Circular Online Shopping – is it Even Possible?
In short: yes. Here’s the thing. Online shopping was popular before Covid-19, but it reached new heights when in-store shopping became unsafe, and then again when it became impossible (due to lockdowns).
But while it has been a gamechanger for online retailers, and a lifesaver for homebound consumers, it has also led to a lot more single-use packaging waste. Thirty percent more.
Circularity and Online Shopping don’t go Hand in Hand. But they can
And they should. We can close the loop on a personal level if we opt for more sustainable packaging options when we shop online. And we can close the loop on a business level if we choose to partner with companies who have created innovative ways to make reusable packaging convenient and cost-effective.
We’re going to look at some examples of those companies right now (and if you recommend others, let us know).
Reuse, Return, Reward
First up: RePack. Winner of Loomish‘s Fashion Innovation Award, RePack is an online shopping platform that partners with some of the world’s top brand’s, swapping out the regular (single-use) packaging of those brands with reusable packaging (made from durable, recycled materials).
It’s a simple concept. Consumers shop in their favourite online stores as usual. Then, as soon as they start the payment process, they select RePack as their packaging option. Easy.
Their item will be sent to them in a returnable, reusable RePack. Once they’ve received their order, they’ll fold the empty RePack and drop it into any post box, anywhere in the world, at no extra cost.
Repack packaging is best for textiles (in other words, items that aren’t breakable), it has become a popular option for clothing brands and retailers.
At Scandinavian Outdoor, consumers can choose to have their order delivered in a RePack package at a small cost. Then, when they send it back, they can choose whether to get a voucher from Scandinavian Outdoor, or any other Repack-using online retailer.
Manitober, a clothing brand from Germany, started offering RePack as a packaging option on their website and a week later, 40% of their consumers were on board.
Zalando, one of Europe’s leading online fashion platforms, also opted for the RePack solution to help achieve their goal to design out waste and keep materials in use for as long as possible (eliminating single-use plastics altogether) by 2023.
RePack has been operational in Europe for almost five years now, and have joined forces with a few of German’s top e-commerce sites (Otto, Tchibo, and Avocadostore) to test the solution as part of a three-year project funded by PRAXpack (a German government funded research project aimed at reducing waste).
RePack has also expanded outside the EU, landing themselves in the United States. We can’t wait to see how this solution grows in the next few years, and the impact it could potentially have on single-use waste (and attitudes).
Close the Loop, with Loop
Next up. Loop (available in the US, Canada, the UK, and France, with plans on conquering Germany, Australia, and Japan soon). Consumers simply browse a list of major brands and retailers (think Pepsi, Head and Shoulders, Gillette, Pampers, Thomy, Cheerios, S.Pellegrino, Dove, Ben and Jerry’s, and Sunlight, to name a few) in their online store. Each item is re-designed in Loop’s high-quality, durable packaging.
Consumers then receive their order in a Loop tote (also reusable). When they’re done with the packaging, they put their empty packaging back inside the tote (the same time and energy it takes to throw it in the bin) and request a free pickup. Loop does the rest. And by ‘the rest’, we mean clean, refill, and reuse.
Oh, and auto-replenish. Yes, consumers can also choose to set products to “auto-refill when returned”, so that they don’t have to re-order certain items again. It’s a win for the brand (less work, more brand loyalty), a win for the consumer (better experience and convenience), and a win for the environment (packaging is reused instead of just recycled).
Speaking of the environment, packages require cleaning and transportation, so they are not without an environmental cost, but if cleaning is done efficiently, and products don’t travel too far, that cost is still a sustainable alternative to single-use packaging.
There isn’t just one replacement option for single-use packaging today. There are multiple solutions that could fit into an array of retail markets. It’s up to us to test them and see if they work. The time to experiment is now.
As a consumer, you get to decide what your items are delivered in. As a brand or retailer, you can choose to support companies that are attempting to solve the single-use waste problem.