaned and then they're reused multiple times again and again and again. It's not like they use it once and they throw it away. They're cleaned and they're reused. It's exactly the same to this. We're used to reuse, without even thinking about it in a lot of occasions. That's the thing. It's all about the process that you use to clean and sanitize.
[00:22:44] ES: That's how it used to be. We didn't always have single-use plastics. The milkman used to come every day and pick up your old bottles and give you new milk and then reuse those milk bottles. It's not something that we've never heard of before. It's almost just harking back to an older system.
[00:23:04] SC: Funnily enough, we often describe Loop as the milkman reinvented, but for everything. That's partly where the inspiration from the system came from. It's like, let's go back to what used to happen. The milkman in the UK in particular, died out in popularity over the years. It's now making a re-emergence. I’ve read stories during the last few months of what's been going on around the world, where home delivery systems with reuse like that are growing in popularity.
That's what we want Loop to be. We want people to think of it as we've learned from a really successful old system, but we've reinvented it slightly and we've made it more palatable for today's needs. The big point about it is convenience.
[00:23:45] BO: One of the things you said earlier, Stephen, stood out for me was when you were describing the ownership part, so the container, or the plastic, or whatever it's made from in a single-use scenario. The consumer buys that and then it becomes theirs. It becomes their problem. That's standing over the recycling, wondering what to do with this, or not knowing if it is going to get recycled when it goes off and you've been to your local council.
The brand, or the retailer owning that as you said, aligns their commercial imperative with the environmental benefits. As in it's now in their interests and almost requirement, to make sure that that thing is used as much as possible in order to be viable, which is I guess, one of the key tenets of the circular economy. Do you find, and it's really interesting that you also said that starting from TerraCycle's existing connections and network and reputation, you were able to go and have these conversations with brands and retailers. Have you found that there's a real appetite within those companies, those businesses for this? Or is it a case of really pushing up hope?
[00:24:54] SC: There is an appetite. Like I said, people want to almost dip their toe in a little bit, I think, is probably the way to look at it. People want to test the system. They want to see how consumers react to it and what are consumers like, what are consumers not like? Because to move from a single-use disposable supply chain to a reusable, refillable supply chain is quite a move.
People want to test the results and that's exactly what we're doing. The results are very encouraging in all the markets we're in. Particularly in the UK, the UK – our launch was pushed back a little bit. We were supposed to launch in March, but it was right at the start of the lockdown, so we made the decision, it wasn't quite the right timing. We launched in July. We've had really good interest from consumers. Everyone seems to like the concept and that's great for us to hear, but it's also great around the world. Because in the markets, we're also not in at the moment.
There's real demand for people registering on our sites, even in different countries than where we're live saying, “When you come into our market, we want you in our market.” The future looks very promising. Yeah, I think it's only understandable that businesses will want to test the system before they go to a bigger scale. That's what we're looking to do, to make a real impact, we need the scale and that's where the likes of a Tesco comes in.
[00:26:04] BO: To get that proof and to have that story, it takes somebody, like yourselves, a company that is looking to make that change. I want to use the term mission again. I guess, my question is I’m assuming that there is – this is definitely a – it's a cause, it's a mission, it’s a purpose. It's not just another business for you.
[00:26:24] SC: Well, I mean, Tom Szaky founded the company to make an impact on waste. We've been doing it now since 2001 in multiple markets. We launched here in the UK in 2009. This for us is a logical step, because while recycling is still important like I said, something else needs to help to make the big impact that we need for the change. The change is the way we consume. We really have to impact the way we consume. For us, the biggest way to do that is to do refill on a mass scale.
[00:26:55] BO: Let's talk a little bit about that future stage. Now we've talked about the existing things and the challenges and what's happening right now, but you've described the stage of having refill smart bins in stores and integrating with their own e-commerce systems and so on. Is that something that is laid out in a very clear, we know what we're going to do? How much of that is still exploratory and inventing as you go?
[00:27:20] SC: It's happening now. There'll be a Loop app that you can use on your phone. That's been developed. The first smart bins will be available in Carrefour stores in France. That'll be a bit later this year. Yeah. I mean, we're working currently with Tesco about what their in-store interpretation of Loop will be next year.
We know there'll be smart bins at a number of different locations, including either inside the stores, or sometimes they might be outside the stores. Yeah, that's all being worked on now between our team and the TerraCycle team and the Carrefour team, the Kroger and Walgreens teams in the US. Then even before we've launched the systems, work is going on in the other market. I mentioned Canada, with Loblaws, Woolworths, with Australia and Aeon in Japan. Yeah, lots of work goes on in the background. We don't just launch on day one and it all happens then. It's been happening for quite some time.
[00:28:08] BO: What's the beyond that? What's the vision? Is the vision to get to the point where you've mentioned already this mass scale change, but does that mean getting to the point where Loop isn't needed, because everybody – this is just the way things are done?
[00:28:22] SC: I think you're always going to – you'll still need within this system, you'll need somebody who professionally cleans the system, the containers. That's what Loop is. I said to you, for now we've set ourselves up in the short-term as a retailer to help us get to the scale stage within the likes of Tesco.
Then at that point, we would move back to being a waste management company. Some of the stuff will be recycled. Like I mentioned, the tamper seals. It's a small amount. The bigger job is then on the cleaning side. That's what we see the future of waste management being, in terms of cleaning, rather than so much on the recycling. If we can get enough people using the refillable containers, then the future becomes cleaning, rather than recycling.
[00:29:02] BO: This is something, I think, companies like Loop and TerraCycle are leading the way, like it's creating a vision. I think that's something that's been a real theme through this season of the podcast with us. You're starting off with that. Do we do waste and we're trying to reduce waste and then that leads to we're needing to do reuse. In order to do that, you then have to go, “Well now, we need to do retail and we need to have these multiple areas of advising people about brands on how to design products and reusable containers, dealing with the logistics and returns and bins and everything.”
There's so there's so many moving pieces there. I wonder, do you see that as this is just these processes we need to go through? Or is it more, this is why we're doing it. There's the journey versus the destination, if that makes sense.
[00:29:52] SC: I think it's both. I mean, everybody has a part to play. Consumers have a part to play in what they buy and what they support. The more people that do that, the more brands we'll need to incorporate, because the brands that don't incorporate in the retailers that don't give the options that the consumers want are the ones that are going to be left behind. For us, everything that we believe in, so on the TerraCycle side, we recycle things. Nothing gets in landfill, nothing gets incinerated. There is always a way to recycle some things. It's just about making the economics work.
On the Loop side of things and refill, for us, it's a logical evolution. Recycling still needs to happen. We're not saying, let's all stop recycling. We still need to recycle and we need to recycle more. That's an important thing. The more reuse and refill and durability is happening, the less single-use disposable is going to be going on in the background and that will make things so much easier and so much better on a rounded scale.
I think everybody needs to look at – I think we're at that critical point where everybody needs to think about what they're doing, whether it's an individual, or a business, or a retailer, now is the time for action.
[00:30:55] ES: Now is the time for action. That was a great rallying cry. You mentioned, in terms of working globally and looking ahead, there's other countries that are going to be other brands in other countries that are going to be partnering with Loop, which is very exciting. In terms of expanding really globally, do you think that this model is also workable in developing countries? I think a lot of the ones you mentioned were North America and Europe-based, right?
[00:31:24] SC: Yeah. The countries we're focusing on now are mainly countries where we already have a successful business on the recycling side, because that helps us on one element as well. We already work with multiple brands in those countries. We know the retailers. We have logistics that are operational there, etc., which helps in a big way.
I think developing countries are harder and developing countries are even harder for us on the TerraCycle side of things. In a developing country, there often is no waste management infrastructure. It's hard. TerraCycle on the recycling side, we don't own the recycling equipment in the countries we operate in. We work out the process. We subcontract to big recycling companies in those markets who do it for us.
Recycling equipment is very expensive. If the price of oil changes, it can often put recycling businesses out of business. For us, it's hard. In developing countries, we actually have launched something in the last year called the TerraCycle Global Foundation, where we're looking to work in countries with no waste management infrastructure or system to do exactly that.
We work in Thailand at the moment, where we're getting plastics out of rivers before it gets to the ocean. There's plans for us to launch into India, where we're going to work with local waste pickers. In India, where there's no traditional recycling system, there's almost an unofficial system where people will go through the waste, take out things with value. Once those people have done that, there will be another set of people who will come and be looking for different types of waste.
We're trying to do something on a more organized scale that helps these people with this system. Developing countries is a harder one, because one you've got different routes to market, you've got different types of retail and e-commerce isn't as prevalent as well. For now, they're not markets that Loop is focusing on. Over time, who knows where it could go?
[00:33:08] BO: Yeah. There is so much. I often say this, but I think this is it's more true now than in some of our other episodes. There is so much depth there and so many different things to talk about and you've got TerraCycle and Loop involved in.
Unfortunately, as we run out of time for this episode, there is one theme, or one thing that I wanted to call out, I guess. One of the reasons for doing this podcast is to have these kinds of conversations and to show how those of us who work in the digital web, design, software, technology, all of those things to show how, I guess, how important our role is in all of this.
Although we haven't explicitly talked about it there, Stephen, there's all of the things that you're talking about are have involved in everything from the e-commerce site to physical devices of the smart bins, to the app, to the way you must be tracking things and to the data analysis, to the design of products and the physical design, including the, I guess, the more marketing and PR and social media side.
I just wanted to call that out. For me, to make that really clear that that's why we're having these conversations within this podcast. I really appreciate you joining our conversation today and sharing that and allowing us a little insight into many multiple different facets of what TerraCycle and what Loop are doing.
[00:34:32] SC: Pleasure.
[00:34:34] BO: Yeah. Just finally, for those who want to maybe find out more and perhaps work out how either they get involved, either as a consumer, or as a brand, or as a business, where should they go?
[00:34:43] SC: For Loop, I would go first to loopstore.co.uk. That's the UK website, or there's loopstore.com. It's for the US one. Myboutiqueloop is the French one. If you just go to loopstore.co.uk, you can then click on the other markets. We're live and if you were interested in those, you could click through on the little US flag to go to the US, or you could click on the French flag to go to the French site.
On the TerraCycle side, you can go to terracycle.com, no matter where you are. Then from there, TerraCycle is T-E-R-R-A-cycle.com. You can click through to whichever country you want. If you want to go the quick way to the UK, if you're listening in the UK for example, you go to terracycle.com.uk.
[00:35:21] BO: Wonderful. Thank you so much. As usual, we'll put all those links and as much as we can from all the things we've mentioned into the show notes on happyporchradio.com. Stephen, it sounds like what the work you're doing is amazing and I always like to make it really clear that businesses and people like yourself who are leading the way in this, I think are really important and we should all be cheering and supporting and celebrating the work that you're doing. Thank you very much.
[00:35:46] ES: Thank you, Stephen.
[00:35:47] SC: Thank you for having me. Cheers. Bye-bye.
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